When Loving Your Body is Not Always Easy: A Reflection on Body Image This Summer
About the author: Sydney Rose is a MyWellbeing member and therapist based in NYC. Sydney’s philosophy is inspired by the fundamental belief that we’re all inherently primed to move towards what’s healthy, loving and safe. Sydney believes that sometimes we get side tracked by habits and adaptations that we make to our environments in order to cope with life stressors. In her work, Sydney incorporates mindfulness and meditation practices into her sessions. You can learn more about Sydney and her practice at sydneyfaithrose.com
When loving your body is hard to do
"You're so lucky," she said, "I wish my eyelids creased twice." We were 15 years old, and a friend and I were reading a magazine about make-up. The focal points included Wet 'n' wild, blushes that drive him crazy, and now, me. Nevermind that before those words left her mouth and entered my consciousness, I had never acknowledged the idea that something could be right or wrong with my eyelids. But at that moment, a new world opened up to me, one in which a minute feature, and subsequently every other one I had previously deemed un-noteworthy, was now something to be noticed, judged, and given value to.
Is it safe to say that all of us have had experiences like this? That moment when we learn how to perceive our bodies from outside of ourselves? That moment when, for example, you are told your body can be compared to a fruit? Or when, in a magazine, you discovered what colors to wear based on what part of yourself you wanted to hide?
Have you ever been on an “expert's” diet whose own “thinness” convinced you of their qualifications to advise your body? Or have you tracked and policed your body according to the numbers on the tag of
your pants or the little half circle on your scale? Somewhere along the way, most of us learn how to think about our bodies using judgements and assessments that have crept from the outside world, in.
Body image can be really complicated
Like most women, I learned this skill very early on. Before I had the chance to learn that what I deserved was to feel good in my body, I learned it was important to have a "good" body. I learned this before I learned that I could find joy in my body through dance and movement. Before I could be in this body, and move and shake this body, I had messages subtly cuing me to build a relationship with my body that wasn’t truly embodied, but colored in shades of shame.
As a kid, I was an open door for messages about how to morph it into fitting external standards of perfection, about the false binary of good and bad clothes, good and bad facial features --- good and bad
bodies. Along the way, many of us get convinced that how we experience life is measured by external factors.
Remembering our bodies
Remembering the gifts and wisdom our bodies offer us can help us reconnect to our own intuition, preferences and desires. Joy as a ray of warmth or energy on the insides of our arms and torsos,
embarrassment as bright red heat on our faces, anger as tension in our jaws, affection as butterflies exploring our insides. These are all messages that we need to stay safe and be guided. The way we feel our own authenticity, to know our boundaries or needs, to find exactly where our strength or vulnerability lies in knowing our bodies from the inside.
As an adult, I have a lot more power about the messages that I take in and send back into the world. The one that’s often been the most transformative is also the most basic: to be human is to have a body.
A few years ago, in a yoga teacher training, I heard a teacher say that we get different pictures of the body depending on what tools we use to examine it. For a long time, my tool kit included externalized measurements. It’s a powerful shift to exchange these tools for the most important ones that we’ve all had since birth-attention towards our present-moment internal experience.
Lucky that for all of us, this tool always with us. We can keep making the choice to return to that awareness and pick it up again. And of course, everything is practice. When we free up the space to receive the wisdom and the information our body has to offer us, we have to trust that staying aware of our sensations is at least as important as external sources of measurement. And to do so, we have to start with the basic assumption that all people and their circumstances are individual and that every-single-one-of-us deserves to feel safe, powerful, appreciated, valued, and in control of our own experience.
That kind of relationship with our bodies that allows us to be living, breathing, moving, feeling, sentient and changing, that's the one that empowers us to make decisions about how to eat, how to move, how to dress, who to love and what words to speak with our own genuine selfhood in mind. This means that our decisions don't have to come from outside of ourselves - not from women's health, not from your mom,
and not from a past or future image of yourself. It frees us from the endless instagram feed of directives from 'experts' who may or may not have our best interest in mind (or want to sell their book).
Because at the end of the day, when all is read and consumed, no one but you has access to the most primary information: the way that you, and only you, feel.
Keep in Touch
Thank you for your reading attention today. We hope Sydney’s perspective has given you some additional warmth and support.
Are there topics you would like to hear more about? We’d love to source experts to share more perspective with you. Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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