How to love your body – new thoughts

When everybody everywhere keeps trying to tell us that we should love ourselves and that “confidence is sexy” (while also trying to sell us false eyelashes and Emma Watson’s body), we end up feeling even more inadequate about being unconfident than if everyone had just left us alone with our sickening sense of regret over yesterday’s donut and today’s apparently-new extra chin. The best I come up with, some days, is a sort of resignation to my body, like I’d accidentally adopted an uncontrollable puppy I didn’t actually like but couldn’t really get rid of.

Loving my body some days honestly just sounds like a lot of work – and it is. It’s really hard, and it doesn’t sell much merchandise, which is why no one invests much into telling you how to do it. But it is important. It is a fight we owe to ourselves and the women around us. It might just be the first step in aging gracefully. It is worth it, I promise. And it gets easier over time.

babies can do it

Love your body as your self. Literally. Your body is yourself. You are not a “spiritual” being that belongs in some kind of Care-Bear-pastel, airy, non-concrete, limitless sky-self, who is accidentally trapped in a kind of yucky, small, flesh-case. This attitude (a real live heresy with many names) is the source of about a million problems Christianity has with itself, despite the writers of the Bible trying really, really hard to shut it down. It is also an incredibly prevalent idea in American culture – that the spirit or the mind is better and more important than the body. But the Hebrew Bible, in particular, lends itself much more to an interpretation that views the body as inseparable from the human person. Don’t let your “spirit” get abstracted from the beautiful, sensual earth you are a part of, and from the body God has promised to resurrect*. Paul, Peter, Jesus, a bunch of Church Fathers and Mothers and I are pleading with you.
*Yes, you are really stuck in it.

Dwell in God’s love for your body. This is not a silly or sinful thing to pray about. It is a cultural sickness. By all means, pray about it like you’d pray about contracting an epidemic. Ask God to show you God’s love for your body, for every bit of it which was formed with care and gentleness and delight. Keep this truth near to your heart, that God shaped your eyes and your curves and the back of your neck with immense fondness and love. Find a way to believe it. Find a way to look at yourself with God’s eyes. Put a reminder on the bathroom mirror for everyone who passes through.

Your body is not your enemy; it is your home. Your real enemy is a culture that tries to tell you you’re not good enough. What if you stopped fighting your body and started taking care of it the way you take care of your home? Snuggle into your body the way like it’s your favorite chair. What if getting dressed meant adorning your body for the simple pleasure of it, instead of feeling desperate to cover over all the “bad spots” and then trying to use your angry-eyes to laser-beam away that one spot of fat you especially loathe? Take joy in the creativity of getting dressed; let go of insecurity.

Make Peace. Turning your body from an enemy to a friend requires taking intentional action to change the way you see it. This is hard. This is super hard. For some people, this may be months-of-therapy hard. And, honestly, it never ends. I constantly have to remind myself that my love handles and my crappy joints and the right side of my face really mean well, and that I appreciate them for coming along on this ride*. But as long as you are treating parts of yourself with hatred and contempt and “torture” that will “blast” them into “horrible fat oblivion”, you are divided against yourself. I’m of the hippy-dippy school that thinks even the parts you still hope to change will be more apt to do so, once you’ve accepted them as they already are. If, when you’re being honest, you’d say “I love myself, except…”, then you need to keep making peace. Maybe you can’t love that one scar or your thighs right now. At least call a truce in the battle against them.
*Anne Lamott has a lovely/hilarious piece on this in Traveling Mercies – you can grab a copy here.

Still to come: some more day-to-day experiments and habits for learning to see ourselves new.

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2 Comments

  1. Christopher Graves

     /  June 10, 2014

    Not a girl, so maybe this is different. Culture isn’t quite as domineering when it comes to by body.

    But when I, who am skinny, wish I was buff-er, I realize, like you mentioned earlier, that the people who are super ripped spend a huge part of their lives focusing on getting that way. I realize I have different priorities, probably better priorities, and I am fine with this.

    But that doesn’t mean I’m in love with my body. It could be better, and wouldn’t I be a better person if I put work into making my body really great? It would certainly be a better use of my time than watching Archer. Analogy: I don’t play guitar, because I’ve decided to do other things. But I haven’t “learned to love” my inability to play guitar. I don’t think I should, either.

    So, I suppose the question is, do you really need to learn to love your imperfect body for its imperfections? Height, bone structure, facial features etc. makes sense. But what about the things that we could change, like the fact that I chew my nails, or the fact that people have too much fat or too little muscle?

    and challenge mode: You are in a certain position, because you are healthy, so it makes sense for you to learn to not sweat the small stuff, like a couple pounds here and there. But, there are definitely people who are very unhealthy, to the point that it ruins their quality of life (makes them tired, can’t do as much, etc.), for whom “I am what I am” is a really destructive attitude. So while, yes, culture is bad at telling us we are ugly, US and Mexico are also the most overweight countries in the world. Which means, you’re in the minority (as a healthy-weighter), and maybe the majority, if they accepted their love handles, would be negligent.

    P.S. Sure, I am oversimplifying to weight, and there are other aspects of beauty that are immutable and the solution is definitely to learn to love yourself. BUT oversimplifying to weight isn’t unhelpful, because weight is by far the thing that people care about the most.

    Reply
    • I am getting to some of these things in the next post; but the premise I’m working off of is that I think you can work to change your body out of hatred for it our out of love for it. The first is not fun or healthy and often doesn’t work.

      Loving your body is different from liking every aspect of your appearance. And, as I said before, you can’t abstract your body from your self, so “your body” is not the same as “your strength level” nor is it the same as “your guitar abilities”. It is the material substance of you. And I am becoming more and more committed to the idea that people who love themselves best are best at loving other people.

      Reply

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