Many of us, men and women, are resistant to the idea of loving our bodies. It seems so foreign. Sometimes even wrong. Learning to love your body can be a tangled endeavor, fraught with destructive emotions and uncertainty. Part of the difficulty is due to our natural bias toward the negative; therefore, we tend to get hung up on the parts of our bodies we don’t like, rather than celebrate those we do. We really get stuck when we compare ourselves to others and assign a value judgment to our appearance, which creates a better than/ less than dichotomy.
When we focus on things we don’t like, we often feel compelled to fix or change those things in order to feel better about ourselves. Unsurprisingly, the diet and self-improvement industries are founded on this kind of self-deprecation. But what if we let those uncomfortable parts just be for awhile and learn to take a more realistic view of the body?
The truth is that nothing, no situation, place, or person is either all good or all bad. So, to say things like, “I hate my body,” or “I’m no good as I am,” are complete delusions. For those of us that value truth and acceptance, the work really starts with acknowledging and appreciating the parts of us that are, well, not so bad.
We all have parts of us we like and parts we don’t, things that make us proud, and those that bring up shame. Remembering that all attributes contribute to the totality of who we are is a step toward corporal equanimity. Each time we discount or ignore these good parts we effectively deny the most worthy and valuable parts of ourselves. Allowing ourselves to really have these qualities, the qualities that are easier to like, can loosen the grip of body- and self-hatred.
There are many ways to practice body acceptance, but beginning in a simple way can yield lasting results. You might start by meeting negative body thoughts with a phrase such as, “And I appreciate all that my body does for me every day,” or, “The truth is, my body has a lot of things I like about it, too.” You might have to take some time to think about what those things are if body appreciation is new to you. Remember, the goal is not to cover up or deny the fact that there are thoughts about your body that cause suffering, but to gain a more balanced and realistic perspective of the body as a whole.
So, what about all those other parts, the parts we try hard to hide? As you are letting those parts just be, notice if there is a relaxation around the need to change things. What if you were to simply apply some kindness or compassion to these less loved parts? What if acceptance is simply acknowledging that this is the way things are at this point in time — and, goodness knows, change is inevitable? Would that make it any easier?
You can also try the Compassionate Body Scan from the Mindful Self-Compassion curriculum. Listen to it here. This meditation was actually part of a research study on women and body dissatisfaction that produced a significant increase in body satisfaction that was maintained at a three-month follow-up. The study can be viewed here.