Making peace with body image issues is hard work. Many of us are judged by how we look from a young age. We are praised for being thin and shamed for being bigger. I spent half my life with the thought (subconscious or otherwise) that how I looked was critical to my self-worth and how people perceived me. I have struggled with body image issues since middle school.
My mom once took me to see my pediatrician (who was an older man), for him to “look me over” because I told her repeatedly I thought I was fat. I think she just wasn’t sure what to do with me at that point. I was probably 14 or so at the time. He did look me over (without my shirt on) and said I was fine but keep an eye on where I might accumulate excess fat. How unbelievably awful it was. At that point, I was nowhere near overweight. Even if I were, that level of scrutiny and humiliation wasn't warranted. My doctor should have assured me I was perfectly healthy and fine just the way I was.
So, I’m here writing this because it is an area I have a lot of experience with and have accumulated what I feel are some solid tools for dispelling body image issues for those who struggle. I believe it is important work to do and most of us would benefit by having a healthier relationship with our bodies. We are coming up on the holidays and this time can be angsty for folks (for a variety of reasons). Food pressures, weight worries, being around, and potentially being judged by family members are big issues. Even if this post plants some seeds, creating a step closer to body peace, that is a win:
**Recognize that how your body looks is nobody’s business but yours. This is a big one and it surrounds other issues many of us have about how we are perceived by others. It is simply nobody’s business how you look. Period. And on the flip side, what people think about you isn’t your business. Let people think what they want, just know that your body belongs to you. You decide. Now, I do not mean to minimize the pervasive cultural bias that exists against non-thin bodies. The goal is to fortify ourselves against external stigma as much as possible.
**Talk to yourself like you would talk to a child, best friend, or someone in your life you love. It helps to develop a healthy inner voice. You won’t turn into a wild, crazy person if you talk kindly to yourself. You will just feel better. Think about your inner voice. If you notice yourself being overly critical, try and interrupt your thinking by imagining talking like that to someone you love. Chances are good you would not say the things you say to yourself to others. If you are in front of a mirror and find yourself criticizing your body, just try and pause that thinking for a moment. Ask yourself what you are gaining by doing this? What is it that you perceive to be so bad and why? Ask yourself these questions and try to answer them as honestly as you can. Then, look away or walk away and carry on… without continuing the barrage of criticism. Remind yourself that your worth is not tied to how you look, not now, not ever. This is a practice, so keep working with it. Every time we interrupt these thoughts we are weakening the negative neural pathways we have created with negative self-talk.
**Explore your relationship with shame. Shame is one of the tougher emotions to deal with in my opinion. I believe by looking back and thinking about what we feel ashamed of, can positively impact how we perceive ourselves. The root of body image issues relates to how we feel inside about who we are. The more you cultivate an appreciation for yourself - the inner you - the less you will worry about how you look on the outside, I promise. Go back, and look at the behaviors or events you perceive as shameful - truly look at them. Recognize in the examination of your shame, that you are human. You make mistakes and they are in the past. Forgive yourself. This may take time and persistence (and bravery) but it is worth it. The more light we shine on our past behaviors that are perceived as shameful, the easier it gets and the less power they have over us.
**Accept that you are perfect just the way you are. This sounds cheesy but just think about what it took to make you. Millions of years of evolution and just the exact right combination of cells and poof here you are. If you ruminate on that a bit, it becomes more and more extraordinary. Bodies should and do come in all shapes and sizes and each one is a miracle.
How can yoga and mindfulness practices help:
Yoga and mindfulness practices can help us make peace with our minds and our bodies. They give us the space and time to go deeper. We get into our bodies safely and connect with ourselves in a way that we may never have before. Mind/body connection and integration are so important in living a peaceful life. Once we do this, how we look externally becomes less and less meaningful. We hopefully begin to care much more about who we are inside. This is what true body positivity is about.
One other huge benefit of these practices is to reestablish our connection to the whole. We are all here for a reason, every one of us. We are all equally a part of this universal experience. No one person is better or more valuable than another. The principles of yoga help us to embrace this concept - if we let them. The access and understanding of the bigger picture can transform the way we see ourselves.
If you are reading this and struggle with body image issues, I hope it helps you contemplate your worth and value. Know that you are unique and perfect just the way you are. Please reach out to me if you would like to discuss any of these points in more detail.
May all beings be free from suffering.