Written by Dr. Sura Devi Corrigan DC
I was scrolling through Instagram and a video got my attention of a man styling a woman’s hair. The woman was by society’s standards very beautiful. I could tell she had a good amount of plastic surgery done and was wearing a lot of make-up. Her self-hatred was loud to me; almost overtaking her. My feeling was that the more she does externally to make herself beautiful, the more she doesn’t like herself internally.
I felt for her. I realized I knew exactly how she felt. I am Iraqi. My DNA declared that I would never fit America’s definition of beauty. Instead of honoring the beauty of my lineage shining through me, I felt I was missing the mark of what beauty is. When I was younger, most the Iraqi young girls I knew would get nose jobs one year after their first period. You had to wait at least one year after your first period in case your face changes more. Instead of honoring this sacred time as a rite of passage into womanhood (which I now honor and appreciate), to me it was a sign that you only had to wait one more year until you could fix that big bump on your ugly nose. I remember in school, the kids would laugh at me and make fun of my nose. I don’t remember when I started feeling ashamed about my looks but my guess is that it was around this time in my life.
The Arab culture is also highly critical of how a woman looks. For me, there was always a feeling that I would never get beauty right. The eyes of all other women scanning you for the one thing that is wrong. I know it’s not just an Arab thing - I see it in many cultures - but some are worse than others. I did find ways to cope though. I was 10 or 11 when I first started to make myself throw up. It would help get the poison out. Then later, smoking cigarettes because it helped numb me while also speeding the metabolism up. There were so many times in my life that I truly believed I was overweight and now look back on those photos and see how thin I was.
The first time I realized I could help myself was when I read “You Can Heal Your Life” by Louise Hay because it gave me a healthy way to heal from not liking myself. Louise Hay said, “look in the mirror and tell yourself you love yourself - that you really, really love yourself everyday. Tell yourself that you approve of yourself, that you really approve of yourself.” Her practices really resonated deeply with me. Although simple, it spoke directly to the root of my self loathing, pain and my desire to heal.
I knew that as a child, Louise Hay, she didn’t love herself and the world treated her accordingly - with abuse. But through her daily mirror work and loving affirmations, she healed and loved herself. In her later years, her work really helped people shift deeply and she was loved wherever she went. As she would often say, “How people treat you is a reflection of how deeply you love and approve of yourself." I knew if she could do it, I could too.
I remember the first few times I did the exercise, I would look in the mirror and say, “I approve of myself.” Then I would hear another voice loudly in my head that said, “no, you’re FAT.” The “F” word. I never say that word anymore. It carries so much baggage. I would then acknowledge that part of me that believes I am fat and I would send her love. My therapist at the time suggested I give her (the part of me that calls me fat) another job to do. He said, “instead of always telling you that you are fat - tell her to say you are beautiful instead.” Sounded easy enough. But it didn’t really work for me at first. That part of me was too hurt and ashamed to say something kind. I started sending her love instead and praying this part of me would be healed. It is still a daily practice. She doesn’t pop up as much as she used to but whenever I do something new and brave - she comes in to put me down. I send her the pink love and I acknowledge her. Then I affirm positive beliefs as Louise Hay taught me.
I have come a long way since my teenage years. I love myself more than I ever have. Over the years, I have found myself getting less and less triggered. I used to even judge the triggers as a sign I wasn’t healed yet but now I welcome them as a loving teacher revealing to me where there is still love to be shared and parts to be healed. With each trigger, I have to return back to the basics - looking in the mirror and saying “I love myself. I approve of myself. I really love myself.” I allow the words to be at home in my body. It is a muscle that grows stronger with use.
When I work with people now, I always share this exercise with them. I have noticed that sometimes people will say the words but they don’t allow the words to land in their body. They don’t embody it. They can say it but they are not yet willing to embody the truth of the statement. That’s ok. It takes time, patience, kindness and love.
Being pregnant was a trigger because I hadn’t owned a scale in years and suddenly I was weighing myself every damn appointment. Part of healing bulimia for me was not having a scale in the house or ever weighing myself. Instead of how much I weighed, I focused on my energy levels and overall well being. If I get pregnant again, I will ask the doctor not to weigh me or at least tell me what the scale says. Part of loving myself is putting healthy boundaries in place.
My latest trigger was on Instagram. I was on Instagram and I don’t really even look at reels but somehow I was watching a reel and clicked on the beauty filter. Suddenly I had high cheekbones, big lips, long lashes, no wrinkles and make-up. I was excited at first. It gave me a hit - a high. I always wondered what I would look like with bigger lips or longer lashes. I played around with it for a bit. Adding sparkles. Making the lips look a little more realistic. When the filter came off, I was horrified to see how I looked. I looked ugly compared to this beauty filter. Suddenly all I could see was the dark bags under my eyes and the shortness of my lashes. I was triggered. I had to pull away and create a safe space to be with myself and reflect on what I just experienced.
The media sells disembodied beauty. Meaning a woman that isn’t connected to her body and thus, her inner worthiness. To achieve the beauty they sell - one must disconnect from self, reject self and choose an outer beauty that isn’t natural or kind. Then the beauty industry feasts off the person; making billions off the disconnected self. So now instead of owning the beauty that you naturally are - women are spending time and money to fit a certain beauty that no money can really buy. A woman that is in her body appreciates and loves herself. She is comfortable in her skin. She enjoys the way she is connected to her body and how her body is a direct link to her sexiness, beauty and truth. When she is at home in her body she doesn’t fall prey so easily to the lure of a beauty that lives outside herself; a beauty that one has to buy; a beauty that falls short of honoring what makes one truly beautiful.
The beauty filters are one of the many symptoms of a toxic culture that values phony over real, how much money you make over your wellbeing, how many followers you have over presence, connection and healing. I don’t have a daughter but if I did, I would never want her to go through the roller coaster of the experience I had using a beauty filter. I wouldn’t want that for anyone really. My prayer, my hope is that we all can come to know and value our own unique beauty from the inside - out. Embodied beauty. It is stronger that way. No one can take it from you. It is the real deal because it is based on who you are. No implants, fillers, extensions needed.
The filters are only a symptom of the underlying problem. The problem is we live in a world that profits on unrealistic ideals of beauty and profits on lack of connection with Self. The only way is through and until more people align with themselves naturally - being more connected to their body, heart, mind and spirit - then there will be symptoms in our culture that are clearly telling us something is wrong. Some good did come out of the beauty filter experience for me - it got me to pause and reflect and come through this affirming more deeply than ever “No beauty filter needed. I accept, adore and deeply love myself as is. I am beautiful. Thank you but no thank you.”
Dr. Sura Devi Corrigan DC is passionate about women’s health, healing and wellbeing. She is in private practice at Nalu Chiropractic in Jersey City and in addition offers virtual and in person coaching and birth education.