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
Our Precious Bodies
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.
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?
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.