How do you feel about your body? More specifically, how do you feel about your physical appearance?
For many of us, especially me, these are not easy or fun questions to answer. Most people I know have issues, concerns, or complaints about their body and about how they look. I often struggle, and have for much of my life, with a negative view and feeling about my own body – thinking it isn’t fit enough, obsessing about certain features and aspects of my appearance that I don’t like, and simply feeling flawed in various ways physically.
While this has ebbed and flowed for me throughout my life – based on certain stages, various injuries, and other factors and obsessions – for the most part, feeling bad about my body and appearance is something I’ve dealt with for a long time. I continue to struggle with body image issues, even though I pretend I’m "too evolved" to be concerned with such “superficial” insecurities and erroneously think that with all of the personal growth work I’ve done I should be past this by now.
There’s nothing wrong with us wanting to look our best, take care of ourselves, be fit, and more. However, when I tell the truth about it, so much of my own desire to be “healthy” and to take care of myself physically, has more to do with me not wanting to not get fat, look bad, or be viewed (by myself and others) as unhealthy, ugly, diminished, or flawed.
We live in a culture that is obsessed with “body beautiful.” Billions of dollars are spent each year by advertisers telling us we don’t look good enough and need improvement. In return, we spend billions of our own dollars collectively on various products which are supposed to reverse our aging process, re-grow our hair, smooth out our wrinkles, whiten our teeth, help us lose weight, make us look and feel better, and much more. I’ve spent my own money on these types of products, usually with a sense of embarrassment for doing so, as well as disappointment with the ultimate result (or lack thereof).
While all of this is not that easy for me to admit, especially given the work that I do, I know that I’m not alone and that this is a big issue for many of us. This isn’t something that only affects teens, celebrities, or women – it’s something that people of all ages, races, genders, backgrounds, professions, and more struggle with. Many of us, including us men, often don’t admit our body image issues, fearing the judgment of others as well as our own personal shame.
I’ve recently decided to address my own appearance issues directly. I feel ready to both deal with this honestly and heal it genuinely, although I find myself feeling scared, embarrassed, and vulnerable about it at the same time.
In this process, I’ve come across a powerful new book called Love Your Body, Love Your Life, by an amazing woman named Sarah Maria. This book has had a profound impact on my own life already (and I just picked it up two weeks ago). Sarah Maria, a prominent body image expert and spiritual teacher, teaches us that we are not alone in our “Negative Body Obsession” (NBO). So many of us, especially in our culture, struggle with varying degrees of NBO which negatively impacts our lives, our work, our relationships, and how we feel about ourselves in a significant way.
In reading this book and practicing some of the techniques, however, I’m really starting to see and understand (in a real, not simply theoretical, way) that how we feel about our bodies has a lot to do with how we feel about ourselves and our lives. And, at the same time, NBO is not as much about how we feel about our bodies; it’s about how we feel about ourselves.
What if we could truly love, accept, and appreciate our bodies and how we look, right now? Imagine what life would be like without NBO? Sarah Maria calls it “befriending” our body. So often, we treat our body like an “enemy” we’re trying to beat, conquer, or at least keep at bay.
The key to all of this is not about losing more weight, finding the right workout program, getting the best products, or buying better clothes. It’s really about us making peace with our bodies, and on a deeper level making peace with ourselves. Loving our body can give us access to loving ourselves more deeply. And, paradoxically, how we can really begin to love our body and let go of NBO in a genuine way, is to practice loving ourselves authentically.
While there is no “quick fix” to all of this (as is the case for most important things in life), there are some things we can think about and practice as we enhance our capacity to love our bodies, ourselves, and our lives more genuinely.
1) Forgive – It’s essential for us to forgive ourselves and to also forgive our body. In many cases we have done, said, and thought really negative and damaging things to and about our body over the years. With a sense of healthy remorse and a deep sense of empathy, we can begin to forgive ourselves for how we have treated our body in the past. At the same time, we can practice forgiving our body for not being “perfect.”
2) Accept – Making peace with our body and appearance is an important step in our process to love and heal ourselves in a genuine way. What if we could accept, appreciate, and love our body as it is right now – whether or not we’re at our ideal weight (which most of us aren’t) and even if we don’t love every feature of our body (which most of us don’t). Acceptance leads to peace, peace leads to healing, and healing leads to love. Accepting our body and our appearance are fundamental aspects of loving ourselves and our lives.
3) Get Real – How we truly feel about our body and appearance is something that many of us aren’t comfortable thinking about or talking about with others in an honest, real, and vulnerable way. However, for us to shift how we feel about our body, our appearance, and our life in a genuine way, we have to be willing to address this at a deeper level than food, exercise, cosmetics, etc. Body image issues cut to the core of how we feel about ourselves as human beings. Our issues with our body often reflect the deeper issues we have with ourselves. When we’re willing to get real about this, like with anything else in life, we have an expanded capacity to learn, grow, and heal. Getting real about how we truly feel about our body also reminds us that we’re not alone in this, that there’s a lot of support around us, and that there’s nothing “wrong” with us for feeling this way – it’s part of being human.
As you think about and talk about your honest relationship to your body and your appearance, be kind to yourself. Many of us have a lifetime filled with negative thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about ourselves physically. And, as we’re able to forgive ourselves, accept ourselves, and get real about this, we give ourselves access to transforming our relationship to our body and our life in a profound and positive way!
How do you feel about your body? How can you start to love your body in a more healthy and authentic way? Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more on my blog here.