Updated: Oct 5, 2020
I doubt there is a single person on this earth who does not feel self-conscious or obsessive about some part of their body. In fact, I guarantee you that even the people who others look at with envy have their insecurities, or at the very least have experienced moments in their lives when they did not feel comfortable in their own skin.
In my personal experience, I’ve resentfully been told by many that I couldn’t possibly understand how they feel, “you can eat whatever you want, Veronika, and you’ll never gain a pound.” What people don’t know is that I struggle with the opposite issue - maintaining weight and not looking anorexic. Every time someone tells me “you are so thin, you should eat more,” it takes a lot of work not to let that statement affect my self-esteem. Sure, it is not the most common body image issue, but, I can assure you it is just as damaging as being told to eat less. Put on top of that teasing comments from men saying “oh, but where did your ass go? Where are your boobs?” and it’s no longer an easy task to feel confident.
Then there are the less obvious insecurities: lines on one’s face, gray hairs, hairs in strange places or no hair at all, a particular mole, pimples, stretch marks, scars, the quality of one’s skin, and how our body functions - our energy, tension or pain we feel, how flexible we are, how strong we are, what’s going on with our digestion, getting sick, how we respond sexually, how we act when we are nervous, angry, scared, vulnerable… the list goes on.
My aim with this article is to increase awareness around the internal and external factors that affect our body image and help foster love and acceptance for the unique body we have been endowed with. When we change the relationship we have with our own body, not only can we feel comfortable in our own skin, but we are also much more capable of helping others to feel great in theirs. We can create a culture where we lift each other up and celebrate the beauty of the human body, regardless of shape, size, or color.
So, where do we begin?
In my yoga teacher training, I was introduced to the concept of Yamas. The Yamas are essentially guidelines for the practicing yogi to lead a moral, conscious, and ethical life. To practice living the 5 Yamas our assignment was to spend a whole day observing our thoughts and actions as they relate to each one. There is one that I found particularly useful in helping to cut the bullshit, for lack of a better phrase. This is ahimsa, or nonviolence towards oneself and others, whether physical, emotional, or mental.
While I don’t particularly think of myself as someone who dwells on self-deprecating thoughts, when I did the exercise, I began to see the not-so-nice things I had to say about my appearance or the way my body functioned. I began to notice in astonishing detail how ignoring a need for rest or exercise perpetuated a “violent” relationship with my body. Or how certain foods I ate were self-destructive and undermined my body’s effort to operate in a positive way.
We create stories and habits that run on autopilot, like a television that’s on in the background. We may not even realize how often we indulge in obsessing about that one unwanted zit or puffy eyes.
Becoming aware of your internal dialogue is the first step towards creating a healthier relationship with your body.
In Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, he states that in order to change a habit we must replace it with a new one. Every time you notice yourself saying something like, “eww, my thigh is so thick,” why not find something you love about your body and say it out loud. Make it a habit to appreciate the way your body has supported you. Additionally, see if you can tell someone else one thing you love about their body every day. Maybe your partner’s body, or a friend or even a stranger. You never know how that one compliment can contribute to their wellbeing, and it will definitely make you a more astute observer of the things you appreciate about your own body.
Ages ago, before I worked with the body through yoga or tango, I studied it through art. I loved figure drawing and figurative sculpture. I’ve recently reconnected with this past passion and was reminded that when you observe the body through the lense of an artist, every single body is beautiful. Every curve and form that one might be self-conscious about, to an artist, is interesting, delightful, and absolutely exquisite. Now, I’m not suggesting you go and get your pencils and notepad and start drawing, but if you find it particularly difficult to find something you like about your body, see if you can look at yourself through the eye of an artist. Can you find beauty in the way a particular fold of skin meets another? Can you be curious about the way a particular crease tells a unique story?
Becoming aware of our thoughts and judgments about our bodies and making a conscious effort to turn them into something more positive is just one way to foster change. The other is through making that same conscious effort to change the things that you don’t like, that are changeable.
The keyword here is “that are changeable.” There are many things we cannot have control over and for those, we must practice acceptance. And let’s try to remember, people, everyone has a body that poops, farts, vomits, blisters, wrinkles, releases odors, and makes strange sounds! Whatever you think is not normal, is very normal!
Now, for those things we can change, we can practice effort. When we learn to balance acceptance with effort, we can create a relationship with our body that is harmonious.
A yoga teacher once said in a class, “try easy.” Put in that honest effort and at the same time meet yourself where you are really at.
So what does this effort look like?
It’s consciously choosing foods that are going to boost your body’s vitality. It’s going out for that run, rolling out your yoga mat, doing those squats that are later going to make you not just stronger physically but also mentally. It’s getting that full 8 hours of rest or recognizing when it’s time to slow down and recharge your batteries. It is also knowing when to put your needs first and stop bending over backwards to do every thing for every one else. Giving to others will come naturally and effortlessly when you take care of yourself. Be kind to your body, and the rewards will be plentiful.
We have so many tools available to us to make the changes we seek, we just need to hone our balancing act of treating our body with kindness and acceptance and challenging ourselves to grow. This is the balancing act that we practice with each yoga pose, but can you make it a practice in all the other ways you use your body off the mat?
As I mentioned previously, creating a healthy relationship with our own body is something we can then extend towards treating other people’s bodies with respect and empathy. When we give to ourselves, we can give to others. When we are conscious of what we say to ourselves, we can be more conscious of what we say towards others. When we can accept all parts of ourselves, we can accept all parts of others or sometimes that works the other way around. Being more accepting of others can teach us how to be more accepting of ourselves. You wouldn’t tell your friend she is ugly so stop saying it to yourself!
When we create healthy habits, we can teach others to be mindful of the habits they create too. It becomes one big cycle with no beginning or end, that ultimately fosters a culture of body positivity that is passed onto future generations.
Now I want to encourage you to share in the comments one thing you love about your body, one thing that you cannot change but will accept, and one thing that you would like to change that is changeable, and how you are going to make the effort to do so. You can take that one step further and share the body love by writing one thing you love about someone else’s body!
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