So many people spend countless hours berating themselves in their minds, abusing themselves at the gym, and depriving themselves of life’s pleasures in order to perfect their bodies in the pursuit of happiness. Images from TV, film, magazines and even people in our lives equate airbrushed versions of a small representation of the population with a fairytale happy ending, encouraging us to believe that our lives can only truly begin once all the conditions are just so. But, do you really have to be perfect to love your body?
What is body image?
Body image, or the way we view our bodies (both in the mirror and in our minds), and what we think that means about ourselves in relationship to self and others, is a complex, dynamic web of cognition, beliefs, emotions, and behavior. What we tell ourselves creates powerful emotional reactions, and these can lead to behavior that seeks to relieve or support our experience.
In other words, if we tell ourselves we’re fat and worthless, we’ll most likely feel pretty bad about ourselves and want to soothe ourselves in destructive ways. We may even act in ways that start to prove the negative belief about ourselves, or that frame someone else’s bad behavior toward us as deserved. This, in turn, has us feeling even more poorly about who we are and what we look like. It depletes our body image bank account.
Practicing body kindness.
However, the same principle can work in the opposite direction. If we begin to practice kindness toward ourselves, and to talk to ourselves no differently than we would talk to a friend or a beloved child, our speech may start to sound more like a pep talk. Our self-talk needs to focus on being worthy of dignity and love no matter what successes or challenges we go through. If we tell ourselves that we’re “there for ourselves no matter what,” that our bodies are amazing for bringing us the pleasure of watching a sunset, tasting an exquisite meal, hugging a friend, or accomplishing a task, our emotional response is one of joy, which begins to contribute to a positive body image bank account.
Life can be so complex, and our problems so abstract, that our emotional minds can’t wrap themselves around them. It can be so much simpler to blame our bodies for our unmet needs. It’s much simpler to change a meal plan here or burn some calories there, and see our bodies change as a result, than it is to understand our life’s purpose and how to get out of a job that is sucking our life force while still paying the bills. But it’s not really our body that’s the bad guy. It just happens to be the most concrete form of who we are.
Notice the next time you’re criticizing your body and ask yourself if you are also feeling hungry for approval, love, safety, accomplishment, recognition, affection, freedom, pleasure, etc. If so, there are more direct ways to address these needs.
Your body is already perfect!
Just like a child performs better when given a healthy dose of esteem from a parent who sees the best in him, our bodies will also respond with balance when they’re being given a nourishing environment of positive regard. You may not like every single aspect of the child’s personality or behavior every moment, but you can still commit to being a loving “parent” to your body by treating it with kindness and giving it adequate food, rest, play time, work, and affection.
Think of the millions of events and reactions it took to create the one life that is uniquely you. Your body comes wired with survival strategies, gifts and talents, desires and needs, and it adapts to experiences. Your body is already perfect. What you do to build or destroy your body image bank account is a choice you can make every day. Being in the red or having riches won’t happen overnight, but with steady practice we can build a love for our bodies. The love, the connection, the value we think having perfect bodies will give us is already ours for the receiving.
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