If ever there was a slippery concept, it’s inner beauty. What is it? How is it manifested? Is it inherent or can it be cultivated? If so, how? In a completely unscientific survey of my friends and colleagues, inner beauty had two components: qualities that defined it, ‘what we are’, and actions that manifested it, ‘what we do’. Those who possessed inner beauty had highly prized traits of kindness, thoughtfulness, authenticity, openness, self-awareness, hard work and generosity. They were also engaged in activities that enhanced these qualities: outward-focused altruism and inward focused self-reflection and improvement. Some argued that the very act of making it a named concept and pursuing its cultivation made one less inwardly beautiful. However, many more thought that purposefully nurturing inner beauty was an essential aspect of personal evolution and the path to greater self-awareness. Now more than ever, people want to balance purpose and contentment, to still the voices that simultaneously say ‘be more’ and ‘be good enough’.
This life of wellness – the multidimensional process of pursuing mental and bodily health that we crave – is a symptom of the world we live in. If the life and body we want is achievable by design, so why not our inner selves? For those who are beyond the survival stage, and let us be very clear, this is a first-world problem of the most first-world kind, the idea that without inner peace there cannot be any peace in relationships and work-life attainment is becoming deeply embedded. While it is factually true that we live in the most stable and prosperous times historically, the 24-hour news cycle constantly highlighting the destabilising socio-political and economic atmosphere makes us feel less secure than ever. The current capitalist status quo doesn’t engender balance or fulfilment, and in order to wrench back some sense of control from The Man, The Politicians and The World at Large, we focus inwards. We engage in the quest for inner wellbeing through an endlessly interlinked and stackable number of practices that focus on food intake, mental health and spiritual growth, physical activities and lifestyle choices. The outside is a reflection of our insides, and to glow without is to be enlightened within. Enter the wellness industrial complex: now that the goal of self-actualisation is considered a legitimate aspiration, companies and individuals can sell us an endless array of the holistic, wellbeing, and life-coaching products and services that help us in the quest towards becoming more beautiful from the inside out.