I went last night to a local theater to see a documentary about body image called Embrace. Sadly, a utility pole fire knocked the power out in the theater, and it wasn’t to be (although it is being rescheduled). Still, even planning to see the movie allowed me to truly consider my own experiences with body image.
When I participate in Nia classes, even now with my great love for all my body does for me, I can’t help but notice in the mirrors how I compare to others. I am strong, healthy, and energetic. I can dance for hours at a time. I can lift, create, move. I wake up every morning with fewer aches and pains than I’ve had in years (unless sleeping with a dog on my feet – but that’s really more about the dog than my body).
My body does all I ask of it and more. It serves me beautifully, yet at times, I’m still hung up on how it looks because it is not the ideal. This is thinking I work every day to quash and replace so I can exist in a space of joy and gratitude, but it’s a process. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t compare my body unfavorably to the ideal. Even when I was a size 2-3, I knew I was lacking something in the appearance of my body. Body image and comparison has always, as far as I can recall, been background noise (and sometimes in the foreground) as part of my self-awareness. Intellectually, I know. My body is magnificent, and I couldn’t be happier with all it does for me. And I’m taking the steps to have that knowledge move into my experience.
I wonder, what do those messages, that constant dialogue, do to our bodies? How much more amazing would our bodies be if we could eliminate the comparison to the ideal? How much more could we appreciate it, let go, and be in joy?
I am a huge believer our thoughts, words, and attitudes affect our outer experience. They affect our biology and physical expression. One of the best ways I can explain this is by sharing Masuru Emoto’s Messages from Water, which are a series of experiments Emoto conducted showing how different emotions and statements affected water crystals. Check out the link above – it’s fascinating stuff.
And if thoughts affect water crystals that way, what are our thoughts doing to our bodies?
Every day, I’m grateful for what my body does for me, and I express that gratitude. However, throughout the day, insidious thoughts of dissatisfaction creep in, too – the ones that tell me because I am not the physical ideal (I’m a size 14 with big boobs, butt, and thighs), my body is somehow lacking. What are these conflicting thoughts doing to my body?
I know I am not alone in my body image struggles. I see it daily among friends, family, and even strangers on the street. Societal messages about our bodies lead us to think we are somehow lacking. We feel ashamed when we fulfill the basic biological functions our body truly needs: eating and rest. We feel gratified when we push our bodies to a place where they are groaning in pain as we work out or our stomaches call out to us in hunger. Is this any way to treat something beloved? Would you push and judge someone you loved in such ways to force them to meet an unrealistic physical ideal?
Body image, negative self-talk, comparison to an ideal – these are all bred into us from an early age and reinforced throughout our lives through various sources. And so we engage in various forms of self-abuse and self-torture because we do not meet that ideal.
How do we fix it? How do we heal? I think awareness is the beginning. Listen to the thoughts you have and the words you speak about your bodies. Be in awareness. And when the negative thoughts about your body arise? Stop them and replace them with words of gratitude. What has your body done for you today? Did you sleep? Wake up? Breathe? Eliminate? Move? Think? Experience pleasure? Hear the signals of pain? This is your body, trying its hardest to partner with you, something it can’t do if you continue to reject and malign it.
Listen to your body. It is talking to you. It is telling you something valuable. It’s sending you signals, telling you what it needs, wants, likes, and doesn’t like. All you have to do is listen and send it words of support, encouragement, and kindness – the very things you would do for someone you love, so why not do them for yourself?
I decided a few years ago it was time to start partnering with my body instead of fighting it, and when I did things changed. I lost weight. I became more mobile. My pain levels decreased. My energy soared. Three years ago, I was almost couch bound. But my partnership with my body has allowed me to move, dance, and experience joy and pleasure I haven’t had since I was in my early 20s. Its an ongoing process, this partnership, and I admit I’m still not always the greatest partner because I have ongoing body image issues. But I’m working on it, and it is paying off.
This, then, isn’t an admonishment to you. It’s an invitation for you to ask your body what it needs and wants, to learn to speak and think to and about your body gently, kindly, and with gratitude. I’m inviting you to seek pleasure and be compassionate with yourself, and for you to enter into a partnership that can totally change your physical experience, if only you’ll allow it.