How much of your time and energy is spent looking in the mirror (or desperately avoiding it), wishing to see yourself as different in some way? Bigger bust, smaller hips, straighter hair, less freckles, more height, younger-looking skin…
The one thing most women have in common these days is the shame and disapproval they feel for their bodies. This isn’t a post recommending a new eating plan or exercise regimen for more confidence in the New Year. Rather I want to take a look at how our mindset affects not just our self-perception, but how we show up in the world…the ways in which we allow ourselves to become fully alive.
“Self-hate will not go away if you make a physical change (i.e. lose weight). What grows from love, though, remains in love.”
~ Erin Brown
In this modern world of growing connections, we’re ultra-focused on relationships. Business contacts, social networking, personal friendships, romances, and familial ties—developing and maintaining them places constant demands on our attention. But when was the last time you nurtured your relationship with your own body?
Not how thin or fat you look. Not how strong or out of shape you are. Not in comparison to someone else. Let go of the thoughts about body image or physical attractiveness that so often flit through your head.
Have you ever stopped to consider that you actually have a relationship with your body?
If this all seems a little “out there,” then pause for a second and ask yourself the following questions:
Most of our relationships are defined by common pursuits—those activities we share with others that foster communication, connection, and intimacy.
How often do you take time to experience the feeling of being in your own skin? It’s easy to ignore these sensations within the context of our busy days and racing thoughts.
Are you regularly engaging in activities that bring you pleasure, relaxation, or the joy of being alive?
When was the last time you focused on the sensation of openness following a good stretch, or the warmth of sunlight on your skin?
Have you acknowledged how well your body has carried you through your life up till now?
If you’re like many of us, myself included, you might be shocked to discover that your relationship with your own body has been utterly neglected. Rather than shame ourselves over one more thing, what if we asked a question instead…
When I first asked this of myself, I honestly had no answers…for quite a long time. But I kept asking the question, again and again, waiting in the stillness for any guidance. It seemed like such a foreign concept to me…surely not the type of self-acceptance and self-confidence of which I was capable.
I can’t say I’ve found all the answers, or achieved a state of complete inner peace. I did, however, discover more questions that opened me up to the possibility:
If I loved my body…
I’m quite embarrassed to think about the number of hours I’ve spent hating my body and devising plan after plan to “improve it” into something worthy of acceptance.
If I loved my body, what kinds of amazing things could I accomplish?
How many other lives could I touch and change for the better?
When I took a long, uncensored listen to my own self-talk, I realized how unkind and scathing my thoughts were. The cold, harsh truth: I was bullying myself.
Here I was trying to raise kind daughters by telling them how to treat others, yet I couldn’t even model that behavior for myself.
If I loved my body, wouldn’t I choose to believe that I was doing my best in each moment?
Start slowly, especially if you’ve felt estranged or at odds for a while. Like most relationships, this one can only be built over time and in increments. Give your body the chance to adjust to the change, time to trust your committment to leaving those shaming/blaming days behind…
Begin with these three steps:
Leave the past behind you, and stay in the present. You don’t have to figure out the source of your struggles or hatch future plans for improvement. Curiosity doesn’t want or need to change anything. It’s just focused attention— wondering about what’s going on right here, right now.
Recall the experience of getting to know someone new. In those circumstances, you would ask questions about their experiences and be genuinely interested in what they have to say.
Be present to your body with an open heart, holding space for any pain, discomfort, anxiety, or sadness that comes up. By letting go of judgments and the need to control our experience, we can meet ourselves with unconditional love and support.
Take a few moments to sit quietly and focus your attention on a slowly moving awareness of your body. Those of you practiced in meditation or visualization might recognize this as a basic body scan. You can follow your favorite method, or try one of these short practices (3 min / 11 min) on your own.
Just be present with yourself, feeling the areas of your body that are connecting with your chair or the surface upon which you’re sitting. As you place your attention on different body parts, notice what you are experiencing externally—the coolness of the air, the texture of your clothes, places where you are holding tension—as well as any internal feelings that arise.
Stay in a spot as long as it feels comfortable, and move on only when you’re ready…Allow the steady rise and fall of your breath to carry away tension and invite a deeper sense of connection with your body, similar to the ease and relaxation of young children.
With one simple question…
Right now, what do you truly need?
You might need to ask this more than once. You may want to pause, listening for a long time. Another way to think about this inquiry is to get curious about what your body is longing for.
Maybe it’s better rest, a slowing down. Perhaps a more balanced intake of nutrients. Or gentle movement, to reacquaint the body with mobility and sensation. Maybe simply a small gesture of appreciation for how well it’s carried you so far.
What your body is certainly not longing for is desperate promises and punishing future plans. In this space, in this moment—what one small thing could you do to bring your body JOY?
Here are a few responses from my own body, things I’ve learned to fit into my day as I build our relationship:
Day after day, I’m amazed at how simple it is to connect with my body and notice what it needs. And how easily I can build rapport in ways that are supportive and kind.
Set aside fifteen minutes to try a body scan, leisurely and without rushing. Let your body know that you’re interested in growing a relationship.
In this moment, what do you need?
Whatever answer you receive, see if you can think of a way to start meeting this need with a brief, five minute rest or activity.
Wrap your arms around your shoulders, as if you are giving yourself a soft, gentle hug.
I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.
for all the times I’ve mistreated you in the past.
from now on, I’m doing my best to be loving and compassionate.
for all of the many ways you support and hold me.
Full Stop. No conditions.
Bonus: Experience the exquisite beauty of these words set to music with Carrie Grossman’s song “Thank You (Ho’oponopono).”
I don’t mean to imply that I’ve got things all figured out, or have a perfect relationship with my body. There are definitely days where I’m still self-conscious and awkward in my physicality.
However, I have let go of trying to shame and “should” myself into being something different, something better, something more than who I am. I’ve accepted my body as the one and only place where I’m truly at home. And so my self-talk has become more focused on loving kindness and compassion. I choose to talk about and to my body the way I would speak to my closest friends.
Instead of looking in the mirror and wishing my legs were less bulky, I now acknowledge the many ways they serve me:
Since I’m no longer fighting my self-image, I am experiencing a more peaceful acceptance of how I look and feel—because my body has started to trust me.
I still ask myself from time to time: Who am I when I love my body?
I’m a joyful, vibrantly alive woman who has all the energy I need to create and live my best life, each and every day.
How about you…Who would you be if you loved your body?