Recently the theme of the physical body has been coming up for me. Whether it's through books that I'm reading, old memories coming to the surface, or current events, this seems to keep pushing its way into my awareness, which is a signal to me that there is something to explore, let go of, or heal.
My relationship with my physical body has been a complicated one. Since I was an adolescent I seem to have been at war with my body in one way or another. I have tried to hide it, flaunt it, manipulate it, and heal it over the years. In the midst of all this, I forgot to love it and see just how incredible and intelligent it is. I forgot to appreciate it for all of the things it's done for me, from climbing mountains to healing from a tropical disease.
A Balancing Act...
I believe that women have an especially complicated relationship with their bodies. The way society is, this judgment of physical appearance tends to fall more heavily on women. We are given mixed messages all the time as to what society expects us to look like. Be friendly...but not too friendly. Dress nice...but not too sexy. Be presentable...but not high maintenance. In this patriarchal society, we are expected to adjust the way we look, dress, and behave in order to manage the desires of men. Such a balancing act is exhausting and can leave young girls especially confused about how to feel about their bodies.
The media and society just exacerbate this problem. In movies, TV, and the media we are constantly shown images of the 'ideal; woman, what her body should look like, what it should be able to do, etc. It doesn't even need to be said. Without even using words, these images and affirmations permeate our subconscious and tell us that how we look is not enough and that we should strive for improvement. Women's self-esteem and body image are being destroyed, all in the name of selling makeup, clothes, or diet products.
I definitely fell into this trap of not enoughness. In college I was a big of Brazilian supermodels, their lean bodies and dark exotic features appealed to me. I wanted to look more like that, so I went to the tanning booth (I've since apologized to my skin for all that damage) and dyed my hair darker. Then, I paraded around with a false sense of self-confidence, when inside I was still just a little girl who wanted to be loved and accepted.
My years living in LA were not much better in terms of body acceptance. Such an image-focused place is not the healthiest environment for someone with self-worth and self-love issues. These are major root problems that manifest themselves in a number of different ways. This can look like disordered eating, chasing romantic partners for validation, or attracting abusive relationships. If we don't cultivate that love and respect for ourselves, then we will attract people and situations that reflect the low value that we see in ourselves. Or, we may try to get this love from a partner and manifest a codependent relationship.
Looking back at this time, I can see that I was simultaneously chasing and pushing away male attention. Perhaps this was the pull between my ego and my soul? I wanted to be desired because, somewhere along the way, my desirability became equated with my sense of self-worth. I believe this was my ego. And at the same time, the voice of my soul was whispering and telling me that there's more to me than my body and wanted to be seen for who I really was.
It took a lot of self-reflection, healing, and heart-opening to get to the point where I am today. I love my body and the way it looks. Not because it's perfect, but because it's the perfect expression of me and my lifestyle. The surprising thing is that when I let go of the obsession and constant critique of my body, this is when I finally achieved a body that I love and am happy with.
How to heal...
One thing to remember is that the root cause of an external situation is always something within us.
Letting go of judgments and accepting yourself completely is an essential part of self-love. Radical acceptance of each aspect of yourself and where you are at this moment. If there is something you want to change to improve your health, give gratitude and love to how it is in this moment and release the need to change, control, and manipulate.
Once you extend a deep love and respect for the physical body, your entire mindset shifts. Processed food might lose its appeal. Feeding your body healthy foods and exercise become acts of love rather than restrictions and punishments for 'cheating' or indulging. Tune into your body's wisdom through yoga (try my Embodied gratitude yoga class) or another movement practice.
The physical body is the sacred vehicle that drives your soul through this lifetime, what an important job it has!