Recently, an old enemy reared its head. Actually, it’s a very familiar one. It’s the Body Image Beast. It has haunted me all my life and still, after many years of “working” on it, shows up when I’m feeling vulnerable, afraid, or on the precipice of big change.
There I was, minding my own business, when suddenly I became obsessed with my stomach. Well, actually, I saw a video of myself. And a photo. In both, I was sitting in a slouchy position, my stomach pooched WAAAAAAAAY out there for all to see. Here is my dreadful stomach secret: it is NOT PERFECTLY FLAT. In fact, you could tell that I’ve HAD A BABY. And I have not since magically transformed back to the pre-birth tummy days.
However, I’ve never really thought my stomach looked good, even before having a baby. I’ve never really thought any of my body looked good. I can remember watching a video at the age of ten in which I was standing next to my friend. I was in those very uncomfortable, bunched-up years that happen before the teenage growth spurt. She, somehow, was not. Life is not fair. After I saw the video (it was a school project), I nearly passed out from horror.
So, this recent video/photo experience was not a new one. Yet again, like hundreds of times before, I sank into a deep self-loathing and thought of the many diets I should be on. The exercise regimens I should be doing. Etcetera. I’m sure no one reading this can relate.
The thing is, I know better. I know that diets only create more weight, more pain, more dissatisfaction. I know that this obsession’s reappearance means I need to look inward and see what current emotional discomfort is trying to rise to the surface. I am the master of distraction whenever something REALLY uncomfortable is trying to emerge from my heart. Good old body obsession will often arise whenever I need to face a part or parts of myself.
I spent a good week freaking out about my body. Then, some sanity started to return. I realized that:
- After I had my baby, I was terribly ill and actually lost a lot of weight, but felt awful. That sucked. Having what I have now – health – is much better.
- Now I’m about five pounds heavier than before I had my daughter. OMG. Who cares. Also, that is still 45 pounds less that what I used to weigh, before I discovered mind-body awareness.
- I hate the cultural obsession with being thin and I don’t want to create that environment in my home for my daughter. I want to be healthy. On all levels.
I used to suck my belly in all the time, but that caused a great deal of tension in my pelvis, and became something I had to learn to NOT do in order to be pain free. Now, at least I’m relaxed and healthy. I’m letting my body be my body, instead of being so at war with it.
In the end, I let myself feel the uncomfortable emotions that wanted to rise up into my awareness. I didn’t let the obsession take me all the way into a new diet. (Oh, I’ve done that plenty!) I stayed with myself. I breathed. For two weeks.
Sometimes, that’s what it takes. Actually, all the time, that’s what it takes. I have to stay with myself, allow discomfort, not run away, and just be here. Then, the emotions move through and I feel them. I watch them happen. Sometimes I get a little caught in them. Then I remember that I can watch them, and I’m the observer again.
When I become the observer, (an art I’ve practiced for a long time, and still practice, because it’s not easy – more like a life’s work) the wisdom that wants to surface within me rises up from my heart and into my mind. I see whatever it is my body wants me to know, and whatever it is my heart is saying.
This time, the wisdom was another piece of the same message I’ve been receiving for a long, long time. It was about truly, actually, taking care of myself. It showed me that I haven’t been fully taking nutritional care of my body ever since my daughter was born. I’ve been focused on her, on work, on life – and I forgot to listen to what my body needs and wants. It’s the simplest, easiest way to be healthy, and also the thing I often forget. That’s why I do the work I do in the world. Because I know it takes immense support and practice to do the simplest of things: listen to the body, the inner wisdom, and trust it.
My body doesn’t want me to go on a diet or focus on my stomach or any of those things. It wants specific nutrients. Not nutrients that scientists say I should eat. Not externally motivated “food plans.” It wants to tell me when it’s hungry and what it’s hungry for, each day.
This is a much deeper lesson than just eating in harmony with my body. It’s part of the bigger lesson of self-kindness. That lesson is my life’s work. By that I mean it’s my biggest challenge and also my place of freedom. When I can do it, I’m at peace. When I struggle, I’m at war.
I’ve learned to seek the self-kindness path whenever I realize I’ve re-entered the war. I’m not always sure how to get back on that path, which is why I’ve studied the mind-body connection for years and created mind-body tools for myself. They are always there for me, even if I forget to use them. When I remember, they are waiting for me. They are healing, comforting friends who sit with me when I awaken at two a.m., a “mistake” or “faux pas” haunting me. They are steadfast, those tools. They are bringers of new awareness, and peace.
It’s a new year, and you may be tempted to go on a diet. Flatten your stomach. (Seriously – who ever came up with the idea that stomachs should be flat?!!) Change something you don’t like about yourself. Make big resolutions. Decide to do better, be better, for once and for all.
What about this? What about just deciding to slowly, gently, kindly, learn ways to be kinder to yourself? To leave the war and enter peace? It’s not about being thinner. It’s about being kinder – To you.