However each of us defines it, beauty is something we perceive through external, visual cues. Even when we find someone beautiful because of internal qualities like kindness or humor, we’re associating those internal qualities with external traits—the gentle curve of smiling lips or a slyly sparkling pair of eyes. It’s inevitable, since beauty by definition is an external quality. But while beauty is external, internal health and function influence it, too.
In the first part of this three-part series, we talked about skin care and about how taking care of ourselves on the outside can improve how we feel on the inside. Today, we’re going to look at the other side of the coin: how taking care of our inner health can enhance our outer beauty.
Health and beauty are more than just a section in a big box store
Until about a year ago, the decisions I made about food and exercise left a lot to be desired. I personified this classic skincare meme:
Then I started paying more attention to what (and how much) I ate and drank. Some time later, I also started exercising regularly. Over the course of several months, I revamped my lifestyle one step at a time. By now, I’m a total convert. I’ve embraced a much healthier lifestyle, and me being me, I embraced it most fully once I saw the effects that that healthier lifestyle had on my looks.
(See? All-consuming vanity isn’t necessarily a bad thing!)
I’m not a doctor or a dietitian. I wouldn’t even bestow the unregulated title of nutritionist on myself. I’ll be speaking about food from the perspectives of common knowledge and personal experience. My tips aren’t meant to serve as a template to follow, but rather as a starting point for researching and, if necessary, discussing with your doctor or registered dietitian to make sure any changes you make are appropriate for you.
I’ve embraced a much healthier lifestyle, and me being me, I embraced it most fully once I saw the effects that that healthier lifestyle had on my looks. (See? All-consuming vanity isn’t necessarily a bad thing!)
Diet: Beauty from the inside out
Nutrition can play a significant role in beauty. For example, research suggests a significant link between chronic inflammation and extrinsic skin aging, the kind of aging caused by controllable external factors (and therefore preventable to a degree) rather than genetics. A significant link also exists between diet and inflammation. Adjusting our diet to reduce inflammation theoretically should also help delay some signs of aging on our skin, as dermatologist Fredric Brandt explained to Allure:
“Glycation, which you get from eating too much sugar, is another cause of inflammation. Sugar molecules bond to skin and break down collagen and elastin. Good habits are the way to avoid the bad inflammation: Cut down on alcohol, wear sunscreen, and eliminate white foods, sucrose, and fructose from your diet.”
Research also suggests that a similar link may exist between high-glycemic, inflammation-promoting foods and acne.
Again, I’m not a doctor or dietitian, so I’m not going to concur with Dr. Brandt’s advice to eliminate any particular foods from your diet. Exercising more restraint and moderation when it comes to inflammation-causing sugar, starchy, and highly processed foods can be helpful, however. I’ve cut down on my consumption of all of those and alcohol as well.
It’s impossible to say right now whether doing so will significantly delay signs of visible aging on my skin, since I can’t compare myself to an alternate reality version of myself that did not make any changes to my diet, but my skin overall is calmer and less prone to redness regardless of what products I’m using at any given time. I also simply feel better overall, which translates into a more positive outlook on life as well as more energy for everything—including skin care and beauty!
By taking control of our beauty (however we each define it) and our bodies, we change our internal narrative to one in which we are in charge.
Exercise: Beauty from head to toe
But while dietary adjustments can help reduce inflammation and improve overall health and energy, they aren’t the only way. Research suggests that regular exercise may also help reduce chronic inflammation.
Until last year, I hardly exercised, beyond regular long walks. I always thought of myself as a not particularly athletic or sporty person and used that perception to excuse myself from physical activity, without examining the way that my self-perception created my (very unfit) reality. The result of my exercise avoidance? Shoulder pain, back pain, poor posture, and less-than-ideal body confidence.
I originally started practicing yoga to relieve some of my shoulder and back pain and found it so rewarding that I decided to branch out and explore some of the other classes on the app I use, including more intensive, Pilates-inspired strength building workouts. The more I practiced, the more I progressed, and the more I progressed, the more I wanted to progress, especially once I started to notice visible changes to my body. Simply put, feeling more confident in my body encouraged me to keep working on my body.
View this post on Instagram
These days, I love my body. I’m stronger, more flexible, and in less pain on the inside. I carry myself with more confidence and more coordination. And to my taste, I look better on the outside, which is the most obvious beauty benefit of working out. Beyond just visible muscle tone, an actual booty, and an upper back that my friends assure me is now “ripped,” I get to enjoy better sleep at night and an increase in healthy circulation during the day, both of which contribute to a distinct increase in glow. Like my skin care routine, my attention to nutrition and physical activity have become acts of care for myself, motivated by beauty but bringing benefits that go far deeper than the surface.
Me-care: Wellness for beauty & beauty through wellness
The common thread linking the skin care practices I discussed in Part 1 and the diet and exercise improvements I wrote about here are the way they integrate beauty concerns with overall wellness. Having ostensibly beauty-focused rituals like daily skin care routines can benefit mental health, while forming health-promoting habits like cleaner eating and regular exercise doesn’t just benefit physical health but also our overall appearance and, from there, our quality of life.
The reason I say that improving our appearance can also benefit our quality of life is simple. Our beauty, diet, and fitness choices can give us a greater sense of control over our bodies. A greater sense of control leads to an increase in confidence. Confidence leads to courage: the courage to do more with our lives both day to day and in the grander scheme of things. By taking control of our beauty (however we each define it) and our bodies, we change our internal narrative to one in which we are in charge. That can be life-changing, even if the original motivation was “merely” for beauty.