Change the Conversation - Body Image
Updated: May 20, 2018
When did my value shift from who I am as a person to what I look like? And why is it so easy to become enamored with the pursuit of perfection? Endless self-aggrandizing selfies at the gym flood the social media space. Body transformation stories tend to focus more on the packaging than the content. There is an ever-flowing tap pouring with judgment, and self-shame, and other-shame. It is easier for me to connect with others through self-shame than it is with self-love, and I am wondering why that is and where it comes from. How many times have I heard "Ugh, I feel awful today, I look disgusting" or "I am getting so fat" or "I need to lose some weight" or "I hate this [insert body part, clothing item, genetic trait]"? And how many times have I engaged in those self-shaming conversations?
I feel as though there is safety in self-shaming. If I want to fit in and my environment is in a state of putting itself down, then lifting myself up goes against the current of my environment. As a human being with an inherent need for social and interpersonal connection, what am I to do? Do I join in? Or do I risk the possibility of being the outlier? In an environment so enraptured with self-shame, confidence becomes cockiness, loving oneself becomes being self-centered, and a positive attitude becomes arrogance.
The environment has shifted towards placing too much value in perfection. And that is a dangerous road to travel with severe and devastating consequences. When I focus on the appearance of this vessel, I lose sight of the value in it's abilities, in it's functionality, and in it's core self.
I led a therapeutic group once, and the prompt I wrote on the board was "Why is your body image important to you (or not)?" Folks wrote for a bit and we discussed topics from safety, to acceptance, to invisibility, to shaming as a collective experience. For the second prompt, I walked up to the board and simply erased the word image. Now, some folks noticed the slight, yet significant change in the prompt straight away. However, it took a few people several minutes to notice the difference. Body image had become synonymous with body for some. And those two constructs are so vastly different.
Body image is a perception. It is not tangible, nor is it real. It is a construct of internal and environmental conditioning coupled with whatever life experience I bring to the mix. If I grow up in an environment where shaming oneself is the norm, there is a good chance that is how I will relate to the world. If my environment focuses its value system on looks, or appearance, or "the perfect body", then I am likely to adapt my value system in that direction. Conditioning, in any form, creates lenses. Lenses color the way I see the world. So if I live in a world where shame drives a pursuit to the perfect body, not only is that how I will see the word, I will seek out people, situations, and evidence to match up with that lens.
I intend to break the cycle of self-shame, starting with myself. When I see myself slipping into self-judgment about my appearance, I counter with "what is the purpose of this vessel?", "what does this vessel allow me to do?", and "how can I use this vessel to pursue the things in life I find TRULY valuable?". None of the answers to those questions I ask myself include how I look, my appearance, my "physical flaws", or a comparison to the "ideal" body.
This body I am in, this vessel, functions in service to self and others. This body I am in is strong and resilient. This body I am in is a brilliant amalgamation of biology and chemistry. This body I am in has limitations. This body I am in is capable and driven to pursue knowledge and continue to seek answers. This body I am in allows me to help others in need. This body I am in is wise. This body I am in is vulnerable.
This body I am in...is...enough.
Thank you for reading,