I was having a tea with a dear friend recently and we found ourselves on the subject of "good" body image. Both my friend and I have struggled with disordered eating, and, even though we've put those behaviors behind us, we noticed that it's still a challenge to settle into a body-positive way of being.
Through discussion, we recognized that our struggles were not with our bodies but with our relationship to our bodies. And, we both acknowledged that this relationship (a.k.a. body image) was not only framing our daily experiences but often creating needless drama! (Friends are so helpful sometimes!)
We wondered: Could we actually see ourselves with more love? How could we cultivate a healthier body image?
Inspired by the incentive of more love, I began practicing, observing friends, and sitting with the idea that positive body image is achievable!
I got really determined to understand the mechanism of body image. And, while I still have work to do, (don't we all!) here are some of the frameworks that have helped me along the way...
We cannot cultivate a healthy body without simultaneously cultivating a healthy mind.
It simply cannot be done. Sometimes making the body healthier will make the mind healthier (or vice versa), but, in order to have lasting health both the mind and body must be tended to. The mind deserves to be nourished with love! By making friends with our thoughts our bodies tend to want to behave sweetly!
To Practice: Notice your internal dialogue. Use your body's physical experience of a situation to affirm positive realities (ex: I can calm my mind when I breathe deeply.) Also, notice opportunities where you can challenge toxic judgement or comparison by asking: 'Where does this initiate from?' Often, our negative self-talk stems from a place of fear or long-digested judgements that someone taught us that we never had a chance to question.
Observe: when you notice yourself up against a deeply ingrained judgement (ex: thin people have better lives) do you affirm the story? Can you find another answer without demeaning yourself? (ex: Thin people have challenges too; there is no conflict here—I just need to remember I am loved!) Your thoughts do not have to be your enemies anymore!
A healthy body needs nourishment in many forms.
From the food we eat, to the images we see, to the movements we make, opportunities to nourish ourselves abound! Look at your choices throughout the day and let them be qualitative. Remember, we feed our bodies with almost all our actions. Be mindful to keep your actions nourishing.
To Practice: For an entire day, notice and record your body's consumption patterns. Notice the food you eat, the words you read, the conversations you have, and the company you keep (to name a few...).
Then ask: Are my actions in line with self-nourishment? If I were planning a day for a beloved friend, would I behave differently? Be your own beloved!
Healthy body image requires detachment.
When we are tied to an image of reality, we often use that image to judge or compare ourselves against. For a positive relationship with yourself, this has to stop! Whether it's an image from the past or a story of what life will look like "when," attachment to our images keeps us bogged down. What if your image was exactly what IS happening now? Can you make a commitment to aligning with the present?
To Practice: Stop looking for metrics that you are moving in the "right" direction and instead trust yourself to take the next right action. For one day, ask your body what it wants and then comply!
So much of healthy body images requires that you trust your healthy body! This might mean eating what you need (and not what's on your diet), or maybe taking a yoga class to breathe instead of a spin class because your ass "needs" it. (Your butt is lovely!)
Yoga teaches us that effort not results matter most. This is a teaching to take off the mat. Put your effort in and notice how positive effects find their way to you!
Healthy body image requires compassion.
When I work at the eating disorder clinic, we talk a lot about the damaging lure of perfection; then, we disavow perfection entirely! Healthy body image does not mean you do something perfectly. Healthy body images means you love the imperfections.
Allowing yourself to be fully embodied requires having a life! This means that some nights you might stay out too late and sometimes you might eat the cake because you love it! ALL of this is OK. Healthy body images means you trust your body and mind to enjoy your life without limits or restrictions.
To Practice: Notice all the ways you make yourself "wrong." Then, instead of responding with more rigidity or compensatory behaviors, invite yourself to love the "wrong," too! We are our wrongs as much as we are our rights; the quicker we can learn to stop separating ourselves in categories the quicker we can lead from whole-hearted love.
You cannot simply think yourself into better body image; you have to live it!
Negotiating a better relationship with your body requires daily niceties and daily commitment. You body is your partner for life, so it's time you cultivated some love between the two of you!
To Practice: Set up a daily ritual that is an active gesture of body-love. For some of us this might be ten minutes of asana or meditation in the morning, for others it might be taking 10 minutes to read or a moment to enjoy a cup of tea at night. Pick a sweet offering that appeals to you and make it a daily practice. Then repeat for life.
Loving your body requires that you make yourself matter to you!