What Da Vinci Can Teach Us About Body Image
In middle school, I was overweight — and several kids liked to point that out ... and laugh about it. I remember coming home from school one day, going up into my room and crying on my bed.
When my mom asked me what was wrong, I told her what some of the kids had said. She did her best to comfort me, but it took me a long time to recover from that. I was painfully ashamed of my body, and resented the fact that I had to carry it around with me.
But my experience isn't unique. We live in a culture that hates the body. Don't believe me? Look around. We set unsustainable standards of physical beauty and enlist models to represent them. We then slather these models in oils and make-up, place them under "flattering" lights, and Photoshop them into oblivion.
We take these deceptive images and publish them to the world, insinuating that these lies are not only desirable, but also "the norm." Why don't you look like this? Why aren't you this beautiful?
Unable to attain this unrealistic look, we despise and destroy our own bodies. We do it in a number of ways. We either focus on our physical imperfections and try to starve them out, or beat them out through excessive exercise.
If that doesn't work, we try to numb our feelings of inadequacy through addictions that include sex, drugs, alcohol, perfectionism, gambling, gaming, overeating, working, cleaning, shopping, and sleeping.
Anyway you look at it, we are a culture that is very uncomfortable in its own skin. We value the judgement of others more than we value the marvelous creation that is our own body.
I recently read a book that takes an in-depth look at the sketches and notes of celebrated painter, Leonardo da Vinci. While learning about this genius, I was deeply impressed by his fascination with the human body.
Skimming through his sketches, one can tell that he had a deep love and reverence for life. Indeed, da Vinci himself once said: "let not your rage or malice destroy a life — for indeed, he who does not value it, does not himself deserve it."
Is the malice of our culture toward our bodies destroying our enjoyment of life? Does our rage and contempt for our own image destroy our happiness?
I've seen people waste their time and energy — the very essence of their lives — obsessed with body image and diet, or with weight-training and exercising, or with cankles and thigh gaps.
Your body wasn't meant to be treated like an object for others to scrutinize; it was meant to be treasured as the most incredible and most advanced instrument that you have to receive the world.
Do you remember when we were kids? (You know, before school and all of that nonsense.) We loved life. LOVED it! Every moment of life was an astounding adventure. Swimming? Amazing. Amazing. Jumping into a pile of leaves? Amazing. Petting a dog? Amazing!
At that age, kids don't care about what others think about them, and why should they? Nature is so amazing! And if the nature is so amazing — and their bodies come from nature — then what does that say about them? In fact, most children chase life with such zeal that they never need worry about diet and exercise.
I think there is a direct correlation between our love of life and our love of self. The more we respect, value, and love life all around us, the more we will respect, value, and love ourselves (and our bodies). And the more we value ourselves and the world around us, the more we will be able to achieve.
Leonardo da Vinci is a phenomenal example of this. The man's never-ending fascination with life was both childlike and genius. He was a painter, a sculptor, an inventor, an architect, a cartographer, a botanist, a mathematician, an engineer, a geologist and so much more!
Yet in his quest to understand life, he learned this fundamental truth:
" ... and if this, [body], appears to thee marvelously constructed, remember that it is nothing as compared with the soul that dwells in that structure; for that indeed, be it what it may, is a thing divine."
Please stop hating your body. Not only is it an amazing tool for receiving the world, but it's also the host of a thing divine: you. You are a marvelously beautiful and unique creation and you were born to achieve great things. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you will wake up to the glorious life that is all around you.
© 2014 Seth Adam Smith, author of Your Life Isn't for You: A Selfish Person's Guide to Being Selfless