Most of us know that we should love our body. We should speak more kindly to it. We should nourish our body with three nutritious meals a day. We’ve been told to shut down body shame every time it rears its ugly head as we step in front of the mirror. But loving our body is easier said than done, isn’t it?
Our bodies are full of complexities, so genuinely loving your body means loving all of its facets. Loving your body may mean appreciating and caring for its size and shape, race and skin color, chronic illness and disability, infertility and pregnancy loss, gender identity, aging, scars, hair, and so much more. Even reading through this list may bring up hate, shame and other painful, unhealed wounds from your relationship with your body. In this article, I’m hoping to provide a deeper understanding for why it’s been so hard to love your body and give you a few steps forward for how to begin healing your relationship with your body.
Why is it so hard to love our body?
From a very young age, we were taught, directly and indirectly, that our bodies only matter if they look a certain way. We take in this messaging through the types of bodies we saw most represented and praised in the media. We heard an influx of compliments people receive after losing weight. Perhaps you were privy to the constant advertising of anti-aging and weight-loss products. You may have overheard your mother commenting about her body in front of the mirror. Maybe you observed that your mother only ate one serving at dinner when your father had two. These realities and observations underscore that we should value our bodies based on how they appear from the outside. Many of us accepted our bodies as visual objects: pleasing or displeasing, beautiful or ugly, praised or criticized.
Even the positive body image movement encourages us to work harder to see bodies as beautiful, flaws and all. The problem with this perspective is that we are still getting caught in a cycle of self-objectification. We are obsessed with how our body appears to ourselves and others. We have forgotten what it means to be a body rather than have a body.
In her book, The Wisdom of Your Body, Hillary McBride, PhD, counselor, researcher, and expert in body image and eating disorders, illustrates that the cost of self-objectification is like having a wonderful, cozy, fully stocked house but living on the lawn. You spend time comparing your lawn and the exterior of your home to all of your neighbors’. You repair the natural wear and tear your house has accumulated over the years through hard winters and busy summers. You work so hard to maintain the outside of your home that you forget it was made to be lived in, not looked at. You’ve forgotten that your home is yours and doesn’t have to look like your neighbors’. You already have all resources you need to get you through each season of your life. Your home, and, thus, your body in this metaphor, expresses you and your style, personality, and needs. There is a way to move from the lawn back into your house.
How embodiment helps you move back in
You can connect with your body as a being to be lived in rather than just a thing or an image to sculpt. This theory is called embodiment, which McBride describes as “the felt sense of being in our bodies, not just evaluating them from the outside.”
Embodiment encompasses the experience of being you in your unique body. It includes all of the body sensations connected to your emotions. Embodiment encourages you to fully express each emotion instead of numbing, avoiding, or pushing it down. This framework encourages intuitive eating and intentional movement that both fuels and cares for your body. It involves savoring the felt experience of positive experiences, like play, sex, and achievement. Those who practice embodiment even connect deeply and empathically with their body through negative experiences like injury, illness, and loss.
To be clear, it’s not wrong to have a body image. Our appearance is ours and helps our friends and family recognize, know, and connect with us. How we appear is not just our physical look, though. Our appearance includes the love in our eyes, the way we laugh, the ways we provide comfort, how we dress when we’re feeling confident, or how we cry when we’re experiencing pain. Our appearance helps us express who we are in all our seasons of life. Embodiment allows you to care for and shape your house’s exterior while living in your wonderful, cozy, fully-stocked house.
So, now that you’re considering moving off your lawn and back into your house, here are a few helpful ways to practice embodiment.
Commit to engaging with your body as a being, not a thing.
It’s essential to pay close attention to how you speak to your body. Commit to only using language with it that you would use to connect with someone you love dearly. Choose to believe that your body is on your team, is doing its best, and good. Full stop. Already. Unconditionally. Your body is good.
Engaging with your body as a being is a process — you won’t always do it perfectly. Yet, just like any relationship, it takes work to repair after angry words and misunderstandings. Over time you will build more safety, trust, and connection with your body.
To practice this engagement, consider writing a letter to your body. If you don’t know where to start, try filling in these blanks “Dear body, I’m sorry for _________, I love you for _________.”
Tune into your experiences of body goodness.
When we spend so much energy being hyperaware of our outward appearance, we often lose a lot of internal awareness. We can become disconnected from our present experiences and numb to the connected sensations in our bodies. But we all have experiences of goodness in our bodies: pleasure, passion, sensuality, purpose, delight, vitality, joy, and playfulness. Think about how you feel when you’re dancing with all your heart, having your best workout, being your most creative, laughing out loud, having sex with someone you love, having a relaxing bath, or cuddling with your child or furry friend.
Ask yourself what makes you feel so good. How is your body letting you know that this moment is good, that you are good? Tune in deeply to these moments to remind you of everything that makes your body good and lovable, beyond being or looking beautiful.
To practice this, amplify your moments of body goodness with a journaling exercise. Conjure an image of yourself at one of your favorite moments of body goodness. Remember all the details — the sights, sounds, smells, feels, and even tastes of that moment. Allow yourself to sink deeply into the sensory experience of goodness. How is your body responding to the goodness of that moment? What are the emotions you’re noticing? What are the sensations? How would you describe yourself in that moment? What do you notice about the goodness of and in your body in that moment?
Want to learn more about embodiment or loving your body?
Read Hillary Mcbride’s book The Wisdom of Your Body or reach out to us today at In Session Psych. Our therapists can help you better understand the things that have made it hard for you to love your body and how you can make changes now to repair your relationship with your body.