MBP VIP: Renee Engeln on Beauty Sickness

Hey, are you feeling okay? Are you struggling to engage with the rest of the world? Feeling tired and defeated? Unable to direct your energy toward the things that really matter?

Do you have Beauty Sickness?

For most of my life, particularly when I was struggling with my eating disorder, I found social situations unbearable – though you may never have noticed. I liked people, and I knew that I was good at talking to them. I had a talent for engaging groups and entertaining crowds. By all accounts, I was the consummate extrovert.

But somehow, such activities always left me feeling drained, both physically and emotionally. Sometimes they made me feel downright miserable. I could never seem to let go and enjoy myself the way other people did. I knew objectively if I was “having fun”, but I didn’t necessarily feel it. Much of the time it felt forced, and all I really wanted was to be alone.

So when Renee Engeln started talking about Objectification Theory around the 9:30 minute mark, I felt like she was describing my experience exactly. Renee explained, “You cannot chronically monitor your body’s appearance and be engaged with the world. When you are Beauty Sick, you cannot engage with the world, because between you and the world is a mirror, and it’s a mirror that travels with you everywhere. You cannot seem to put it down.”

Yeah, that would pretty much explain why I was so exhausted after socializing. I was so preoccupied with how any person might be perceiving me at any moment that it was nearly impossible for me to do anything but go through the motions. I was on guard at each and every moment, hyper-aware of my body in space, constantly searching the reactions of those around me for signs that I was either succeeding or failing.

This also explains why it’s become more and more enjoyable for me to spend time with friends as I’ve gotten older. The more secure I feel in my own body, my own person, the more I’ve been able to fall in love with myself, the more I can relax into social situations. As that hyper-vigilance has faded away, I’ve found more energy to be present in the exciting and inspiring conversations of those around me. As I’ve let go of the fear that I’m being constantly judged, I’ve been able to taste the fruits of companionship and loyalty in a whole new way. And yes, I’ve felt what it’s like to have fun.

More of that, please.

Imagine the power we women could yield were we to be relieved of this ailment, this Beauty Sickness. Imagine all of that energy, all of that focus, being directed toward something more lasting, more loving. The thought gives me goosebumps.

What’s the simplest way to start? I for one will take Renee’s advice: I’m a new “Auntie” to a beautiful baby girl.  And yes, she is a thing of beauty. But whenever I get the impulse to tell her so, I’ll instead tell her she’s smart / strong / active / capable / friendly / happy / curious / courageous / persistant / generous / kind…

What do you think? Do you have the sickness? How will you work towards getting better?

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