What does it mean to love our body?
Let's get clear on loving our bodiesLoving our bodies can be hard. No question.
We have a lot of external pressure to believe that only bodies that look a certain way are really loveable.
We have often internalised those messages so deeply we don't even know we have them. Our lack of body love, our body unlove, is just our normal state of being.
This leads a lot of us to disconnect from close awareness of our body. We shut off from it because loving something we think is ugly, embarrassing, shameful, ridiculous or is letting us down is too hard.
And the truth is, under those negative feelings are probably very painful experiences where those feelings were reinforced. Childhood abuse, teasing at school, romantic rejection, being laughed at, being bitched about...every woman has stories like these somewhere in her background.
Even the women who seem to have had the perfect body their whole lives have body shame stories to tell. Sometimes their insecurity around how they look is more profound than women who never had physical "perfection" to rely on.
In short - we're all in a mess about this body love stuff.
But make no mistake. Loving your body is important. And I'm not a fan of "shoulding" on yourself (or others) but, ladies, I think you should be working on your body love. Here's why:
I believe deep body acceptance and nurturing love is a central part of getting well, reducing pain and achieving health
I believe the negativity we give to our body, either overtly (telling our body we hate it) or subtly (just feeling constantly negative toward the body) is perceived as a threat by the brain, turning on the stress response and making healing harder and potentially causing more health issues.
I believe that our internal environment, which includes our love for our body, or lack thereof, affects our mental health and our emotional health and our spiritual health. In short, we won't love living unless we love our body.
I believe the strength and resilience that building body love gives us overflows into the rest of life, giving us stronger, deeper and richer lives, relationships and experiences.
I believe if we can't love our own bodies because of their imperfections, then we can't love other people's imperfect bodies. And that's going to affect our relationships and how they love themselves. If you've got kids, specially daughters, this is super important!
What body love is notLet me make it clear, body love isn't simply having more long baths or massages.
Don't get me wrong - they're both great things to do. They may be acts of love toward your body. But they're not the actual core of body love, they may be a symptom of it.
Body love also isn't dieting and exercising in order to look like some external source (society, your parents, your friends, the media) has told you to look. Those women on social media, filming themselves in their bikini's dancing, or doing the most insane things, just to show off how thin they are...I don't believe they have solid body love, not for a minute. (Maybe I'm wrong, but I doubt it. Why? Because they're trading on their conformation to that external idea of beauty, putting it out for exhibition and attention. Sounds more like insecurity than love to me).
Finally, body love isn't a destination you get to and then - voila! You've arrived. It's a journey and a process. So give yourself a break if you don't have it down, or you're better on some days than others. The weaker body love days are just great opportunity to learn acceptance for imperfection.
What body love isThere are a few ways to understand body love - all are important.
Body love is feeling loving toward your bodyMost of us get the feeling of love. We've felt it, in one form or another. Love as a feeling is powerful for the feeler, it produces physical responses and can motivate all kinds of action, sacrifice, commitment and more. It's great. And we need to find that feeling of body love.
This is tricky if you're very used to feeling something opposite to love for your body. You can't just change those feelings, they're well embedded neural pathways that have to be rewired. So the solution is to stop yourself travelling down a different emotional pathway when you notice you're doing it, and say to yourself "No! I'll not perpetuate that negative feeling toward my body any more. I love my body and I choose the feeling of love." This won't automatically make you feel loving toward your body - but this declarative statement will stop you from spiralling down that familiar path and it will slowly cause your brain not to do that spiralling so easily.
Then, once you've made that declaration to yourself, try one of these actions.
Body love feeling builders
Body love by transferring the feeling
Think of something/someone that you love, preferably something innocent. Babies and animals work really well. Sit and think of that thing/person and let the genuine feeling of love rise up within you. Then slowly transfer that same feeling toward your body. Remember, your body is an innocent and perfect-the-way-it-is thing that's yours to love, care for and protect, just like a baby or pet. Sit with that as long as you can, and when you lose the feeling, circle back to the thing/person you love, build the feeling up again, and transfer to your body again.
Body love by being the divine mother to your body
Don't be put off by the term "divine mother" if you're not spiritual, this is just a term to help describe this exercise, it doesn't have to be a spiritual thing for you. Sit for a few moments and think about your body - from the inside. How is it feeling today? Next, imagine your body become a baby, wrapped in a soft, comforting blanket, and being held by a part of you that is bigger than it, like a mother holding her baby, full of love for this little, beautiful person and her lovely body.
Body love is acting loving toward your bodyThis is probably the form of body love that we are more familiar with - doing things that love and care for our body. Here's where the massage or the bath might come in. But moreover, I find many people struggle to do what they know will be better for their body but will be hard for their mind. These things might include eating healthier food, avoiding alcohol, not using cigarettes or recreational drugs, getting to sleep earlier, drinking more water, moving periodically through the day etc.
Often these small but significant choices are much harder than the "bigger" things like massages or baths because they cost the mind something.
The mind loves to be productive, so stopping work to move around feels like wasting time;
the mind doesn't want to be thought of as lazy, so sleeping more feels indulgent and unwarranted;
the mind hates to be mocked & rejected, so not drinking more or taking the drugs feels like being a social loser;
and for reasons that still seem inexplicable to me, the mind likes to find excuses for not putting in effort, so making the healthy meal rather than buying the take away always feels like too much effort.
But body love is about making the choices that truly look after our body, like a good and loving parent does. No matter how much the kids want candy for dinner, you serve vegetables. No matter how much they want to stay up late every night, they have a healthy bed time. You need to be the healthy parent and love your body like a child.
Body love is giving love to your body (via respect, acceptance, honouring and inner mental & emotional work)This idea of body love is new to many people. We don't often think about respecting our body and honouring it. Or actively taking time to accept it, as it is. We don't often see the connection between loving our body and doing the internal work involved in processing the baggage we carry from our childhoods and other impactual events of our lives. Yes, this means doing self help work, having therapy, doing thought questioning work (like that of Byron Katie) etc.
The connection between body love and emotional therapyWhen we experience a feeling, particularly a negative one, our body responds. That's just biological reality - we feel sad, we cry; we feel hurt, our solar plexus tenses; we feel angry, our muscles tense; we feel embarrassed, we blush; we feel nervous, our stomach gets butterflies.
When we experience traumatic experiences, negative emotional experiences or simply hard phases of life, our bodies are experiencing those right along with our emotional selves. If we don't fully process those emotions, they stay stuck in the body. This can cause health problems, muscle tension issues and reduced immune system function (among many other things).
Therefore, if we truly want to love our body, we need to be fully feeling all our feelings. We need to sit, honour our body for holding the physical feeling for us until we return to deal with the emotion fully, and then feel those feelings deeply. In this way, emotional therapy is body love.
Finally, body acceptance is important for wholistic body love. Being able to look at your body and see its imperfections, and still love it - now that's the goal. Acceptance means believing your body is loveable despite those imperfections. In fact, it's not even "despite" those imperfections. Those imperfections don't have any seat at the love table, they're immaterial to the loveability and value of your body.
Loving the self the body housesI do want to point out that the self living inside your body needs your love too. And if you don't love her (or him or that non-binary self) then this will negatively affect your body also.
You are, after all, not neat, separate parts but a whole ecosystem. Pain in one part affects another. Lack of love here means lack of love there.
The Loving Internal EnvironmentI tell clients that the goal is to have a loving internal environment. That means what's happening in our heads is creating an environment of love. We don't think negatively toward our body, or ourselves. We love our thinking. by cleaning out the negativity. We love our emotions by feeling them (as I said above). We love our true selves by listening to our yearnings and dreams and take action to express our true selves fully.
And we love our body.
Tell me how body love is going for you. Do you struggle with it? What about some of these less common ideas about body love?