How to Love Your Body Image

Art Nude Wrapped In Vines

“’Your whole body, from wingtip to wingtip,” Jonathan would say, other times, “is nothing more than your thought itself, in a form you can see. Break the chains of your thought, and you break the chains of your body, too.’” — Richard Bach (Jonathan Livingston Seagull: a story)

When I was 17, I found a stretch mark on my thigh — the result of a rapid growth spurt. I agonized for days over that stretch mark, and even cried when showing it to my mom in my great distress. She laughed a little at my angst, but to me, it was one of the first signs that my body had a mind of its own. From thence forward, it would be a battle to fight off, cover up, and fret about the various evil tricks my body would play on me without my permission.

Of course, that didn’t stop me from eating fast food, slathering on baby oil to get a tan, and avoiding any activity that made me break a sweat. I wasn’t very educated back then about a healthy lifestyle, but even if I had been, I imagine I would have still had the same convoluted relationship with my body image.

From the time we become aware of  our appearance (somewhere during that pre-teen awkwardness), we have a love-hate relationship with our bodies. As we learn about societal standards of attractiveness, we begin to focus on how we fall short of that standard.Think of all of the pain and unhappiness your body image has caused you over the years. It’s perplexing to hear beautiful models or actors talk about their gawky teen years and how they had a poor self-image about appearance.

It doesn’t seem to matter whether we are attractive or average, if there’s a flaw, we are going to search it out like a heat seeking missile, and then stare at it, pick it apart, and obsess about it until that’s all we see.

It’s those same beautiful models, athletes, and actors who reinforce our negative body image when we see them in magazines, tv, or movies. Perfection is everywhere in the media, but in life we are all existing in imperfect bodies that are flawed, flabby, and forever aging. That is a reality, and though we may fight against it, our bodies do have  minds of their own.
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When you arrive at middle age, your body really wants to grab your attention with its little tricks and antics. It’s working at an accelerated pace to make sure you don’t get too full of yourself. One’s natural tendency is to fight back with a vengeance, perhaps with a super high intensity workout routine, a cabbage soup diet, and little plastic surgery here and there.

But there is another way to relate to your body, one that I’m trying to adopt.

~I have decided to adopt a more spiritual approach to my relationship with my body image.

~I wish to bless it daily for all of the amazing ways it supports me.

~I have come to view it as a sacred garment that is housing my unique self and to treat it with loving kindness.

When we begin to see our bodies as a wondrous gift, even with all of its flaws, we can live and work in harmony with it rather than resisting and hating it. If this resonates with you, I’d like to offer some thoughts on how to create a new relationship with your body.

Give up resistance

In all things, when we resist and struggle, we are expending mental and emotional energy that is depleting. This struggle never serves to make things better, even though we believe we can out-think our difficulties and issues. Accept and acknowledge the reality of what is — being overweight, wrinkly, too short, too tall, whatever. This is who you are right now. Allow your mind and heart to rest peacefully in that for now.

Shift your perceptions.

Begin to view your body as a beloved friend with whom you have a sacred relationship. This friend has been with you since the beginning and will be with you until the end. This friend has carried you thousands of miles, has kept you nourished, has functioned reliably most of the time. This friend knows what to do intuitively when it comes to sustaining, healing, and reproducing. It has given you indescribable pleasures and yes, some pain too. But in truth, we haven’t always been kind to our body-friend either. We have caused it pain and betrayed it in a variety of ways. It’s time to be a good and loving friend.

Be kinder.

Be kind to your body, the way you would be to a beloved friend. Our bodies may be flawed, but we shouldn’t reprimand or belittle them. In fact, begin to acknowledge the aesthetic of your body. Look at the beauty and wisdom in your eyes. See how fluidly your limbs move, support, and carry you. Look at your hands and how they speak of the loving touch, the meals prepared, the work done. Then regard the amazing mechanics of your body. Your heart is pumping blood. Your lungs are taking in oxygen. Your digestive system is sorting the wheat from the chafe to nourish your body and rid it of waste. All of the organs and systems are working in beautiful harmony to sustain you.  There is so much more beauty than ugliness if you look and see.

Take tender care.

As you begin to acknowledge all your body has done for you and is doing right now, your resistance will soften. You will see what a miracle your body is. You will see how hard it is working to house your soul, your psyche, and your mind. You will see how much it respects you and wants to serve you. It is now easier to show respect to your body and to offer it tender care. It may not be perfect or perfectly appealing to the mass media, but even with its flaws, it is working superbly. Treat it well and lovingly so that it can continue to serve you.

Feed your body with whole, nutritious foods. Hydrate it with pure, clean water. Listen to what your body needs for nutrition. Educate yourself about healthy eating if you aren’t sure. Regard everything you put in your mouth, and ask yourself, “Is this showing love to my friend-body?”

Move your body to keep it flexible, to stimulate your internal organs, to maintain a weight that doesn’t stress your system, and to relieve stress and toxins. Create a habit of regular exercise that is simple, fun, and moderately challenging.

Give up habits that are harmful to your body, like smoking, over-eating or drinking, harmful drugs, or tanning.

Protect your body by not putting it in danger. Wear seat belts, helmets, sunscreen. Put down your cell phone when driving.

Care for your body by getting regular check-ups and seeking timely medical attention when you suspect you need it.

Give peace to your body by dealing with stress through meditation, creativity, relaxation, and movement.

Love your flaws.

We have grown to hate our body flaws because they reflect our fears. Our fears of aging and death. Of rejection. Of failure. Of ugliness. Begin to make a conscious effort to love your flaws, as strange as this might sound. Love your humanness. Love the years of living and wild experience that your flaws reveal. Love the peace that being imperfect offers. Love your connection to a world of flawed people.  Love the lack of control you have over some of your flaws. Love that you can caress and reshape some of your flaws to show love to your body. Being flawed is essential to our humanity. Love that.

Embrace the sacredness.

We all have different spiritual views about how and why our bodies are sacred. But even in the most secular context, begin to view your body as the sacred garment of your inner self. When you embrace it in this light, it is difficult to reject it and shame it. In fact, you will begin to respect your body and love it for all of its glorious beauty and function. Become conscious of your actions and behaviors and how they affect your sacred body. Seen in this new light, your body will transform from the inside out. You will not have to struggle against it. You will work with it and find that it responds to your love in a myriad of positive ways.

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Comments

  1. Peppy | The PeppyWrites Chronicles says:

    Hello Barrie,

    Your points are ‘on target’ – common sense perspective! Oh, if more young girls and women could learn to see themselves for whatever beauty is unique to them. But that begins with the way we interact with each other as women … in our friendships, mother to daughter, sister to sister. Sadly, I have listened to a mom look at her 5 yr old and tell her she is too fat therefore she can’t have the cookie – a sister constantly berate her younger sister over her weight – on and on it could go.

    What’s funny is that the other day my sister and a close friend were visiting me and the conversation was about our body image as a teen-ager, early 20’s, and then, today, in our 40’s (in my sisters case, 50’s). All the years I taught Aerobics and led an active life … all the energy expended in angst while fretting over any jiggle … only to end up with a disease that is slowly paralyzing my body … I would welcome any jiggle if I could only WALK! Ahh, if I could only EAT normally, instead of through a tube into my stomach, I would rotate my head in that extra serving of pasta!

    Yes, Barrie, your article is a vital message to get out – and starting with all the little ladies leaving diapers. We need to get the message across that beauty is individual – it is must be based on reality NOT photo-shopped images of stick figures we barely recognize as female. I hope everyone who reads this will also tweet it, stumble it, linkedIn it, etc… !

    Whew! I apologize for allowing some of the passion I feel regarding this subject to spill out – it’s just that ANY THING can happen to our bodies … so what a waste to ignore it, abuse it, hate it, feel shame over it or starve it. Life is so much more fulfilling when w focus on the good, the positive aspects of ourselves.

    I’m sorry about the ranting! I will try to behave better … though it shows your writing has a way of “reaching in and pulling out emotion” and I consider that talent!

    Peppy

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Dearest Peppy,
      Thank you SO much for sharing your experience. I’m sure there are times when you feel your body has presented the ultimate betrayal. It shouldn’t take a debilitating disease to wake us up to the incredible blessings of movement, sensation, and the intelligence of our bodies. We take so much for granted and waste so much time obsessing over what we think we should have. You have reminded us of the simple pleasures of our bodies — just to enjoy a bowl of pasta, take a walk, move without thinking. You are using your experience to serve others Peppy. Thank you so much for reminding us of these simple gifts. I love your passion!

  2. Hi, Barrie. I need to hear this now, today. Our season is starting up and I have been firing on all cylinders too long (cleaning, painting, planting, weeding, you name it!). My cuticles are ripped, every joint hurts.

    It has to stop. This happens to me every year and more than anyone I know that this kind of physical exhaustion leads to no good. So. I am printing out your post from today and putting it in my day journal.

    A beautiful reminder for me of what my body does for me. Thank you, my friend.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Ah Diana. It is time for you to get a massage and a nice manicure! Thank your body for getting you through this crunch time. Your guests will appreciate YOUR beautiful and calm self as much or more than a perfectly appointed space. You are a big part of the experience of visiting Baur B&B, so don’t neglect that most important element. As Leo says on Zen Habits, “Smile, Breathe, and Go Slowly.” Your joie de vivre will overshadow any minor imperfections.

  3. This is so beautiful Barrie. Makes me a little sad for all the young women out there, my daughter included, who beat themselves up daily about their bodies. Our bodies are sacred and lovely vessels we’re privileged to carry ourselves around in and so many of us hate them instead. I find myself doing it just as much as anyone. Your article should be read and embraced by everyone. Thank you.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Katie,
      Yes, I wish we could ban fashion and celebrity magazines from our girls. But I think that body obsession is a part of growing up. In a way, it is so nice to be released from that obsession when we get old enough to realize that we can stay healthy, but we can’t reverse aging. Inside, I feel younger and stronger than ever.

  4. Barrie this was excellent advice. I have been my body’s worst critic forever. Even during the years I modeled I found so many flaws to criticize instead of attributes to celebrate. I joke now about how menopause changed me from a pear to an apple. Everything shifts. I know I need to exercise more and I will… soon. You are so right about revisiting all the wonderful things your body does for you that are taken for granted. I am proud of how my body has gotten me through many bumps in the road. Now I just need to reward it with praise more often.
    Thanks for a great post!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Barbara,
      I’m so glad you liked it! I’m sure modeling made you even more critical of your body — always having to stay “perfect.” Whatever that is! Whether you are a pear or an apple, you are still a juicy sweet fruit. :)

  5. Hello Barrie,
    your thougts in this artikel are great, but I don’t like the the picture at the top of it.Why did you
    choose it?

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Brita,
      I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I chose the picture because I think it shows someone in a struggle with their body. I think it’s an unusual and stunning photo, but I hope it didn’t offend you. :)

  6. Barrie,

    This is just great and so important. Practicing lovingkindness to our bodies. Learning to love every cell of our being. When I see the wrinkles in the mirror, I remind myself they are there from experiences and living that I wouldn’t trade….

    Thank you for this :-)

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Mary Jane,
      Yes, every wrinkle has a story to tell. When I see a healthy mature person who seems carefree and unselfconscious, I think they are so very attractive. Beauty shines through from the inside out.

  7. Love this post Barrie, especially the suggestion to “love your flaws.” Yes! Life is a messy business and there is no photoshop for reality. Chasing after perfection is such a waste of precious life energy and time. Thanks for a much needed message.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Linda,
      I love it — “there’s no photoshop for reality.” That is so true. Magazines are so deceptive and offer such a distorted image of real beauty. Living with joy is the best re-touch you can give yourself.

  8. Hi Barrie,

    I think the main misconception that people have about their bodies is that the external appearance is most important. In fact, people can look quite healthy on the outside but be highly unhealthy when it comes down to it. I really like the focus of viewing our body as a sacred temple and recognizing the diving beauty and miracle that a human body is. This is what can help to focus on a healthy regiment. I also am more and more interested in the connection between mind and body or emotional health and physical health. If we can neutralize stress we can also improve our physical health.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Joe,
      I wonder why we get so wrapped up in appearance? There are so many wonderful people in this world who have so much to offer, but they get rejected or judged by their looks. That’s one great thing about the internet — it is an equalizer. Talent, kindness, sincerity all shine through without the buffer of physical judgments. You are so right, emotional and physical health are so intertwined. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

  9. Justin | Mazastick says:

    The human body is not perfect but all that we can do is love it and take care of it the best that we can.

    I believe that we should learn at a young age how to properly love and nourish our physical body.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Justin,
      Yes, when you learn at a young age to appreciate and take care of your body, it will serve you well as you get older and your body begins to change. It won’t be so daunting, and you will feel better about yourself by staying healthy.

  10. I think the most poignant part of this post was that it is because of fear of different things that we hate our bodies.

    Thanks for that insight.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Susie,
      Yes, that is a liberating insight. When we lose those fears, we don’t hate our bodies so much. In societies where the elderly are respected and admired, they don’t have the same negative body issues.

  11. whenever I read about issues like this, I am reminded of this video from Dove…. bless them for showing the reality!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYhCn0jf46U

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Thank you so much for sharing that video! Wow, that is really eye-opening. Not only are they creating a standard of beauty with hair and make-up, but they are re-touching and physically altering the model’s face. Who could ever live up to that?? And the model looked so sweet and real when she first sat down, before hair and make-up.

  12. I so needed this today–thank you! I’ve gained a bit of weight this last year, and I am really struggling with my body and self-image. I used to be a runner, but my body is disagreeing with that form of exercise at the moment, and it’s really throwing me for a loop.

    Thanks for reminding me to be grateful for what it does do!

    I’ve lost two family members in the last few months. One to ALS and one to sudden heart failure. I think of both of them every day and how I’m sure they’d trade my non-running self for more time here in an instant.

    • Hi Amy,
      I’m so glad this post came to you at the right time. I am so sorry for your losses. I have just discovered the joys of biking. It is so much fun and so much less stress on your knees and joints than running. If you go fast enough and long enough, it’s a great workout. :)

  13. My body-friend – I love that. I’ve just recently found your blog; thanks for the reminder to treat my body gently and with kindness. As a younger reader – twenty-eight – I am just now beginning to experience the freedom of accepting my body, flaws and all. Thank you.

    • Hi Jennifer,
      I hope you hold on to that freedom for a long time. It’s something we have to keep reminding ourselves about as our bodies keep changing. The change in my body after having babies was daunting at the time. But all of those changes are reminders of my three children and the joy they bring to my life.

  14. Lovely post Barrie!

    I just want to tell people who are not aware of this but, seriously:

    “sunscreen”. Sunscreen is a good way to protect our body, yes. BUT SUNSCREEN THAT CONTAIN CHEMICALS IN FORM ON NANO PARTICLES IS NOT HEALTHY. They damage our brain and is becoming more common these days in such products, even toothpaste and shampoo. So what I’m trying to say is: avoid especially sunscreen that contain nano particles (it’s sometimes and very often mentioned on the label). Why? Because the particles are so small they “break through” the “filter” around our brain, then it causes damage to our brain.

    And this is no joke, it’s science.

    Regards, RobinAndersson.

  15. I’ve just recently found your blog; thanks for the reminder to treat my body gently and with kindness

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