- Do you dislike your body?
- Do you see all of your flaws when you look in the mirror?
- Is it difficult to believe people when they compliment you?
How many of you can honestly say that you love your body, just the way it is? Out of the hundreds, if not thousands, of clients I have worked with over the years, only two of them stand out as being comfortable with their bodies. One is a 60 year old woman who miraculously feels comfortable with her body as it is. She keeps it healthy and reasonably fit, but does not obsess about it. The other is a 30 year old man who was seriously injured and had to fight to stay alive. He beat the odds and managed to be active in sports and regular workouts by refusing to believe the doctors when they said he would never walk again. He worked hard to love his body and has succeeded. Unfortunately, these two are highly unusual. The rest of us need some help learning to be comfortable and happy in our bodies.
We all know that the media and the beauty industry do a lot of damage with their airbrushed images of perfection that do not fit the reality for most of us. Judging ourselves and each other, based on that measuring stick doesn’t help. Each person has some idea of what the “perfect” body looks like and it usually isn’t your own.
You get dressed in the morning, wishing your clothes fit you differently, noticing that little bit of fat on your tummy or the jiggle of your arms. You look in the mirror for your morning routine and see the blemishes on your skin or the lines around your eyes. You judge yourself as “not good enough”, “looking old”, or “getting too fat.” The people who own the beauty products, weight loss centers, and plastic surgery clinics cheer you on, with advertisements telling you how they can make you “better”, maybe even “perfect” if you spend the money on their product or service. How many people do you know who use those products or get those procedures done that actually love themselves and feel genuinely happy afterwards? Not one, I bet. It doesn’t work because it isn’t authentic or real. Fighting your body and it’s natural reactions does not make anyone feel better. When you spend all that time and money trying to change your body, you are basically telling yourself that you are not okay the way you are. I am talking about accepting yourself, just as you are, warts and all. If you want to change your body, you must first change your attitude about it. You cannot change something effectively if you have not accepted it.
I love the paradox of Acceptance. When you accept reality the way it is, you gain power to make changes. When you accept that your partner will never change his enjoyment of video games, you gain the ability to make a decision about what you want to do for yourself. When you accept the reality that your job has disappeared, you can begin to look for a new one. When you accept your body the way it is, you can make the necessary changes to take care of it. In order to make it better, you must first accept it just as it is.
How to Accept Your Body As It Is
If you are ready to accept your body, just as it is, and learn to love it, I have just the exercise for you!
1. Rank your body parts, with your favorite (or least hated) part first. I will use eyes as my example because they are the most commonly acceptable parts for most people. Hands are also somewhat acceptable for most people.
Example: Eyes, Hands, Feet, Hair, Nose, Neck, Feet, Legs, Arms, Lips, Shoulders, Back, Skin, Derriere, Hips, Tummy. In this case, the person feels okay about her eyes, but does not like her tummy.
2. Chances are, the first thing you see when you look in the mirror is your tummy, if that is your least favorite body part. The challenge I have for you is this: ignore your tummy and look straight into your eyes. Whenever you look in the mirror, focus on your eyes. Notice their colour, their shape, the mischievous glint or friendly gleam in them. Appreciate all that they do for you. They allow you to navigate this world, to enjoy art and nature and that gorgeous person walking down the street! Your eyes give others a glimpse into your heart without you having to open up too much or even say a word. Spend some quality time appreciating everything about them. If you find yourself noticing things you do not like about them, or around them, gently bring your mind back to focusing on what you do like. You might have to do this repeatedly, but it will get easier with practice. Do this every day, at least once a day, for a week.
3. Next week, put lotion or cream on your hands (or whichever body part is next on your list) every day. Take the time to really feel the muscles in your hands, the softness of them or the calloused strength in them. Notice how it feels to touch and be touched, simultaneously. Massage them, notice the lines in your palms and pay attention to any dryness as you care for them. Think about how hard your hands word for you. You simply decide you want something done, and they do it. Think about how many tiny bones make up your hand. Consider how delicate they can be, taking care of the most detailed task, or doing something simple like grasping a ball. They cuddle a newborn baby or break a board. Your hands are versatile and amazing. Do it at least once a day for a week.
4. Now, try this one. After you shower, rub lotion (or oil or cream) all over your body. Do it slowly, with reverence and appreciation. Massage each part of your body and appreciate what it does for you, every day. Notice how your muscles move, how your bones hold you upright and support everything else, and how the fat protects you and makes you a soft cushion to hug or comfort loved ones. Notice your unique shape, where you have more and less hair, which parts of your body feel tense when you massage them and which ones are relaxed. Realize that this is your body. No one else has one like it. It is precious and unique to you. Think about how your body reflects your personality. Thank your body for being such an accurate representation of you. Now, notice the parts that do not fit with who you want yourself to be. Realize that they have been reflecting the old you and that it is time for them to change to fit who you are now. Try to do this without judging it as "bad" or "ugly", but simply notice it for what it is. Acknowledge whether you are ready to change that, or if you need to let it be for now. The point is to accept that your body is as it is.
Your body is an expression of you
5. Once you have been practicing these exercises for awhile (the amount of time necessary is dependent on how much you need to get to the point of accepting your body, in general), it is time to tackle the hated body part. In this example, it is the tummy. Pick a time of the day when you have a little bit of private time to yourself, maybe in the shower or in your bed just before or after sleep. Put your hands on your tummy and feel it. Feel the shape. Feel it move with your breath. Massage it, rub it, feel the skin, the shape, the texture. Describe it to yourself, using non-judgmental descriptions like, “soft”, “round”, “indented”, or even “nurturing.” Think about all that your tummy does for you. It holds your vital organs, safely protecting them from external threats. If you are a woman, it grows babies and nurtures them when they are most vulnerable. If you are man, it carries your power, keeping you standing upright and enabling you to work. Your tummy is a soft place for a child or loved one to rest her head. It is a nice cushion when you hug someone. Your tummy digests everything you put into your body, separating out the parts you need from the parts you do not need. It cleans out the junk and sends the nourishment to your brain and heart. Since your emotion is stored in your body, your tummy even helps with your mental health, by digesting your emotions.
If your first practice of this exercise leads to a full acceptance of your body, congratulate yourself for your super powers! If you are like most humans, however, this may take some practice and persistence. Keep it up. After all, your body will be with you for the rest of your life. You have plenty of time to practice.
I used a sample list to make the explanation of the exercise clear, but the idea is that you appreciate each body part for it’s beauty, contribution, and expression of who you are. It is a good idea to start with the one you like most, because that is easier than jumping right in to the part you dislike. Like any other skill, this one requires practice and starting with the easier one is like building your muscles to lift a heavy weight. After some time and diligence, you can begin to appreciate your body more and more, maybe even getting to the point of loving it. If you can do that, you have beat all the propaganda put out by major media and beauty companies. They cannot affect you if you refuse to believe that there is anything wrong with you or your body. So, get started! What do you have to lose?
If you would like help or guidance with this, please contact me. I offer a free 20 minute consultation to answer any questions and give you some idea of what to expect from working with me.
Bonnie J Sullivan, PhD