Gandhi once said, “it is health that is the real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” As always, he was onto something: so many of us aspire to riches, and in doing so ignore our physical and mental well-being. If you treat your body poorly, it’s a form of poverty that has nothing to do with your bank account.
I would expand upon Gandhi’s adage by adding that, alongside gold and silver, society’s standards for women and girls are unhelpful when it comes to spiritual wealth and health. As it stands, the world puts a lot of pressure on women to look a certain way, and in doing so conflates health with a narrow beauty ideal.
As someone who has worked for years in the fashion industry helping style models for editorials, I get it, because who wouldn’t want to look like Gigi Hadid? But here’s the thing: desiring to look a certain way isn’t enough if you truly want to be happy and healthy. You need internal motivation and incentives–things only you can define. These motivations will keep you moving and enjoying the journey as much as the outcome.
Here are a few ways to approach healthy living that can keep you motivated, and free of society’s sometimes-toxic influence on the mind and body.
Though we share a planet, we are all on a unique voyage with different paths and milestones along the way. It’s not always easy to know right away just what these are. When it comes to health, there are so many conflicting signs pointing us down one road or another in an attempt to convince us what our goals should be. SoulCycle wants you to be one thing, Weight Watchers, another, and yoga, and Crossfit, and… well, you get the picture.
Ask yourself what it is you want to attain and why. Do you want to look like a model? Why? (When I was starting my career, I modeled on the side and truly hated it). Now consider the journey. As a form of self-care, a healthy lifestyle can bring immediate rewards as well as hypothetical gains down the line. Focusing on the path shifts your motivations inward, relieving you from external pressures and expectations.
Healthy lifestyles are beneficial inside and out. If your guiding stars are supermodels, you are setting yourself up for a shallow and unsustainable expedition. Magazines are constantly photoshopped as an industry standard, so much so that supermodels, who are constantly airbrushed by graphic designers, don’t even look like supermodels in real life. By measuring yourself up against something that is essentially a fantasy, you risk never being satisfied.
There are so many benefits beyond just a bikini body that come with a healthy lifestyle. Among these are clearer skin, a stronger immune system, improved cognitive function, consistent energy and reduced health risks.
For me, the “beyond aesthetics” benefit that keeps me going is energy. Believe it or not, I hate exercising more than almost anything. But I do it anyway, three times a week every week, because I know being consistent with fitness gives me a tangible energy boost. It’s an immediate reward, and one that makes the temporary discomfort worthwhile.
I’ve found that the key to living a healthy lifestyle is mindfulness: mindful eating and mindful activity, in particular. We should all take the time to understand what we’re putting in our bodies, what we’re putting our bodies through, and what we are depriving them of.
This means, yes, reading ingredients and potentially altering your diet to be kinder to your body, giving it what it needs instead of what it wants. For me, it’s also meant developing the moral responsibility to avoid industries and products I find harmful or reprehensible.
Mindfulness means making sure you’re staying active, getting enough sleep, hydrating, and all of that good stuff. This internal and personal practice can subdue detrimental outside voices, allowing you to be at peace with yourself and your needs first and foremost.
Lastly, I can’t emphasize enough how important balance is to being truly wealthy in body and spirit. If you’re exercising yourself to death or depriving yourself of nutrients, that is not healthy it’s an extremity that is counterproductive to wellness in general.
Balance means knowing when to rest, and knowing when to go hard. It’s knowing that it’s okay to treat yourself sometimes. It’s understanding that all journeys have dips and turns, and giving yourself permission to coast sometimes before getting back on track. It’s finding a way to enjoy life and accept yourself while also striving to be a better you.
Ultimately, society has a lot to say about what you should be, and how. But only you know the answers. Pieces of gold and silver are no more the key to health than a magazine cover; once you can identify the everyday benefits of wellness, you may find “the real wealth” was in you all along.