Regardless of shape, size, or weight, most of us have experienced body dissatisfaction. The negative self-talk begins in the morning when we cringe at the unforgiving number on the scale. At work or school, it continues when we compare ourselves to our friend or co-worker who lost 20 pounds (again!) on the latest fad diet. It haunts us at the end of the day when we look at the mirror and examine the acne or the wrinkles staring back at us.
While, I briefly mentioned the topic of body image in my last post about my reflections from last month’s Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Retreat, I would like to dig a little deeper because it’s something that I believe affects all of us.
At the beginning of the second to last day of the retreat session, Michelle surprised everyone by asking them to step on the scale. Her request was met with a mixture of shock, annoyed groans, anxious laughter, glares of betrayal, and in some cases, outright refusal.
Up to this point in the retreat we had bonded around the common goals of breaking free from the eat-repent-repeat cycle, improving our health, and pursing a vibrant life fueled by fearless, pleasurable eating. Michelle had repeatedly made it very clear that none of those goals could be measured on a scale. Yet, now she was asking us to step on.
Ann, the first participant to get “weighed in,” approached the scale with a reluctant expression, as though she was preparing to get her wisdom teeth extracted. Worry lines surfaced upon her forehead and her shoulders became tense as she anxiously removed her shoes and stepped on the scale. When she looked down, relief and a huge smile spread across her face. Instead of a number value, the scale read "Sexy.”
Within a few minutes everyone in the room was excitedly lining up to step on the Yay! Scale (created by Marilyn Wann)to discover whether they "weighed in" as perfect, ravishing, cute, lovely, etc. The energy in the room transformed from reluctant and skeptical to enthusiastic and hopeful.
While this was a fun activity, the real purpose was to shed light on the uncomfortable feelings many of us experience about our bodies.
For many of the women in the room, the scale measured not only the weight of their bodies, but the years of feeling insecure and shameful about their body’s shape and size, and the progress of their latest diet. Tissues were passed around the room as participants reflected on their past struggles with their body image and the toll it has taken on their sense of self-worth.
To confront this body bashing self-talk, Michelle asked us all to write a letter from our bodies to ourselves and instructed us to express our body’s feelings, thoughts, and needs. We had to shift the paradigm that we were separate from our bodies and accept that like us, our bodies need to be respected, nourished, and loved at every size and shape.
Michelle reminded all of us that “When you body-bash, your body hears you. On the other hand, we care for the things we care about.” (You'll find this and other activities in this free download that I helped Michelle create: FreeTreat- A week of Mindfulness Self-Care.
Afterward, in what would be one of the most powerful moments of the retreat, a couple of the participants shared their letters with the rest of the room. Brenda, an upbeat and deeply compassionate woman in her seventies tearfully read her letter to us:
You know, when all is said and done, I've done a pretty good job for you. I've been healthy, generally strong, and I've supported you through all of your many "weights." I've put up with your hundreds of crazy diets and still kept going and managed, somehow, not to be the worse for it.
And yes, I'm now a bit wrinkly, more than a bit jiggly, and I know I'm not always pretty to
look at in places, but I'm still you, I'm still working for you, and really, taking pretty darn good care of you when you think about it --- so give me a break!
Appreciate what I do for you and do some nice things for me!
You didn't appreciate me when you were young. You were so busy trying to be thinner that you forgot to notice how pretty I actually was then - how strong and firm my skin was – you were just critical! What a shame - what a waste!
So now, you need to appreciate me and take care of me as we grow old together.
Brenda’s letter was a reminder to every person sitting in the room that time spent criticizing our body is time wasted. Her words reminded us that we must seize each moment and share gratitude for the incredible beauty and functionality of our bodies regardless of shape, size, or weight. She reminded us that our bodies have always been there for us and we owe them the same level of respect. And most of all, Brenda wanted the rest of us to learn from her experience and make this shift now so we wouldn't waste another moment.
After reading Brenda’s letter and reflecting on the exercise, Michelle explained to us that “a more deserving use of energy is learning to eat fearlessly and mindfully in order to fuel the vibrant lives we crave and deserve.” And it is my hope that with time, practice, and love I can begin to truly internalize the wisdom of these words. When you listen to your body what is it telling you?
Labels: body image, self-love