Occupy Beauty: The Beauty We Seek is Already Inside

On July 12th, 2014 as the clock pushed 11 AM, over seventy open-armed, yoga-mat strapped women sporting massive smiles flocked the Pacifica Graduate Institute. These ecstatic women were about to embark on a six-hour journey that lay ahead of them: Occupy Beauty. This groundbreaking, first of it’s kind event would be an all-day, mini-retreat that served to provide a space in which women would empower and encourage one another, thus inspiring one another to embrace their true inner beauty.

The concept of Occupy Beauty came to event founder and creator Melanie Elkin three and a half years ago, around the same time she founded Yoga’licious — a business she created to inspire women to create a loving and positive conversation with their bodies. Elkin imagined Occupy Beauty as a day that would bring women of all walks of life together to explore the idea of beauty from the inside out. Last Saturday, the first Occupy Beauty was held and while it succeeded in doing exactly that, it didn’t stop there. The day was accompanied by yoga, inspirational speakers, dancing and connecting deeply with other women. Melanie’s wish for this event was that once the event was over, participants would:

  • Be filled up, inspired, and energized from their workouts and their Yoga Practice
  • Feel sturdy and at home in their bodies; but also open, soft, receptive, and in the flow
  • Feel more present and alive in everything they do in their lives
  • Say and fully embody the words “I AM BEAUTIFUL”
  • Walk into a room and light it up with inner confidence
Melanie Elkin guiding participants through Warrior pose

Melanie Elkin guiding participants through a high lunge pose.

From Trial to Triumph

Melanie’s life work of guiding women to self-love was sparked by her own personal journey with body image. Similar to millions of other women in the U.S who struggle with eating disorders, Melanie had a very intense struggle with anorexia as a teenager and at age 17 she was hospitalized by the disease. It was this near death experience that imparted the pivotal wisdom it would take for her to turn her life around. Even at 103 pounds Melanie still felt uncomfortable in her body. In her fragile state, Elkin had a life-changing revelation: being a certain size was not going to make her happy. Beauty exists innately in every individual; it is not a state that can be achieved but something weaved into all of us at birth. Melanie’s perception of herself as beautiful had to become entirely independent not only of her weight but of her physical appearance altogether.

Melanie’s discovery of yoga after this realization became her guide in learning how to embody beauty. For the first time Melanie was engaged in a practice that gave her the space to listen to herself and allowed her to feel confident in her own skin. It soon it became easier for her not to be swayed by traditional definitions of beauty.

An Occupy Participant soaking in Melanie's positive reaffirmations

An Occupy participant soaking in Melanie’s positive reaffirmations.

Less than a decade later, Melanie has made it her life mission to facilitate dialogues for groups of women around societies accepted definition of beauty. She believes there is a “deeply-radiant, BEAUTIFUL, uniquely-you essence that is in YOU and waiting to be expressed and explored even more fully and that beauty is not just a look but a feeling.”

“If I could come back from such a dark place around my body image, I know that is possible for all women”.            -Melanie Elkin

Highlights of the Day

After sharing from a place of such raw vulnerability, it became evident that this room would be a space where women would feel comfortable letting down their defenses. Once Melanie opened up the room for women to discuss what brought them to Occupy Beauty, conversation began to flow and participants started to share what they hoped to get out of the day.

Soon thereafter, the group took to their yoga mats where Melanie guided them through a Vinyasa flow routine. Next, registered dietician Amy Isabella Chalker of Isabella Gourmet Foods shared “Talking with our Mouths Full” — a talk about ways adults can encourage children to cultivate healthy emotional and behavioral relationships with food. Her talk explored how humans use food to communicate underlying emotions and how by becoming more aware of these emotions we can learn to adjust to them in healthy, productive and validating ways.

After Chalker’s inspirational talk, Melanie led a panel of five strong, inspiring women around beauty. These women included Audrey Hazekamp, Kellen Brugman, Tia Walker, Kenetia Lee and Jackie Ruka.

Panel from left to right: Audrey Hazekamp, Kenetia Lee, Kellen Brugman, Tia Walker and Jackie Ruka

Panel from left to right: Audrey Hazekamp, Kenetia Lee, Kellen Brugman, Tia Walker and Jackie Ruka.

These women were asked to share one “gem” of advice with the other women attending. Here were some of their responses.

  • Being is where beauty is sourced. It takes effort to get ready and look beautiful, but beauty is simply being.
  • Beauty is about presence and being in your body.
  • Forgiveness is key. You cannot become the person you aspire to be if you are holding onto resentment.
  • Make time for self-care everyday. Whether that looks like spending time in nature or pampering yourself, making time for yourself is essential to our happiness.
  • Be fearless and fear less.
  • Uplift and uplevel. When you see a trait that you admire in a fellow woman, speak it.
  • Strong women need to be held strongly. Don’t be fooled!
  • Follow your calling and never give up. You know that person in your life that just glows? This is a product of them following their calling.
  • Ask yourself the question: Am I willing to know myself as beautiful? Once you are able to answer yes to that question, commit to knowing yourself as beautiful.

After the panel, holistic medical doctor and professional dancer Tumi Johnson, M.D. took to the mic. Tumi Johnson was raised in Ibadan, Nigeria and Nashville, Tennessee. Prior to participating in Doctors without Borders in Niger, Johnson compartmentalized her gifts as a doctor and as a dancer. While in Niger, however, she discovered just how powerful dance is in the path to healing and since that trip over five years ago she has never separated the two. At Occupy Beauty she taught us an African Inspired dance routine which left us all feeling connected and unified.

Tumi Johnson uniting women through dance

Tumi Johnson uniting women through dance.

In a world occupied with superficial standards of beauty coming at us from all directions, for many women it seems unthinkable to escape from self-confidence issues and feelings of inadequacy. Let us occupy beauty instead, in all of it’s different shades, shapes, and sizes. Instead of a society that prides women on their outer appearance, let us teach and remind the young girls and women in our lives that the magic is within us, not outside of us.

It’s time to start a revolution! Here is to strong women filled with true beauty. May we be them, support them and raise them.
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Weren’t able to make it LIVE to the event but feeling called to learn more? Click HERE for the virtual experience of Occupy Beauty and start your journey at home. You will receive a recording of the panel from the live event, as well as a yoga confidence building video from Melanie Elkin herself.

Written by Riley Hubbell, LoaTree. All photos by Jacqueline Anker.

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