Today’s culture and society constantly emphasize physical perfection, as defined by Hollywood. Sadly, this idea of perfection is not only unrealistic, it’s unhealthy. Most of us cannot achieve a size 0 without a significant degree of malnourishment. The resulting inability to do so can make us feel inadequate, ugly, or undesirable. We are continuously bombarded with airbrushed models and actors provoking us to emulate them, and we can’t. So we start to look at our real-world bodies with negative emotion, and risk developing anxiety and depression. Even if we can intellectually dismiss these feelings of inadequacy, they can stay in our heart and cause us untold psychological injury.
So how can you break the grip that popular culture has on your image of your body and what you wish it to be?
Consider the Prize-Fighter
First of all, it is absolutely vital that you respect and love your body right now, at this very moment. It is your vessel of life. It contains you. It houses and protects the uniqueness of your personality and spirit. And even as you look in the mirror and wish you looked different, your body continues to supply you with all the physical support you need.
Many of us have had years of stress and trauma in our lives. This can manifest in weight gain, muscle atrophy, puffiness, and low energy. There are many scientific and physiologic reasons for this, which are beyond the scope of this little article, but it is well-established that fat, weakness, and swelling follow repeated and sustained injury — whether physical or emotional.
Consider this: Wouldn’t it be better to reflect that your not-so-airbrushed body isn’t a sign of your failure but is, instead, a sign of how strong it is?
Picture a prize-winning boxer, fresh from the biggest fight of his career. Picture his bloody face, his swollen eyes, and the cuts on his body; picture the bruises and his exhaustion and sweat. As he turns his hanging head toward you and pants oxygen into his lungs, do your thoughts for one second say to you “well, he certainly could stand to lose a few pounds and clean up his act”? Of course not. You realize that he just fought a great battle, and his appearance reflects that struggle.
Accept Your Past and How It Affected Your Body
It doesn’t matter if you are overweight because you self-medicated with carbohydrates to ease your depression. It doesn’t matter if your face is lined because you smoked to relieve anxiety. Or that you lost your teeth because you used drugs to soothe the pain of a life that overwhelmed you. All of this can be overcome.
This is the footprint of your past and all that you have been through. So look hard and long, and honor the struggle you came through. Now, your body just needs your good intentions, your will, and your actions to help it become more effective and efficient.
Love your body. It took care of you when you couldn’t. It got you through. You may be bloodied and battered, but you survived. You are the prize-fighter.
How to Begin
Let’s consider what your body needs to accomplish your goals. It needs hydration, good nutrition, exercise, and cleansing, both outside and inside (this is especially true if you’ve used drugs or alcohol).
Start a journal. Write down what you want for yourself. Read it over and over, and believe it to be possible. And after you have a good mental picture of what you want for yourself and have set those intentions, think about what actions you can take to get closer to that picture. Write out a very realistic plan. Don’t make it so ambitious that you overwhelm yourself. If you have been face-down in bed with depression for 12 months, it’s unlikely that you will suddenly start to attend the gym for 2 hours every day. This is your plan. You alone know what is best for you.
Examples of Things to Consider
As you create your plan for changing your body, here are some of the small steps you can think about and answer for yourself.
Do you wish to eat more healthfully? What does that mean? What will you eat tonight that will help you heal your body? Where will you look to get ideas on healthful foods and cooking? Where will you get your food? Do you need outside help? Who might that be?
Do you wish to exercise more? What can you do today to start that movement? Can you walk around the block? Can you go to the gym and get on the treadmill for 10 minutes? Can you park at the edge of the parking lot and walk across the pavement to the store? Can you get on the floor right now and do some yoga stretches? Do you need outside help? Who might that be?
What can you do to honor your body today? Can you indulge in a long bath with fragrant soaps and oils? Or meditate with aromatherapy to soothe your nervous system? Can you get a massage or a pedicure? Can you go sit on the beach, or in a park, and inhale the smells and hear the sounds of nature and just relax and silently thank your body? Can you create a sacred space in your home in which you can mediate? Can you take time to visit with your animal companions?
Remember to be kind to yourself as you begin your plan. You must go step by step. Just formulate a strategy or approach and stick with it as best you can. Not every day will be perfect, and you’ll sometimes stumble. That’s ok. That’s normal.
Just keep that prize-fighter in mind. If he tripped on his way back to the locker room, would you tell him to give up? Not likely! It’s very important not to argue with yourself. Treat your inner self like a child, and when it stumbles or is less than fully successful, speak kindly to it, and encourage it to be stronger the next day.