the contingency of beauty.

Spending the past two weeks in Europe has been a useful opportunity to learn exactly how my mind functions. I’ve been much more honest with myself, and I’ve discovered a lot about my mentality since I’ve been extracted from my “normal” environment. The elimination of my everyday routine, the presence of an entirely unfamiliar source of sensory input and stimuli, and the flood of emotions I’ve experienced have made this [short yet meaningful] period in my life certainly an interesting one.

Yes, I have anxiety, and yes, it affects my lifestyle. Activities such as writing and running and communicating with people who are important to me soothe my racing mind. So, what happens when I am somehow prevented from the things that my mind requires to feel a sense of calm? It races. And I get to thinking. And I worry. And it’s not fun.

My anxiety is very multifaceted, and I tend to have a lot of different worries depending on my current situation, rather than one or two general focused concerns. When I’m in a weakened mental state, as I have been from traveling, I often criticize my physical appearance. Self-image has always played a prevalent role in my mind. The past year or two, I’ve become increasingly comfortable with who I am in all aspects of my life, but my opinion of my appearance has always been a challenge (as it is for many people). One day, I feel incredible in my own skin, and then they next day, I question myself or pick on myself or look at myself in the mirror and feel unsatisfied.

Before I left for Italy, I was working out almost every day, running and going to the gym and doing things to break a sweat, which I honestly love (when I’m not trying to look clean anyway). For me, exercise offers just as many mental benefits as physical ones. Running provides me with an opportunity to process my thoughts, daydream, and focus… all at the same time. A slow two-mile jog wipes away many of my worries, especially those about my physical appearance. I usually find that after a run (paired with a cleansing shower), I feel beautiful in a particularly unique way.

So, I brought my running shoes to Italy, hoping to jog a couple of miles when I could do so in an attempt to feel this same sense of relief and acceptance of myself. At the end of a run, I always thought I found who I needed to be for my own happiness.

The first day I arrived in Italy, I attempted to jog. The different style of driving in Europe, the fact that I didn’t know the town whatsoever, and the bitter feeling of jetlag made a simple run seem exceedingly difficult.

For the first few days after my somewhat failed attempt, my mind was processing guilt, fear, and a huge desire to be at peace. I felt guilty that I wasn’t sticking to my running routine as I had decided I would back home. I think I felt like I wasn’t taking care of myself, which wasn’t true. I felt fear that my appearance would change in three weeks as a result of this change in lifestyle, which was irrational. But more than anything, I wanted to be okay with just relaxing and enjoying my vacation and feeling content with who I am and how I look, without being driven by guilt to run anyway.

I haven’t put on my running shoes since that day. Instead, I’ve worn sandals and walked miles throughout airports, Sicily, Rome, and soon-to-be Florence. I’ve broken a sweat beneath the Mediterranean sun and still felt beautiful (a little gross at times, but happy with who I am). I’ve consumed cookies and gelato and probably loaves of bread at this point (the carbivorism is so real), and I’m learning how to be happy with myself and my appearance anyway.

I realized that my beauty (or in other words, my perception of my own beauty) is not contingent upon my exercise routine or my food consumption. Neither is yours. While it’s certainly important to take care of our bodies for the sake of our health and general well-being, it’s also extremely crucial to take care of our minds. I realized how unhealthy my outlook has been, regarding my own physicality. Everyone is beautiful, 100% of the time, and nothing can be done to alter that truth.

Of course my anxiety is a huge struggle. I have a ridiculous guilt complex, and it’s so elaborate that I could easily write an entire book about it. But in the midst of a new part of the world and a new lifestyle, I’m learning how to accept and embrace the changes that are headed my way. I’m learning how to feel okay with them, and how to love myself more and more from the inside-out rather than the outside-in.

I will admit that I’m looking forward to going for a run after I recover from my jetlag. I miss the freedom that comes with a simple jog, which I absolutely took for granted back home.

I will also admit with great enthusiasm that I’m looking forward to consuming the next plate of pasta that is served to me, while also feeling at peace with my physical appearance and mental state.

I’m learning. Aren’t we all?

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