You Are BEAUTIFUL: Learn To Love Your Body
I have a friend who is breathtaking; her thighs are smooth, her arms are toned, and her abs are sculpted. Her silky hair and flawless makeup are picture-perfect every single day. She photographs beautifully and she’s funny, talented, intelligent, and driven. She eludes a strong sense of confidence and is truly lovely in every way. She also struggles with low self-esteem.
Everyone, no matter how they look, passes by the mirror at some point and – instead of smiling and saying, “Wow, I’m pretty awesome!” – pauses to pick apart an out-of-place hair, imperfect makeup, or a fat deposit they’ve been verbally abusing for months. I spend a good portion of my life teaching and preaching self-love. This morning, I looked in the mirror and held my head high at the amazing vessel that has the honour of carrying my soul.
We, as women, have been steeped in a culture of dissatisfaction with our inner and outer selves. We are told, “You’re beautiful just as you are,” yet we are inundated with ads for diet pills and books on fad diets. We are told, “Get strong, not skinny!” as we watch TV shows about how to get thinner faster and movies featuring waif-like women in size zero jeans. We are told, “Stand up for yourself!” but are far too often represented as shrew-like and demanding when angry or afraid.
So how do we begin to build a strong foundation of self-love, self-care, and healthy self-image?
Some self-help professionals recommend affirmations; tell yourself you’re beautiful until you believe it! But it seems to me that affirmations can function as a nice paint job on a fairly beat-up house. The end result looks nice and maybe you believe it IS nice, but until you tear up the carpets and deal with the rotting floorboards, the house is still going to creak and, eventually, sink.
I have found that in order to heal our deepest insecurities and the parts of ourselves that we hide (at best) and abuse (at worst), we must turn inward and embrace them. We must wrap those parts up in our arms and love them in their perfectly imperfect state. It is a matter of moving toward that which we’ve been trying to diet down and skim off until we are deemed acceptable.
Pause for a moment. Imagine yourself looking into the mirror and feeling fully at ease. You look into your eyes. You see your belly and thighs. You look at your hair and your skin. And you love yourself completely and without effort. What does it feel like to love yourself exactly as you are? How does your body feel? What thoughts arise?
If even imagining this scenario is foreign or frightening, you are not alone. Try the following meditation exercise each day for a week or two, then try this exercise again. You might surprise yourself.
Find somewhere you can sit for five to ten minutes. Make sure you are completely comfortable and feel safe and at ease where you are seated.
Take five deep breaths, exhaling more slowly than you inhale.
Take five to ten more breaths and begin to bring to mind an image of yourself as a little child or of a child whom you love unconditionally. Begin to notice the sensations in your body as you send love to that child. Do you feel it in your heart? In your belly? What color and temperature is that sense of acceptance and love? Allow that sense of love to fill your entire body.
Gently and slowly, bring to mind the part of your body or self that you struggle with. Picture or sense it exactly as it is. Notice what arises as you do this, and allow it to be just as it is, without dwelling. This may bring up resentment, anger, disgust, and frustration. If these feelings arise, simply let them float through your awareness like clouds in the sky.
Now, with utmost care, cultivate again the sense of love and acceptance you had for the little child and begin to send that love to the part of yourself that you brought to mind. You might picture it surrounded in a glowing light of warmth and acceptance. Or maybe you wrap your arms around it like you would a little child who has been hurt or disowned. Allow the images that arise to float through your mental space, continuing to send the colour, temperature, texture, and feelings of love to fill up the part of you that has been disowned or disliked in the past.
Take five more breaths and either move on to another part of yourself that causes pain or struggle or sit in the sense of loving kindness that you have cultivated for a bit longer. Open your eyes when you are done and take with you a sense of rest and ease.
Self-esteem is not about thinking you look good or pretending that you feel better about yourself than you do. Rather, a healthy self-image is the ability to look at the dislikes and frustrations and still walk away feeling whole and acceptable.
Maybe affirmations help you with this – but make sure they are honest. Look in the mirror and choose something you truly love about yourself before you say it out loud. Perhaps this meditation process allows you to begin to accept your imperfect perfection. And maybe you realize that it’s time to ask for help – that reaching out to a trusted counselor or therapist is the key to beginning a journey of self-love.
However you get there or begin your journey, remember that your body is a vessel for a radiant and amazing soul and personality. Treat it as such.