What do you hate most about your body?
When you read that question, one of two things probably happened: either something immediately came to mind or you needed a moment to rank the litany of ways your body fails to meet your expectations. If you’re happy with every part of your body just the way it is, please take a moment to appreciate what a blessing that is.
The rest of us, though? We need to talk.
We need to talk about that voice inside your head. The mean one; the one that says things to you that you’d never say to another person. I’m talking about the voice that says you’re fat. Or ugly. Or this part of you is too big, too small, or wrong for any other reason and everyone can see it.
This voice bullies you into making certain decisions. It might dictate the way you behave in public or what clothes you buy. It might affect the way you’re intimate with another person or it may discourage you from even looking in the mirror. This voice spawned entire industries offering to “fix” your problems because everything would be ok IF ONLY…
But let’s take a moment to cut our bodies some slack; they’re pretty amazing machines after all:
There are 100,000 miles of blood vessels in your body.
Each step you take requires that 200 muscles work together perfectly.
Your bones are stronger than steel by weight and your eye is a 576 megapixel camera.
Every day, your heart creates enough energy to drive a truck for 20 miles.
Our bodies work hard for us. They protect us from the elements and they wage a sophisticated war against invading pathogens. If we ask our bodies to endure pain for us – running a marathon, for example – they will. They can also bring us a great deal of pleasure: think about the last delicious meal you ate or an intense of sexual experience. Some of our bodies can even grow human beings.
Our bodies are ceaselessly working for us, even when we don’t treat them with the care they deserve. We might drink too much or smoke or use drugs. We might binge eat or starve our bodies or stay up all night. We find fault with them for the smallest infraction and we require that while they’re keeping us alive on this planet hurtling through empty space that they also look exactly the way we want; or rather, the way we’re told they should look.
That seems like an unreasonable expectation if you can silence the noise of our culture long enough to give it some thought. Actually, it’s absurd. And it makes me profoundly sad and angry. So we’ll all revolt, right? We’ll embrace the unaltered glory of creation and stop [insert however you alter yourself to “fit in:” shaving, waxing, plucking, dieting, tanning, plastic surgery-ing or deodorizing]. Well, sure. Do what you need to be happy, but I’d advocate for a more measured approach: ask yourself why you do those things and start doing them for no one but yourself. Do them because they genuinely made you happy and make you feel beautiful and empowered, not because you’re correcting a defect.
That’s easy to say, but it’s much harder to do, given the time and place in which we live. Loving your body would be so much easier if we weren’t bombarded by – at best, unrealistic and – at worst, impossible standards of beauty. We could use the power of capitalism and steer our purchases towards responsible companies and our legislators could lessen the entanglement of nudity being synonymous with sexuality. Those kinds of goals take time, but there are plenty of things that you can do today to start changing your perception of your body.
First, if you’re still with me, you’ve already taken the first step: recognizing there are aspects of yourself that you don’t love or that you even hate. Think of this as both a challenge and a gift – an opportunity to practice loving yourself unconditionally, including the things you want to change. But realize that if most of us feel this way, the problem can’t be with our bodies, so it must be within ourselves; remember that nobody is scrutinizing you the way you’re scrutinizing yourself because they’re too busy doing it to themselves!
Second, don’t take your body for granted. You weren’t guaranteed anything in the genetic lottery; just think how much worse it could have been. Re-frame your daily life not as what you have to do, but as what you get to do.
You could set up a daily or weekly reminder on your phone to appreciate your body. Stop what you’re doing and spend sixty seconds thinking about everything your body does for you before you continue on with your day. You could set a goal to learn something new about how your body works; it’s your only irreplaceable possession, after all. Finally, you can make a deal with your body. Commit to prioritizing health over appearance and strike a balance between what you want and what your body wants. My liver, kidneys, and brain would prefer that I not drink whiskey, but whiskey is delicious. Moderation allows us both to get what we want.
At some regular interval – whatever feels right to you – give yourself a “Body Day.” Spend an entire day rewarding your body for everything it does for you. Eat the kinds of food it wants. Drink lots of water. Get the rest and exercise it needs. Get a massage or do anything else your body needs to serve you as well as it possibly can. This will build a foundation for a new relationship with your body – a relationship based on gratitude and admiration instead of shame.