What is your history with your body? What is your relationship with your physical presence in the world?
These are hard questions to answer. Because the answers usually hurt.
For most of us, if we’re honest, our relationship with our bodies is one of the most complicated and conflicted of our lives.
Many of us, when we think of our bodies, have a laundry list of complaints. From the way we look, to the way we move, to the illness we may carry. When we step back, then, and boil all those complaints down, our bodies become the source of two deep emotions: hate and fear.
“I hate the way my thighs rub when I walk.” “I am so afraid I will get cancer like my mother.” “I know boys don’t like bony girls.” “I hate getting old.”
We all have it. I know I sure have it. I can’t even fathom the number of times I haven’t gone to the beach because I didn’t want to get in a bathing suit, or that I’ve looked in the mirror, pulling my face this way and that, then letting out a big groan. Or how many times I’ve shamed my body, out loud, to others, cursing either the way it looks, or the way it’s changed as I’ve gotten older.
We all have that list of things that we say, to ourselves, and to others about the way we hate about our bodies. What we fear our bodies will do to us, to our lives. And we play out that dialogue, every single day, over and over.
Take a moment, and think to yourself, honestly about how many messages you send to your body every day that are negative. I know for me, it can be too many to count.
This has become a cultural way of life, our hating ourselves. And bonding with each other over the shared disdain of our physical presence. Then, we pass it on with each generation.
Think about what the world tells you about your body? What are the messages you have gotten about how to treat your physical self?
If you carry extra weight, the world says you’re lazy. If you are too thin, the world says you’re neurotic. If you have illness, the world says you’re weak. If you can’t bear children, you’re to be pitied. Yet, if you grind yourself into the ground through work, lack of sleep, “killer” workouts, the world applauds your efforts.
We, as a society, embrace our duality. The body is separate from “us.” It is something to be mastered, denied, beat up, overcome.
Think about exercise. We are supposed to “whip ourselves” into shape. “No pain, no gain.” If it isn’t hard, or painful, or torturous, it isn’t good enough. We stopped making exercise an enjoyable expression of movement and vitality, and made it into a form of punishment that is rewarded by an appearance obsessed society.
Make no mistake, we are obsessed with beauty. We will do most anything to achieve it. We have pills, and shots, and workouts, and lasers, and surgeries to try and fix those things about our bodies that aren’t good enough. And we tell ourselves that all the time; as I am, I am not good enough. So, we spend millions on trying to achieve our society’s ideal of perfect beauty. Because without it, we think we are too old, or too big, or too small, or too ugly to be loved. And while I look at myself in the mirror, contemplating how much acid it would actually take to peel off the years my face has earned, I have to look at what my body, our collective bodies, are hearing: “I hate you enough to inject you with toxins, to burn you, to cut you, because you aren’t good enough and it’s making me miserable.”
We hate our bodies for aging in a world consumed by youth, and yet we are terrified of dying. We curse our skin for sagging, our backs for aching, our eyesight for growing dim… all while popping vitamins and tonics trying to allay our fears of showing and feeling our age. We refuse to see that we can’t not die and not grow old at the same time.
What about sex? What words come out of our mouths about our bodies and their sexuality? Usually, that we aren’t desirable as we are. We will be, when we lose those ten pounds, or get waxed, or tone up our ass. Because nobody’s going to want to see thisnaked. But we forget that we are living, dynamic beings who don’t just want to have sex with each other because of how we look. OK, maybe sometimes. But when we are in a grounded, honest space, we want to have sex with each other because of how we feel, and how we feel with that other person. Sex is a union, a gift of sharing all of who you are with someone else, not just the perfect parts. Because perfect is boring. Messy is chaotic beauty at its best. It’s not the perfect push up bra, or the gap between your thighs, or the world’s longest erection. It’s your messy, human, divine self, and that’s beautiful.
We have come by these views honestly, by way of social conditioning over great spans of history. Not just the obsession of what lies in the mirror, but also the message that the physical is our burden to bear. Most all patriarchal religious systems teach us that the body is something to be overcome. In Christianity, is it to overcome the desires of the flesh that lead us to evil. In Buddhism, it is to overcome the physical needs of the body that weaken our ability to meditate and hinder our transcendence.
Think of how often you refuse to listen to your body. Whether its message is about food, sleep, stress, pain… how often do you “push past” what your body is trying to tell you? How often do you ignore your own physical needs? And how often do you brag about it, or receive praise from others for doing so?
We are lost in the duality of ourselves. We need to recognize that our bodies are an integral part of our being. We cannot exist without them. And we cannot expect our body to carry us through life, while we beat it up, day after day, without breaking down.
In Andrew Harvey’s book, The Direct Path, he says “How can we not fear and despise the body that is the source of so much anxiety and distress?” It’s natural, given the messages we tell ourselves every day. So, we have to change the conversation. Both with ourselves, and with each other. It will be hard, feeling almost impossible at times. To rid ourselves, as Harvey states, of all the cultural, sexual, and religious assumptions that teach you physical self-contempt.
But we must. We must stop the self-contempt.
We must learn to be compassionate to our skin.
We must be respectful to our bones.
We must be grateful to our hearts.
We must be in love with our own smiles.
We must come to see our bodies just as we do our spirits; an incarnation of the Divine in this form, so that it can express itself.
We are uniquely, beautifully, strangely us. And we need to start loving each and every part. Even those parts we want to transform. Especially those parts we think make us unattractive, unworthy, unlovable. Lean into them. Love yourself anyway. And never let yourself hate your body again. Because, really, one day you will be without it. And then, we will all realize the beautiful gift that it was, each and every lump and bump.
So, just for today, love who you are. Just as you are. Because you are beautiful. Because you are strong. Because you are compassionate. Because you are worth loving.
Fall in love with yourself. There’s no more important person on the planet for you to be in love with.
—-If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.