A great many people are generally dissatisfied, or even contemptuous, of their own bodies. When they see or even think about their own bodies, they feel a sense of disgust. To make matters worse, they get angry and direct their anger inward because they do not (they believe) have the right shape, size, nose, skin, neck, eyes, thighs, calves, stomach, hair. The list is endless.
To what degree do you direct aggression
and disapproval toward your own body?
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the wrong body
Being preoccupied with how wrong our bodies are seems to have become a national pastime. For some, it is a recurring way of giving oneself a bad report card followed by chastisement and shame, and sometimes even punishment. For others, it actually constitutes the great majority of their mental activity throughout each and every day. To state the obvious, we harm ourselves when we direct anger and disgust toward our own bodies. Even though we know this, we continue to do it. Then we get frustrated at THAT. This vicious cycle saps so much life energy it is sometimes amazing that we get anything else done.
reclaiming the body
Experience has taught me that when people who suffer from body-hatred are told that they can be liberated from this soul-crushing obsession, they will often roll their eyes while thinking “You CLEARLY do not understand.” This is a powerful obsession, woven so deeply into the fabric of daily living (via endless cultural symbols, environmental signals and social cues) that the idea of reclaiming the body seems like a pathetic and naïve wish.
While I fully appreciate the pessimism, it’s still true that there is a way out. Breaking free from any mental obsession takes work, mutual aid and time. Specifically regarding body-hatred, there are two things we must cultivate if we want to change things for the better: (1) a willingness to stop devaluing others’ bodies; and (2) a determination to change the world.
judging others – judging ourselves
When we look askance at others’ bodies, we are simultaneously mocking our own. In other words, to devalue and direct disapproval toward someone else’s body is to do the same to oneself; they are one and the same activity. Thus, whenever you find yourself looking down on someone else’s body, the effect is that you are giving yourself the same message: “Your body is unacceptable – it doesn’t meet the standards.” When we refuse to condemn others’ bodies, we give a gift not only to them but to ourselves as well.
changing the world – one thought at a time
When we use perfectionistic standards to evaluate our own bodies, we are reinforcing and legitimizing those standards, and it is only a matter of time before we use them on someone else. Whenever we participate in devaluing our own or others’ bodies, we are guilty of sending more body-hatred into the world and perpetuating the epidemic. In this way we play a key role in perpetuating the culture of shame, fear and superficiality that surrounds how the body is related to in our culture. Isn’t it time that we stopped this madness? If not now, when?
Instead of going on a diet, start a revolution. You can start by refusing to be cruel to yourself and others. When you find yourself automatically devaluing your own or others’ bodies, catch yourself and say “I refuse to participate in this.” With repetition, practice and determination, you will find your attitude and perspective start to shift.
Start paying more attention to the many aspects of our (consumer) culture that, for their own survival, literally need us to experience disgust, insecurity and inadequacy about our own bodies. If they can induce these feelings in us, we will compulsively buy their products. Once you start thinking more critically about how the body is related to in everyday culture, you will begin to see how much you’ve been tolerating your own or others’ cruel, hurtful and absurd judgments about people’s bodies.
By changing your mind, you set in motion a process that influences others. As you seek to stop the insanity in your own life, you simultaneously become a change-agent in your social circles. Take seriously what Gandhi wrote: Be the change you wish to see in the world. And remind yourself daily that things can change, things can be different, it starts with you and it starts today.