Making Peace with My Body

Last week someone posted a comment after my review of Taking Up Space that said that as much as she loves Go Kaleo, Amber Rogers seems “superhuman” to her. What the commenter was referring to was Amber’s first rule, namely, to declare a truce with your body.

The commenter asked whether there are any suggestions for just how to do this. She sounded frustrated and noted that despite wanting to declare a truce with her body, she struggles with it to the point of tears at times.

I can relate. I too still struggle enormously with poor body image. Most days, self-loathing focused on my body is one of the first thoughts I have upon waking up in the morning. I challenge the thoughts when I become aware of them, but they run as a background tape and inflect many areas of my life as a result. I need to pay attention or they can take me down. Still to this day, I have trouble looking in the mirror. If anyone tries to tell me I have a nice body, I don’t believe them. Though I force myself to use the open showers at the Y and walk naked in the locker room, I still feel self-conscious on occasion, not because of the nakedness but because I don’t like my body.

Yes, I have had some successes. I had a real epiphany during a week at a nude resort. I felt free and beautiful that week. I blogged about it here.

But I don’t spend my life in the nude and for some reason the world of clothed people relentlessly messes with my body image.

Amber’s section in the book focuses on the facts about fat and flaws. The main message is that we all have fat and flaws. It’s normal. So let’s move on and use our mental energy in other, more constructive ways. “Be more, not less.” She makes it sound so simple.

Like the commenter, I love the theory of being more, not less. I love the idea of focusing on performance. So much do I love it that I blog about it all the time. But I could use more help on how to achieve that level of self-acceptance.

This is not a new issue for me. I bought a copy of Transforming Body Image by Marcia Germaine Hutchinson back in the early nineties. I can’t even remember what it said, only that it seemed too complicated at the time. And that the authors recommended some strange form of movement that I’d never heard of and didn’t feel drawn to.

I’ve even tried affirmations, buying Louise Hay’s book Love Your Body. It’s full of affirmations like the following, called, “I Love My Body.” It says: “My body is a glorious place to live. I rejoice that I have chosen this particular body because it is perfect for me in this lifetime. It is the perfect size and shape and color. It serves me so well. I marvel at the miracle that is my body. I choose the healing thoughts that create and maintain my healthy body and make me feel good. I love and appreciate my beautiful body!”

Maybe this type of thing works for some people, but it just makes me roll my eyes and feel like a big liar. So I didn’t get very far with affirmations.

I’ve come a long way from where I used to be, so I need to recognize my successes. The week of comfort at the nude resort is not the only one.

My primary motivation for doing the activities I do is no longer that they will change my body. I surprised myself so much when the leader of the running group asked why people were there. In all honesty, my goals were all about running performance. It wasn’t until several other people mentioned weight loss that I realized that weight loss hadn’t even figured into the equation for me at all. Not even a little.

I don’t engage in restrictive dieting anymore. Though I am probably still falling short of what Taking Up Space recommends I eat in a day, I feel pretty comfortable with the Intuitive Eating approach [link] that I’ve adopted since January. I’m enjoying my food and not obsessing all day about what I will eat. That seems self-nurturing to me.

Intuitive eating has also helped me stay in tune with my body and pay more attention to it. That’s something of a truce. At least I’m not ignoring its signals anymore, even if I’m not loving the way I look.

I also have determined that monitoring my weight or even my body composition (as the Bod Pod does) is harmful for me and my body image. So I don’t do it anymore.

And I’m serious when I reject aesthetic ideals as motivators for engaging in the activities I choose or the foods that I eat. That strikes me as an impoverished and self-defeating way to live. I’m not interested.

I’ve read on many occasions that “fat thoughts” aren’t about being fat at all. They are more deeply rooted than that, stand-ins for other demons. From first hand experience, I know full well that losing the weight doesn’t make those thoughts go away. They only leave me when I feel at peace with myself more generally.

How to stop berating myself and instead living with self-acceptance is the real challenge here. For me, it requires vigilant attention to my motives for doing things. If I do things in the name of “self-improvement” then I am probably holding some aspect of myself in contempt.

That speaks to why affirmations could have some power to those who are open to their message. That affirmation about the body says that my body is fine right now, just the way it is. It doesn’t need to be whipped into shape. It doesn’t need to have a different composition. Even if Louise Hay’s specific affirmations didn’t resonate with me, I’m probably affirming something like “I’m okay just the way I am” when I challenge those thoughts of body-loathing that sneak up on me before I’m fully awake.

My 28 year-old step-daughter told me the other day that she really admires my body-acceptance and that it (and the blog) has helped her a lot. That tells me that my actions point to a more accepting stance towards my body even if my sneaky thoughts don’t always sing the same tune.

The real question is, which pattern of thinking will win the day? For me, no longer responding to those thoughts by engaging in body-punishing diets and workouts has gone a long way to improving my quality of life. Not just that, but I no longer spend a lot time talking uncritically about my body image “issues.”

In other words, I spend very little time talking about how much I loathe my body and what I need to do to fix it. It is the body image, not the body, that needs to change.

And slowly, slowly, things are shifting. But to suggest that I can call a truce and then be done with it?For me, it’s been a bit longer of a road than that, requiring several rounds of peace talks over many, many years.

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