I’ve been giving much thought lately to the torment we girls and women feel on the quest to love and respect our bodies.
I’ve decided it takes an extraordinary amount of courage to grow up today. At the risk of sounding like generations before me, there was a time in our nation when images of women were far less focused on body perfection. Images of beauty and sensuality were offered without the obsession of perfection. Gone are the days before air-brushed flesh, computer digital curves, and thigh-gap obsession. Today, it’s nearly impossible to not become overwhelmed with images drowning us in the waves of our own body flaws.
In my pondering, I offer these five strategies for staying afloat in the storm and each falling in love with the body we own. It won’t happen over night, but like all good love affairs, the story will be slow and steady and full of fulfillment if traveled well. I wish you (and me) the kind of self-love and inner-romance we all deserve.
1. Let It Go.
Idina’s Mendel’s, “Let It Go,” from the movie Frozen has become infectious and for very good reason. Every one of us can gather around the places in our life where we struggle to “let go.” It’s an anthem for the ages and a daily mantra, especially during the tender teen years.
We must “let go” the fantasy of body perfection. Our bodies will never be air-brushed. They will never be flawless. Our pores aren’t going anywhere and our gluts are loosing bounce as we speak. For most of us, we’d be covered in post-it notes awaiting the touch of magic markers and digital erasers. That doesn’t make us ugly or unworthy; it makes us human.
Fantasies only die when we stop feeding them. The media has created an insatiable monster that demands our attention. More than any other era in history, we are bombarded with images of body perfection. It’s impossible to scan social media, turn on the television, or flip the pages of a magazine without being hit with messages of comparison.
And, because these images are always air-brushed and premeditated to perfection, we will always fail to measure up. Always. It’s insanity to think we stand a chance. Instead, we must turn outside of these images for a dose of reality and for the truth of who we are. Hint: We are so much more than our bodies and our beauty.
2. Choose Love.
This is the only body on this side of Heaven we will ever have. We can either love it or we can hate it, but we can’t live in both spaces with freedom in our lives. There is no peace found in being self-critical or in hating the body that house’s our soul.
Love is a choice, and so is hate. Our feelings are powerful and they take us in places of light and places of darkness. There is very little we can predict about how we will feel when triggered, but we do know that we have choice in which emotions we feed. Feeding self-love or body hatred is a choice that requires daily discipline and practice. Just as an athlete trains with intention, we also have choices about where we place our attention and energy. We cannot expect to feel good about our ourselves when we speak messages of criticism and engage in practices of shame.
What messages do you hear yourself speaking into your life? Do these words lead to body-love? If not, it’s time to speak new words.
Need some inspiration? This video by Soul Pancake and Darling Magazine will leave you changed. Natalie Patterson’s “Beautiful Body” will rock your world.
3. Give Thanks.
The root of happiness isn’t circumstance; it’s gratitude. Did you catch that? Let the words soak into you. Our circumstances have very little correlation with our ability to be happy. Research tells us this time and time again. Happy people are not lucky or blessed with easy lives. They are not people who escape pain or tragedy. Happy people are grateful people. Don’t believe me? Google it. The research is very clear.
When was the last time you felt grateful for your body? Is giving thanks for your body a regular practice in your life? Or, do your thoughts take you to places like “I’d just be happy if I could lose 10 more pounds.” “If I could fit into these jeans, I’d feel okay.” “If my body looked like her body, I’d be happy too.” Sound familiar?
Several months ago, I joined a gym. I’ve found myself in the company of men and women of all shapes and sizes and I’ve been mindful of the thoughts that swarm in my head when I pass by the bodies of others. Sometimes, I’m quick to compare our flesh. (Hey, I’m a product of our culture too.) Other times, I marvel at the strength and health I see from years of being dedicated to fitness. There are times when I am overwhelmed by mercy as I watch some struggle to move. Mostly though, I have found myself practicing deep gratitude as I watch us all sweat. I look around and notice bodies who are capable of moving and breathing and touching life and I am thankful for us all. Our bodies are miracles; they deserve our grateful kindness.
In the last several years, I’ve watched loved ones lose physical abilities and watch their bodies fail. I’ve known dear friends who’s bodies have betrayed them with cancer and illness. Life becomes extraordinarily fragile when these are the roads we start walking. And, we are left with two choices: reduce ourselves to an emotional state tied to the flaws and the failings of our flesh or graciously breathe in the life we’ve been given and the body that allows our soul to travel here. Giving thanks makes all the difference in the journey.
4. Dig Deep.
It’s just you and me. No one else is listening, so let’s talk about what’s happening when you’re feeling critical and ashamed about your body. Why is striving for a perfect body important to you? Let’s dig a little deeper…
If you haven’t already stumbled upon her work, Brene Brown is a woman to know. Dr. Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work who became an overnight sensation after giving one of the most viewed TED Talks to date.
As she’ll tell you, Brenè’s devoted years to the study of vulnerability and shame. For women, body shame and the quest for beauty perfection resonates with her every word. “When perfectionism is driving, shame is always riding shotgun,” said Brenè Brown in a recent Life Class with Oprah.
Shame says we’re never good enough, so perfectionism rises to make sure we can never be criticized, blamed, or ridiculed. After all, perfectionism keeps us from feeling this kind of judgment and pain, doesn’t it? Nope, that’s the lie. The only thing perfectionism keeps us from is being seen and known and connecting with others in authentic ways. Highly correlated with disordered eating and poor body image, shame and perfectionism keep us obsessed about our bodies, avoiding honest relationship, and pulling double-time at the gym.
Perfectionism keeps us striving for worthiness, often in the shape of our bodies. It’s only when we come to understand the perfect body will not grant our worthiness, nor will anything achieved through the sweat of perfectionism, that we find true freedom and genuine body-peace. So, what’s the solution? As Brenè professes, empathy is the antidote to shame. And, it starts with ourselves. Be gracious. Be kind. Bestow empathy. Grant yourself worthiness… just because you breathe.
And, that’s where hope resides. Our worth isn’t about our body. Our ability to feel worthy isn’t stored in our flesh. When we understand when and how we feel worthy and truly beautiful, it unlocks the possibilities in our being that has little to do with our appearance. True worthiness and beauty must be possible beyond our body.
As these ideas stir, here’s a few questions to ask yourself. When do you feel beautiful? What makes you feel beautiful? In the video featured earlier, the women asked this question around the table. It’s an important question to ask. Did you notice not one of those women mentioned anything that had to do with their body? Nor was perfectionism on their lips. That’s worth pondering.
Want to read more about these ideas? I recommend “The Gifts of Imperfection” and “Daring Greatly.” They will leave you inspired in all the right places.
5. Think Wholly.
We are more than our bodies. Yet, our bodies sure do get a lot of attention. If we’re not careful, our body’s can steal our affections and get in the way of us caring and nurturing other parts of our life.
Take a moment to think about how much time and energy you devote to your body and the thoughts you have about your external appearance. Take a good survey. Now, how much time do you spend thinking about other aspects of your life? Do you lend the same amount of time to thinking about your internal life? Your identity as a daughter, as a friend, as a globe-changer? Does your emotional self or spiritual self get as much attention as your physical self?
The next time you notice feeling anxious about your outfit or your appearance, challenge yourself to consider how concerned you feel about other parts of you. They are equally worthy of your attention. Our bodies are only a piece of our identity. We are whole beings and much more than our flesh.
Recently, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o gave a riveting speech at this year’s Essence Hollywood luncheon. She spoke about the “seduction of inadequacy” and her own desperate quest for beauty. “You can’t eat beauty,” her mother would tell her, “it doesn’t feed you.” What feeds us and sustains us is the “deeper business of being beautiful inside.” That is truth worth soaking into our imperfect pores.
As girls and women, we have to work extra hard to not buy into the lie that we are reduced to our body and the size of our jeans. Often, the lie that a woman’s worth is measured by her body keeps us from investing our energy in our intelligence, in our talents, in our larger purpose in the world. We get distracted from the deeper business of being women, of being beautiful women in all of our wholeness.
One of the greatest desires of the human spirit is to have lived with purpose. No one leaves their death-bed wishing their body had been more flawless or their beauty more profound. People leave the earth aching for their lives to have had significance. They want to leave their mark on the planet and know their days mattered. People leave the world wanting love and belonging and the sense they left the world better than they found it.
So, let’s get to the business of what really matters and let body-obsession take a back seat to the holy work of living well. Take these five commitments with you and put into practice new ways destined to leave you with greater body-peace. Freedom will not arrive quickly or without strain, but it is absolutely worth the fight.
Let’s take a word of encouragement from Natalie Patterson’s words. Tonight, before you crawl into bed, stand naked before that mirror and remind yourself that “we’re alright.” Steal her sincerity and her smile. Copy her attitude and borrow her confidence. Walk in her words until they become your own, for you too, have a beautiful body.
Originally published in March 2014. Reposted in February 2016.