Our Precious Bodies

mirror

We had some friends over for dinner a few nights ago, and the conversation meandered to a discussion of if, as conventional wisdom holds, “things get better as you get older.” We chewed on that for a while, and then Dave asked me if I thought my body image has gotten better as I’ve gotten older. I was very happy to tell the group honestly that, yes, it has.

There was time when looking in the mirror caused me almost physical pain. All I could see was the shortness of my legs, the inexplicable flabbiness of my upper left arm (but not my right), the scars on my upper lip and my right knee. I identified so much with those flaws. I hated them. I hated me. I feel would agitated to distraction that I needed to figure out how to fix everything right now. I once told my friend Stef that I felt great until I looked in the mirror. When I heard those words come out of my mouth, they sounded ridiculous. I was a confident, content, fulfilled person until I saw my reflection? My appearance doesn’t change my personality, my accomplishments, or how much other people love me, so why was it affecting how much I loved  myself? And how I could I stop it?

I didn’t have an answer immediately.

But I started to pay attention to how I spoke about my body and other women’s bodies. I banished phrases like, “I hate her, she’s so pretty.” I realized I would never, ever say about someone else, “She’d look so good if she lost 20 pounds,” but I routinely thought that about myself. I stopped reading the entertainment magazines in the grocery store checkout aisle, and I focused on how great it can feel inside my body. To lift weights. To run. To sit in silence and meditate. To dance. To stretch out on the couch.

Whenever I got sloppy with my thinking and grew distracted by my appearance, I used the meditation trick of gently bringing my mind back to solid ground. It took (and still takes) practice and vigilance, but I’ve mostly stopped comparing myself to other women and doing the scan to see if I’m the chubbiest person in the room.

Gradually, I learned—and, now, deeply believe—that I have value far beyond what my body looks like.

It didn’t happen all in a flash or easily; it was a slow dawning — like when you’re taking a really great nap and slowly swim to the surface of consciousness. I steadily began to embrace the idea that even with its lumps and bumps and a thyroid that’s MIA, my body is awesome.

selftalk

Now, let’s be real. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to lose excess body fat or sometimes daydream about my legs being just two inches longer. (Really, would it have dashed some universal plan to give me a 32-inch inseam?!) But I like myself just fine because I internalized two important facts:

1. The only way to change my body is to care for it, to treat it like a precious object. It’s impossible to care for something we hate, so I had to learn to stop judging it and love it — scars, short legs, missing thyroid, and all — if I had any hope of changing it. And while I learned to love it, I no longer needed to change it so desperately.

2. Whatever your spiritual beliefs, we can all agree that this particular body —  whether we call it a temple, a meat suit, a shell, or the best dress-up toy ever — is only ours for a short while. It’s the only one just like this that we get. That makes it special. Precious. A once-in-a-lifetime, one-of-a-kind object that most definitely warrants care, proper feeding, and an abundance of love.

Once you’ve got those two things going, how could you deny love to the body your brain and spirit inhabit right now?

placetolive1

I started belly dancing class a few weeks ago. I’m not going to lie to you: At the first two classes, I had a very difficult time with being face-to-face with my reflection. Things jiggle when you belly dance; they jiggle a lot. And the combination of learning awkward-feeling dance moves plus staring into a full-length mirror for 75 minutes straight was a real kick in the teeth to my self-confidence. But this past Monday night, I noticed that my shoulders and collar bones look pretty — so feminine! — when I shimmy them, and my belly, while a bit rounder than I would like, in no way inhibits me from isolating my hips for a not-too-bad hip pop. Learning to dance is mentally and physically challenging, and once I stopped picking on my body the whole time, it was a lot more fun and my dancing got better.

Which lead me to this truth: Life gets better when we stop bullying our bodies.

All of it gets better. Relationships, work, dealing with daily chores, happy times, sad times, meals, vacations, everything. Everything gets better when we stop bullying our bodies.

For the record, in case you’re wondering how far I’m taking this “I love myself the way I am” message, this doesn’t mean I don’t feel glam when I get my eyeliner just right, and I have no plans to stop covering my gray roots with blue-black dye. I won’t stop working to lose excess body fat to improve my health, nor has my interest in GoFugYourself and Tom and Lorenzo diminished.

But my body is precious to me, and I urge you to commit to deciding that your body is precious to you. Love it and cherish it the way it is now and the way it will be in the future. Because the other thing to remember about our bodies is that they’re always changing. How cool is this: We get to take these delicate, strong, wondrous houses we live in on all of our adventures, and they change as we travel with them through time.

 

Weightless with Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

If you struggle with your body image, you’re not alone. I’m a long-time reader and fan of Weightless, a blog on the Psych Central web site. Margarita shares easy-to-implement advice for getting out of the ruts of our thinking about our bodies. Big love to you.

 

 

Tuesday 10: Excellent Body Image Posts

Why is thinner better? I've been asking myself that question for months, as I struggle with the realization that since I had my thyroid removed...

Read More
Size Awesome

And now an excellent reminder for all of us... www.someecards.com

Read More

Comments

  • Tanya says:

    I LOVE this message and it is so important for people! Loving yourself and staying positive can make a huge difference. Sometimes this message gets lost in our efforts towards healthy eating and losing weight; thank you for your post to remind everyone again!

  • Amy says:

    Awesome! I’ve been belly dancing for 11 years and yes, that first class and the mirror were HARD. But it’s so much fun, and I am lucky to be a part of a great troupe of supportive, funny, geeky, body positive women.

    I recommend reading Chiara’s blog entry about dancing, especially #4. http://allchiara.com/2004/07/20/eleven-reasons-you-need-to-be-bellydancing-right-now/

    And Margaret Cho’s take: http://margaretcho.com/2005/06/13/belly-dance/

    • I’m starting to have fun with it. We did a little choreography last night and even though I kind still suck at it, it’s SUPER fun. I took classes 20 years ago, and it’s making me feel young 😉

      Thanks for those links!

    • Amy says:

      You’re welcome!

      This is the part I repeat to myself, ” . . . the more you go to class and the more you see all these different bodies looking pretty good, the more that part of you that keeps nattering in your ear about how you are totally worthless because you ate some pound cake the other day or because you’ll never be really truly thin will just have to shut up for a couple of minutes. If you keep dancing…I am convinced of this, by the way…that voice may shut up for days at a time.”

  • Suzan says:

    Great article, thanks. Sharing on Facebook.
    (I do wish one of legs was longer, as scoliosis has made one leg a lot shorter and it would be nice to have a matching set! My chiro and I are working on it! :-D) Thanks again.

  • Carla Hoogstad says:

    I hear ya on the 32″ long inseam…. I’m 5’9″ and I have a 30.5 inseam….

    But my dad once told me that the shorter something is the stronger it is. So I am thankful for my strong and might legs… even if they do look like hams. 😛

  • DJDeeJay says:

    Yep. It’s become a problem how much I spend time a) hating my reflection in the mirror b) thinking about everything that’s wrong with my face/body c) comparing myself badly to others.

    Like, I spend a lot of the day devoted to any/all of those things. But I also have weird physical flaws that I just don’t see a lot of other people dealing with (strangely asymmetrical jaw, with one side jutting out nicely and the other side caving in, or the giant, thick blue vein bulging under my eye that I finally had removed, or the year-round dark blue, puffy, lined bags under my eyes that people are constantly asking or commenting on). So yeah, it’s hard to break that cycle. That Weightless blog might be helpful.

    Oh, and I love Tom and Lorenzo! They’re fantastic and I’ve learned so much about fashion and personal style from them.

  • Erin says:

    Terrific post. I’ve been working through the same journey as a former anorexic/bulimic. When I had my daughter 16 years ago, I was determined to break the legacy of self-loathing that seems to accompany growing up female these days. We started CrossFit when she was 12 and our small gym was the first gym I’d ever been in where looks didn’t matter AT ALL. (Seriously, the only thing people seem to notice are shoes…men and women alike, what is with that?). Anyway, it was the only place I’d ever been where what my body could do was what mattered. So refreshing. Four years later the journey has continued…and like you, I care about my gray, I vaguely wish certain parts of my anatomy were different, but I just don’t care enough to bother about it. The real success, though, is my daughter…I couldn’t be prouder…she likes herself…she really, really does…and isn’t that what it is all about?

    P.S. She feels accomplished because she makes her own mayonnaise a la Well Fed whenever she makes tuna or egg salad!!

  • Charlene says:

    I can totally relate to your post. What I remind myself when that little voice pops up is that I would never speak to a friend(or any one for that matter) the way I speak to myself…So STOP! 🙂 It works!

  • Lydia says:

    Ah! So excited to hear about you belly dancing! \o/

  • Shared! I just attended an event in LA (the MTV Movie Awards) and had this huge realization. No matter how beautiful, talented, rich, or thin you are in LA, someone is always more beautiful, more talented, richer, and thinner. The endless desire to look different is a bottomless pit of despair. Wonderful post. Shared.

  • Nicole says:

    Amen! Thank you, Melissa, for saying it like it should be!!

  • Katie says:

    Great post! I need this reminder…like every other day!

  • Julie says:

    I loooove this post for so many reasons. And your practice of coming back to the moment when you catch yourself in a body-bashing moment has been my practice for a few months now.

    How do I get email updates of your new blogposts?

  • Lola says:

    This post just moved me to tears. I’ve been struggling with body image issues my entire life, and now my fitness routine has been drastically altered because of major health concerns. Reading about your trials and successes is inspirational. I can’t even describe how your words touched me. Precious. Gift. Care.

    Thank-you. So much.

    • It’s really hard to have health challenges anyway, but then when they ‘take away’ your fitness routine, too? It can really be a kick in the teeth. Be kind to yourself and try to be patient — I know it’s difficult sometimes 🙂 — because your body will come along as best it can, and it needs your love and compassion along the way.

      Sending warm thoughts to you!

  • Kelley says:

    Thank you 🙂

  • Lisa says:

    I loved this post so much, that I sent it to all of the Important Women in my life. Thank you for sharing and for making Paleo so delicious!

  • Deb Wilke says:

    Love this article. I, also, see all the flaws when I look at my reflection. It is, though, getting better…just has taken 54 years! My husband and did Whole 30 earlier this year. Quite an amazing journey. We both lost over 10 pounds and had lots of wonderful other impacts. We are planning our next. Best thing…we discarded lots of old bad habits. No Mac and cheese in 2015! And I finally discovered what was causing my stomach problems….lactose all the way. And you know what…inside I already knew this. So, here is a big thank you!

  • Angela says:

    Gorgeous article…
    thank you!!

  • Erin says:

    Just stumbled upon this. Just perfect. And saving it for my 12 year old daughter to read.

  • Great post! Love the quotes/images you chose! And thanks for the link to Margarita’s blog. Lots of good wisdom there.

  • Kia says:

    I randomly came across your blog while researching the Whole30 and all I can say IS WOW followed by THANK YOU. I see so much of myself in this post and these are words I truly needed to hear.