While I was boxing professionally, I never thought about my looks. The furthest thing from my mind was "messing up my pretty face" when I was on my way to the ring to meet my opponent. Yet, people I'd meet along the way would always ask me if I was worried about my looks. Then they would go on to say that I was "too pretty to box."
There were many boxing fans who would actually try to judge my toughness according to my appearance. For example, if I was facing a girl they felt looked tougher or less attractive, they would bet against me. Well, needless to say, anybody who ever bet against me lost all their money because I retired from boxing undefeated with a record of 24-0, with 21 knockouts.
I was never offended that people underestimated me because of my appearance or that they thought I was pretty and discouraged me from fighting because they didn't want me to risk hurting my looks. I understand that the average person can't imagine damaging their looks in any way if it could be avoided. But I don't value my physical beauty to the point where I would not do something I truly enjoy because I'm afraid of potentially hurting something superficial. Besides, boxing is a little crazy regardless of whether a fighter is "pretty" or not. I don't really understand exactly why I loved boxing so much in the first place. I just followed my heart into the ring and found happiness.
By being an athlete, I have uncovered so many other ways to express my beauty. Being a strong, fearless woman makes me feel beautiful. I love the way I look and feel when I am two hours into my training and my skin is glistening with sweat and my clothes are drenched because I have given it all I've got. Nothing is more beautiful to me than a woman who is confident in herself because she knows she has done the work that it takes to earn the success she deserves. As women, we have so many responsibilities and endless worries. Sometimes we forget to take time out for the things that make us feel whole, proud of ourselves and sexy. I feel good when I am exercising regularly, eating right and getting the rest that I need to be the wife, the mommy and the career woman according to my standards. I try to do each job so well that you would think it was all I had to do! But this takes a lot of focus, dedication and energy. When I conquer that task, I can't help but feel like a drop-dead gorgeous superwoman.
I once overheard a man say, "Women who know and appreciate their body know how to move...and that's sexy." Well, what do you know, it's not all about the long legs, round butt and big boobs! Sometimes we get too caught up in comparing ourselves to others or thinking that we have to look a certain way in order to be considered attractive. The truth is, the most attractive people are those who appreciate their own unique qualities and have confidence in themselves. This can only come from self-acceptance and self-love.
Being an athlete has taught me how important it is for my mind, body and spirit to be aligned. When I was boxing, I'd have to prepare my mind for competition so that my body could follow the lead. Then, it was imperative that I meditate and nurture my spirit to seal the deal. Once that ritual was complete, there was no stopping me. This is the way I approach every aspect of my life, and it enables me to walk to the beat of my own drum. This inner confidence that I have is one of my most beautiful gifts, and I would not trade it for anything, not even smaller feet (I wear size 11 1/2)!
I don't have to be thin, have long, silky hair or any of the other things that our society considers to be beautiful. And neither does anyone else. All we have to do is change our minds and open our eyes. Only then can we appreciate all the features and unique qualities within ourselves. When a woman feels beautiful from the inside out, she exudes confidence and an unstoppable glow. She brings a smile to people's faces because her energy is so positive and contagious.
This type of beauty is much more valuable than simply having a "pretty face" can ever be.
What is it that you value more than physical beauty? Comment below.
Laila Ali made her professional boxing debut in 1999, following in the legendary footsteps of her father, Muhammad Ali. She is an athlete, wife, mother and champion of health and fitness. For more about Laila, go to LailaAli.com.
Printed from Oprah.com on Wednesday, December 11, 2013