Apr 012008

Did you know that blogher recently gave “body image” it’s own category. Seems that this is an important topic for a lot of us. Of course I wanted to write a “letter to my body” then but these days I’m not writing letters much, not even birthday letters, and even less letters to people or things or parts of me that I see daily. But then there’s the question of whether we really see what we see daily, like the people in our lives. Or as Debra Waterhouse puts it:

It’s surprising the number of women who are unacquainted with their bodies from the neck down. Our mirrors are strategically placed for only blow-drying hair and applying makeup, then we quickly dress without a glance at our reflection. We know our faces intimately, but most of us wouldn’t recognize our bodies in a lineup. When a group of women were asked to identify themselves from a series of headless bodies wearing nothing but their birthday suits, only 20 per cent correctly chose their naked selves. The rest guessed wrong, choosing bodies that were bigger in size than their own! (Debra Waterhouse: “From Tired to Inspired: 8 Energizing Ways to Overcome Female Fatigue”, p 175)

It’s weird that people who are often obsessed with the way they look don’t even really know how they look. That about every single one of us secretly believes she is fat, regardless of actual size. That every single one of us has the feeling she should lose about ten pounds. It always seems to be ten pounds at least, I don’t know why. I know that in my case the number keeps getting adjusted down every time I lose weight so that I never am where I want to be. But today I’m not writing about weight loss (even if I’m thinking about it) but about our body images.

Debra Waterhouse goes on:

Whether we are familiar with our anatomy or not, what’s not surprising, unfortunately, are the negative comments we make about our bodies. It has been estimated that the average American woman makes eighteen critical comments each day about herself and spends one third of her waking hours ridiculing her physical self in some way – getting on the scale and obsessing about the number, getting dressed and grimacing at the way our clothes fit, taking inventory of our wrinkles, catching our reflection unexpectedly in a window and frowning, comparing ourselves to fashion models, measuring ourselves against other women, depriving our bodies from food and nourishment, agonizing over what we will and will not eat – the list goes on and on.

How much time did you spend criticizing your body today?

Just think about it. How much time and energy wasted.

I think that I would recognize my body. Every day I make a point of really looking at myself. From all sides. I have been working on making friends with my body for years now. It’s better to have your body for a friend, and to treat it nicely since you want him to do a lot of things for you. We are not mind alone, even if it might feel like that when we’re sitting in front of the computer communicating with invisible people through a friendly shining monitor screen.

Learning to like what I see in the mirror was hard at first. My body, of course, isn’t flawless. Nobody’s body is, by the way, and you all know it. After a while though I liked myself better. I found that I actually like big butts. Hourglass figures, strong legs. That’s not to say that I’m not working on changing the things about my body that I don’t like but I find that in the long run being free from back pain is more important than having thin ankles. And that, like in any stable relationship, I have to accept what’s possible and what not.

When I actually started thinking about something important to me every time I caught myself thinking about my appearance or weight or food that set free huge amounts of energy. It was about 2 1/2 years ago that I did that, and only a couple of weeks later I had written two songs.

Energy follows attention. Being heavier than one wants to is not a full-time occupation. No, really, not even very heavy people eat all the time.

So, I’m giving you homework this time:

  1. Step in front of the mirror, naked would be best, and say something nice about your body. Say it out loud. Repeat. (This is an exercise from one of Geneen Roth‘s books.)
  2. Think about what’s really important to you. Maybe something creative. Every time you find yourself thinking about how fat you are or how you should lose weight think about that important thing instead. Bonus points if it is something creative.

  5 Responses to “Body image, or Would you recognize your own belly button?”

  1. Mine would be a letter of apology: Dear body, sorry I’m treating you so badly and shortening your time here on earth. Too bad for you that you can’t just MAKE me get up and do something aerobic.

    There is a full-length mirror on the bathroom door here in the new house. When we moved in, I realized with shock how long it had been since I had seen my whole self. And I was surprised that I did not look as bad as I imagined. Yeah, I am lumpy and droopy, but not as big as I thought. I would definitely recognize my own body. I find it hard to believe that anyone would not, even if they did get a group of freckled, small-breasted women with c-section scars. Even then.

    I really like the #2 exercise. I have a lot of repetitive, powerful negative thoughts, and I would very much like to re-train my brain and redirect that power.

  2. Ever since my pregnancy my belly button looks like it’s frowning. I’d recognize it anywhere. I did see the Letters on Blogher and plan to write mine soon. I have quite a few things to say.

    Great post, lots of food for thought.

  3. I don’t like looking at my body in the mirror. I’m not a fan of mirrors in general. They add an awkward self-consciousness to life and, I think, can contribute to self loathing. I don’t mind looking at my body but I prefer looking down and assessing the flesh in the flesh. Somehow that feels healthier … but maybe I’m wrong.

  4. I know I should be kinder about myself.

    society is brutal

  5. i like a lot about my body, but i still see my tummy. my saggy, stetched tummy.

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