I think it’s fair to say that, collectively, we women are officially in trouble when it comes to our relationship to our bodies: 70% of normal-weight women report wanting to be thinner. A UK study found that 91% of women are dissatisfied with their hips and thighs. And perhaps even more troubling, 54% of girls 12-23 are dissatisfied with their bodies.
The typical explanation given for the body-dissatisfaction epidemic is “the media” —the unrealistic images of beauty it projects and the standards it implies women should be able to live up to.
But in my view, that explanation isn’t sufficient. It doesn’t explain why all of us are so drawn to those unrealistic images — women even more so than men. We feed the beast.
I think the underlying cause of our body dissatisfaction has to do with how we human beings are built: we are extremely susceptible to dissatisfaction with ourselves and with our lives. There is a part of us that thinks the grass is always greener somewhere else, that thinks we’d be happier if this or that about ourselves were different. The Buddha, and a bunch of other very wise folks have all noticed that this leads to a whole lot of suffering.
So you take that human tendency to think life would be different if we could just get/change/fix “x”, and add a mirror. Add to that businesses that have capitalized on this human tendency to their profit. Add to that the fact that trying to fix our bodies is a perrrrfect distraction (and an endless one) from all the scary stuff we should really working on: you know, sharing our voices and ideas in the world, sharing ourselves honestly with other people, going for our real dreams and callings. In other words: going for the scary vulnerable stuff, just as we (and our thighs) are now.
Add all that up, and you’ll get persistent, ruthless, body dissatisfaction.
What’s the alternative? To be honest, the whole “love your body,” “appreciate it!” thing never worked that well for me. It felt like I was trying to argue with how I really felt. And it just didn’t work: setting the deep intention to love my body did not help quiet the incessant thoughts of complaint and judgment.
But something else has helped: leaving the objectification of myself, and experiencing myself and my life from the inside out instead.
What helps me do that? Being in real community, among people whom I love and who love me. When I’m there, the mean voice of body judgments fades away entirely. I even feel beautiful.
Spiritual practice helps: yoga, meditation, prayer, reading spiritual literature, because it connects me to something so much bigger and something so full of love, that the voices of judgment fade in its presence.
Doing what I long to do in my work — answering my own callings, showing up boldly in the world — also helps, because it gets something magical flowing through my veins, and I couldn’t care less about the small stuff once that is happening.
When in your life does negative body chatter disappear?
Think of analyzing yourself in the mirror as one mode of being, one that involves, inherently, looking at yourself from the outside, considering your “identity” — your status/appearance/role in the world.
Think of living inside yourself, guided by your lived experience moment to moment — as another mode of being. In that mode, you aren’t stepping outside yourself to analyze your body or any other part of yourself. You are living your life from the inside out, your attention focused on your emotions, your sensations, your insights. Your guided by your pleasure, your desires, your interests, your rhythms. How does living that way loosen or lift your body judgments?
And what if you don’t even think of yourself as your body, but as an entirely unique, never-existed-before and never-will-exist-again energy field inside your body? A disco-party of cells, that has temporarily come together for the dance that is your life, and then will disband, the cells recombining with others for a new disco-party when your life ends? How does that change or loosen or lift your body judgments?
Something incredibly powerful happens when we leave the realm of thinking of wanting to change our bodies, when we leave even the dialectic of loving or hating what we see in the mirror, and instead live from the inside out.