Walking the Beauty Path
Beauty – noun.
1. A combination of qualities, such as shape, color or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, esp the sight.
2. A combination that pleases the intellect or moral sense.
3. The quality in a person that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind and spirit.
4. Something which embodies an unmatched aesthetic, regardless of external influences. To be truly beautiful reflects an unparalleled sense of eternity, unchanged by events or situations, which might otherwise compromise this trait.
We are taught that beauty comes from within. New Age positive thinking teaches us we are all beautiful and that women’s bodies especially are beautiful. We are taught our souls are beautiful. This is countered with society teaching us that beauty can be standardized or exists within certain forms. We are taught that beauty is packageable, marketable, that only a few possess it naturally and that the rest of us must strive to twist, contort, or conform to what has been declared the ever elusive standard of beauty.
Recently, I have found myself in an inquiry of ‘what is beauty and what does it look like when one embodies it?’ As one who is walking and teaching a path of sacred sensuality, how could I not look at beauty and aesthetics as part of this path?
Now when I say beauty, I feel that little prickle in system of vanity traipsing in the wake of standardization. ‘You mean six-pack abs? Cosmetics? Body modification? False appearances?’ screams my inner angry feminist. No, I mean Beauty – the unique embodiment of the light of Source shining through us. Beauty has a tremendous power. It has been worshipped in most all cultures to some degree – hence Venus, Lakshmi, Aphrodite, and the billion dollar beauty industry, Hollywood. It has also been rejected, rejected as false, seen as a mask of illusion or a manipulator of the natural.
The inquiry has taken me into my own path of beauty, where I am actively inviting it in and also exploring those moments where I have been truly surprised by beauty.
Beauty and I have had a quite a journey together. I trudged through a morass of misunderstanding and rejecting the concepts of physical beauty for much of my life. Some of my earliest memories of aesthetics or rejection thereof include: my mother chasing me around the house with eyebrow tweezers and a mascara brush; my angry feminist stage in college of wearing my hair up in what others called my ‘angry scarf’ and sporting army cargo pants with a militant personality, because I was worried I would be objectified instead of valued for my mind; my late college years of discovering my sexuality and its power and subsequently overly sexualizing my body to feel powerful; and eventually my naked yoga years of stripping away all forms of exterior beauty to open up to something more authentically beautiful on the inside.
My herbal teacher and pioneering second-wave feminist leader, Susun Weed, is a card-carrying Goddess worshipper and universal lover of women. Aesthetics and beauty-based rituals, however, were not something she touted in her repertoire. Her fierce temperament and Earth worshipping ways are more aligned with Baba Yaga and Gaia than with Aphrodite and Venus. A model in her early days, Susun now has a hearty woodswoman body for functional farm work and sports tie-dyed t-shirts and bug-repellant blue jeans. Her trademark fashion is a bandana worn around her forehead that contains her otherwise wild wiry hair. Susun encouraged her apprentices to bathe no more than twice a week and generally avoided soap especially anything scented. Conditioner other than nettle leaf infusion was seen as unnecessary and I’m quite sure she never willingly applied make-up at any time during 66 years of life. This was a priestess of the Earth and aesthetics were not a priority, especially for one who embraced farm life. Not only was beauty non-functional, any cosmetic enhancement was deemed unnatural. But whether consciously or unconsciously, Susun distinctly expressed herself through aesthetic choices. Her simple, functional, Earth-based choice of personal presentation was, in its way, as much a statement of her beliefs as a conservative office-worker’s or a Fifth Avenue fashionista’s. In recent years, my own preferences have shifted to a slightly enhanced version of Susun’s aesthetics. More ‘Gaia to feed and heal the world’ and less of the sought-after invocation of Venus or Helen of Troy.
Following in my teacher’s footsteps, it felt natural for me to be make-up free, barefoot and visually unobtrusive when speaking with the plants during our herb walks. That was how my herbal teacher taught and I mirrored that. When we are exploring our options of personal style, we tend to try on conventions to see if they work for us. Likewise we may try something on that apparently rejects the whole concept of aestheticism, unconscious of the fact that this is, of itself, an aesthetic choice. I felt part of my calling in connecting women to their sexuality was to bring them to the Earth, Earth wisdom and Earth orgasm, and to take us away from any aesthetic preconceptions we had around what we perceived as sexy, seductive or sensual.
On an herb walk I lead this past summer for Awakening the Sexual Shamanic Priestess Retreat, I looked around at the women gathered and did a double take when my eyes fell on Juliette. Juliette had her silky raven hair coiffed in an up-do, had bright, fire-engine red lipstick painted on to accentuate the heart shape of her lips, and her hourglass body was draped in a sleek black gown adorned with silver beadwork. Juliette wore this on an herb walk. Juliette was a sex-workers’ rights activist by day and a ‘by choice’ high-end escort at night. She owned her sex and her beauty. She was someone who had stepped in and embraced her sexual aesthetics and beauty fully and it was jaw dropping to behold. Juliet was the kind of femme fatale that wore gowns on herb walks, because why wouldn’t a classic femme want to be dressed in her best to meet and commune with the flowering plants that remind us to own both our beauty and sexuality with their shameless display of blossoming genitalia?
Nothing about Juliette’s beauty was contrived or false. While glamorous and deeply aesthetically beautiful, nothing about Juliette was standardized. This beauty was a direct reflection of her soul fully integrated in her body temple. Juliette is a femme fatale. Juliette is sex and beauty. For Juliette to wear bug repellant jeans and a bandana would be asking an orchid to dress like a dandelion. Nothing about it would be authentic or true to her nature. The day that a red lipstick wearing femme fatale went on an herb walk with me was one in which my relationship to beauty changed. Beauty could be authentic and a reflection of our inner state and could also look quite conventional. The difference was this beauty was not trying to impress someone or mold itself to fit a certain form, it just is was. Same as a flower is not trying to be beautiful, it simply is beautiful.
We make aesthetic choices every day. The question is what do you want to make a statement about? What is your beauty? Whose beauty team are you on? Beauty elevates the soul, excites the senses. Beauty makes life more engaging. It magnetizes us. I was very excited being in Juliette’s presence just as I was very excited being in the presence of the flowering herbs on our walk. Beauty meeting beauty.
Beauty can also be considered resting or sitting well in oneself, good health and vitality, being the full embodiment of one’s own unique characteristics and how they are meant to shine. Meeting Maple helped me understand beauty as ownership of one’s own unique characteristics and soul energy. I first met Maple when she attended the monthly Naked Church service that I co-facilitate. She entered the room quietly, a petite gypsy-fairy spirit. While everyone clucked around before service catching up on small talk, Maple sat very still, eyes closed creating both a deeply meditative and electric presence around herself. When she opened her light blue eyes, they glowed and held the wisdom of other worlds. Maple is someone who holds my gaze. I find her presence reminds me of visiting a museum and being struck with surprise by a painting you didn’t know you were there to see but stops you in your tracks. Maple does not shave her legs and has one long dreadlock coiffed to the side of an otherwise hipster haircut. Her eyes are deep pools of sparkling blue and hold many stories. Her soul holds two-spirit energy, equal parts masculine and feminine. Her dress often looks like a collage of found garments that have been woven together to create a beautiful folk art collage of gypsy beauty. Without clothes, she somehow holds the same quality. At the Sexual Shamanic Priestess Retreat, I had everyone bring a tennis ball for sitting on for pelvic floor release work. Maple brought a potato. Maple is the embodiment of her own beauty. She has what is that ephemeral je ne sais quoi. There is no convention or standardization in Maple’s beauty, but the beauty she possesses is undeniable, a beauty which radiates from every cell of her body.
In addition to the women I’ve met in my work and community who have inspired me to rethink beauty, I’m moved to consider women over history who have served as walking embodiments of beauty. In contemplating beauty and its icons of past, I am taken instantly to the age of the courtesans, artists who were paid richly to cultivate their beauty and intelligence. Inspired to know these aesthetic feminine embodiments of art more intimately, my research led me to the discovery that several of the most famous and successful courtesans were not what one would consider conventionally beautiful. Several of the most famous courtesans in Venice were not particularly attractive in any way, yet they were a breed of woman that was irresistible – sought after by every man and envied by every woman. What these women did not lack was confidence and the ability to maximize on their charms – the most basic of beauty tenets. I am reminded of the great Mae West saying: ‘What is important to know is that every woman can have her own kind of beauty, if she’s willing to look for it and try for it.’
Beauty pioneers are often women who have swept in and taken over a standard convention with a certain amount of ownership of their own grace. Perhaps there was no greater rebel of beauty’s standardization than designer Coco Chanel, a fashion icon who helped women find their embodiment of beauty by famously liberating them from the constraints of the corseted silhouette. She was also a woman who perceived herself not to have been born beautiful. Chanel famously confessed to a lover: ‘I’m not pretty.’ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’re not. But I know of no one more beautiful than you.’ Coco Chanel owned her beauty and her intrinsic style helped create an entry point for other women to own theirs.
Like the famous Coco, pleasure revolutionary Mama Gena says: ‘Ownership is the key to beauty. You gotta dig on down and have yours.’ It is every woman’s job as an embodiment of the feminine to discover and embody her unique beauty calling card and then to work that card and those traits to maximize their potential. Mama Gena cites one particularly eccentric experiment, which involved throwing out everything in her closet except what made her feel the most beautiful. She was left with five garments. I don’t recommend this drastic a beauty experiment, but it warrants some consideration. Why would a woman want to drape her body in anything other than that which makes her feel beautiful? How would her life be altered if she felt she was truly and unequivocally beautiful?
Slightly less radical than Mama Gena’s beauty wardrobe make-over, I find that my own personal embodiments of beauty are ever changing and are often determined by occasion, season and inner states. On certain days I find my most comfortable pair of faded jeans and a v-neck t-shirt are what makes me the most beautiful, on another day, a Charlie’s Angels purple jumpsuit, and on another day a flowy Goddess dress, mostly because where I have chosen to source my beauty is from inside myself. It takes a lot of personal beauty ownership and inner sourcing to wear a Charlie’s Angels purple jumpsuit … a whole lot.
There is an astonishing amount of beauty available on the planet. We are not in scarcity of beauty, though standardization would have us think that it only belongs to a few. Our gifts and talents make us beautiful. Everyone is born talented at something. A certain innate gift is bestowed upon us all that allows us to excel in a particular area, an area of our lives where the stars simply seem to shine on us and we are able to rise above others.
My dear friend Cindy, for example, is perhaps at her most beautiful in her kitchen, talking to ingredients as she bakes and licking batter off spoons as she seduces her ingredients into just the right balance to create extraordinary sensations on one’s tongue. My soul sister Lisa and her eye for space and altar feng shui transform any space into an aesthetic feast with a few simple repositions of objects already there. I marvel at her eye for outer aesthetics as I know it comes from an internally aligned sensitivity of her own beauty.
A Practice of Self-Love
In an honest inquiry with beauty, however, I am also brought to looking past the places where we shine into the places where we feel there is no beauty. I want to examine body features, aesthetic inadequacies, voids of Goddess-given talent that others seem to have but where we come up short.
In this inquiry and reflection on beauty, I am reminded of my own beauty insecurities at various stages of my life. In high school, I had small breasts. I hated them. I always thought they were too small, not even enough for a handful. My sophomore year of high school, during a grueling rehearsal schedule, I dropped fifteen pounds. My clothes became too large for me. My bras hung off my shoulders. My mother took me to Kohl’s for some new clothes. I will forever remember the moment I was standing in a Kohl’s dressing room trying to find a bra to fit only to discover that even the A cups were too big. The air conditioner in the dressing room was blowing down on me and it was coldcoldcold and my nipples and breasts shivered and shriveled even closer to my body. My chest look emaciated and like a boy’s. I left the dressing room in tears and my mother and I left the store. She took me to a Sonic drive-in and we ordered a limeade and she told me that plastic surgery could be an option in the future as prices for such work had in the last few years become quite reasonable. My mother, bless her, was trying to provide a fix to the problem. Breasts too small? Make them bigger! Thus buying into the conventional standard of beauty and creating an entry point for me to manipulate and reconstruct my breasts to meet that standard. What I really needed from my mother at the time, however, was to be taught self-love and for her to remind me of what about me was truly beautiful, as well as perhaps finding something that I loved about my breasts.
Raised in a family and culture where self-love and alignment with one’s individual traits of beauty were not modeled, I traveled my own healing path of beauty embodiment by sourcing my beauty from aligning with the seasons and cycles of the natural world. In my journey of embracing beauty, my truest connection and sourcing has always come from my connection to nature and the natural world. The Navajo teach and practice a spiritual tradition that is called ‘walking the beauty path.’ When one is unbalanced or out of harmony with their beauty, they must return to the natural world to find it. To walk in beauty as the Navajos define it means to hold balance and harmony with all things, all people, all nature and all events in your life. When you achieve balance among the pendulum of polarities, you are ready to walk the beauty path.
I did not get a boob job. Instead I practiced and taught naked yoga and Earth-based spiritual traditions that consistently remind me and place me in right relationship with my body. In my late twenties as my body filled out, so did my breasts. As my body size naturally fluctuates over the years with different phases of my life, I have a developed a practice of loving kindness to my breasts in all their forms and phases. Currently, I massage my breasts daily right after my bathing ritual and infuse with them with visualizations of pink and green for the heart chakra. I do this as I sit in what I lovingly have declared the boudoir area of my bedroom that has a red cushioned chair, Victorian fans and a collection of vintage black and white nude boudoir postcards featuring women of all shapes who appear to be celebrating their bodies and their sensuality. Make no mistake, I don’t wake up every day and think ‘Ah yes, I will lounge naked in my boudoir and lovingly massage my body with scented creams.’ This is a practice. Like showing up to one’s yoga mat, sometimes we jump at the opportunity, and at other times we must drag ourselves through temper tantrums, pouty toddler phases, and I’m-not-worthy moments to practice self-love. The effects of a self-love practice, however, have very tangible reverberations. On a return visit to my hometown a few years ago, an old friend from college actually asked me if I had gotten a boob job. ‘No,’ I replied, ‘I practice loving kindness to my breasts.’
In my session work with women, I have the pleasure of witnessing women blossom and unfold to their true beauty. I have had the honor and pleasure of facilitating session work for a Hassidic woman named Miriam who wanted to explore deep sensual reclamation work. It is incredibly rare for a woman from such a conservative community and religious background to actively seek out session work that supports authentic sensual embodiment. Miriam was healing from childhood sexual abuse and was currently in an emotionally toxic relationship. We explored several simple movement-based practices and healing bodywork ceremonies to bring her into a safe, soft and sensual connection with her body. After our fourth session, she asked me: ‘Isis, does this work change your physical appearance? Because I am noticing my features changing, and I like them!’ Her eyes were becoming more open and her lips rounder and fuller. She was looking like a woman turned on, lush and alive! ‘Miriam,’ I told her, ‘We are all born beautiful. Sometimes life circumstances or situations cause us to forget this beauty. What’s amazing is that you’re open to returning to it.’
Today I find myself in a stand. A stand for beauty. I honor the beauty of my body. I honor the beauty of my spirit. I honor the beauty of those who find their own beauty and shamelessly flaunt and embody it. In my stand for beauty, I ready to walk the beauty path. On the beauty path, we return to balance, a state where we accept and are accepted, where we don’t feel the need to justify who we are or require validation from others, where we perceive our own beauty as continuous with the beauty in the world around us. Clearly perceived, beauty, so fragmented in our contemporary culture, is actually what can connect us to the larger beauty energies and mysteries of the universe. Each of us is a facet of a magnificently beautiful universe. To align ourselves with this beauty is to be one with it and to find it reflected everywhere we look and in everyone we encounter. Beauty is and you are a unique part of it. Walk the path.
The Navajo Beauty Way Ceremony
In beauty may I walk
All day long may I walk
Through the returning seasons may I walk
Beautifully I will possess again
Beautifully joyful birds
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk
With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk
With dew about my feet may I walk
With beauty may I walk
With beauty before me may I walk
With beauty behind me may I walk
With beauty above me may I walk
With beauty all around me may I walk
In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk
In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk
It is finished in beauty
It is finished in beauty.