Body love. Maybe the two most difficult words in the modern English language. We owe a lot of our self hatred to the the beauty industry, entertainment industry, fashion industry, and a whole host of other corporate systems. They are intended to make us unhappy enough to spend a lot of money fixing what wasn’t broken in the first place.
But it goes beyond that. Our body hatred goes all the way back to good old St. Paul, and definitely to Augustine. You don’t have to be Christian either. The Western world is so impacted by their thought that no matter your background it’s there. Theologians call it dualism. We’ve been taught that the soul or spirit is good, and the body is bad. Which is exactly the sort of foundation that made is super easy for the industries that pray on our bodily insecurities to rake in the dough.
Our Whole Selves
The early Christian theologians can’t take all the blame, they in turn were influenced by earlier Greek philosophers. The truth is, there have always been people for whom the physical world was something to be transcended, hated, or escaped. But I don’t think you can love your soul/spirit/self without loving your body. You are your body just as much as your soul. And your body is just as good a creation as your soul. Your body is not bad. It is not evil, corrupt, or need to be punished.
What are we even without a body? We’re not human, that’s for sure. But. We have been raised in such theological and philosophical sewage around our body that we’ve got a lot of work to undo. Undoing that will help us really and truly love ourselves (and each other) as body/soul beings.
Shame, Shame, Shame.
Our relationships with our bodies are all tied up with layers and layers of shame. And shame is perhaps the most dangerous place to be stuck. Shame keeps us mute. It makes it seriously hard to talk about our experiences or to even think about them logically. That’s gotta stop. Shame cuts us off from relationship, with our self and with those around us. And it cuts us off from Love, Holiness, God(dess), whatever you want to name Her.
Shame is perhaps the greatest irony of religion, but it isn’t the sole purview of shame. Even modern spiritual disciplines and philosophies are soaked in shame. It’s gotten in everywhere. From healthy eating lifestyles, to exercise routines, to meditation shame keeps popping up.
The Shame Antidote
As Brene Brown has said again and again the antidote to shame is connection. But I think there’s another antidote to shame and one I’d like to explore in this practice: wonder. No matter who you are, or what kind of body you inhabit it’s workings are pretty stunning. For a moment I want you to think about this: in order to read this article an elaborate symphony is happening in your body.
Without you even being aware of it your whole body is involved in sitting at your computer, or holding your phone. You don’t think about how hard your fingers need to grip. There’s no need to control the tiny muscles that keep you upright in your chair. If you are reading this on your phone and walking then quite frankly I’m in awe. (Really, think about it).
And we haven’t even gotten to the actual reading. Your eyes are gathering patterns of light and passing them along to your brain. Your brain then puts together a coherent and understandable image, but at the same time parses these squiggles into words that convey meaning over time and space.
We do it every day. We don’t even think about it. But the complexity of it, the sheer improbability of what you are doing right now is stunning. And you do it everyday. Every single thing you do throughout the day is only possible because of the bloody miracle that is your body.
Love: The Practice
Think about a time you fell madly in love. That person you were in love with seemed amazing. They were the most beautiful/handsome, the funniest, smartest, most miraculous person ever. I have a spiritual practice challenge for you. Act like you are in love with yourself. And no, I’m not talking about narcissism.
The first act of loving your whole self is to act as if you do. What we do changes who we are. Acting as if you believe or feel something actually shapes you into someone who does believe or feel that way. It’s part of the miracle of how our brains work.
So your practice is love, and wonder. Try this for a week. Meditate on your body as you go through your day. Set alarms on your phone to remind you throughout the day to stop and pay attention to what your body is doing. When working at a computer, to yoga, to walking around the grocery store, pay attention. Notice the wonder that is unfolding in the midst of your being.
This is mindfulness in it’s most embodied.
- pay attention to our bodies
- reroot ourselves in them
- and show appreciation for what our bodies do
Or go small
If that seems like too much, take three minutes right now and just contemplate your fingers. Open them, close them, wiggle them, point, touch your thumb to each finger tip. As you do that really pay attention to what happens inside you for those simple things to occur. Notice how your skin folds just right to let your fingers flex and extend. Read your life in the lines and nicks and scars on your palms. Feel your hands and fingers for maybe the first time, really feel them.
Your Miraculous Body
No matter what shape your body is, how tall or short, how much it weighs, or even how healthy it is you are a miracle. Maybe especially when your body isn’t healthy what it can still do becomes so clear. The complicated system that kicks in when we are ill, and the ways in which the body means well that actually cause harm (how much like our own thoughts).
Start small and simple, but spend time each day paying attention to your body. Many of us live almost exclusively in our heads, mostly ignoring our bodies until they stop working as we are accustomed. The advantages of knowing your body well are many, but perhaps first and foremost is learning to love the whole of yourself.
For me that has meant surrounding myself with people who love and celebrate me as I am, and who also challenge me to grow into what I can become. It has meant being careful about who I follow on social media and the sorts of entertainment I consume. All these things train me to see myself in a certain way. That way can be good, or bad. Every time my beloved is gobsmacked by how beautiful I am it undoes just a little the cultural lie that I am not beautiful because of my weight, or my hair, or my skin, or whatever else doesn’t fit the cultural ideal today.
A spiritual practice you might want to consider is to try to see yourself through the eyes of the people who love you most when you look in the mirror. It is often a supremely difficult practice to take on, we have been so trained to see the flaws in ourselves rather than the beauty, but that makes it all the more important.
The Spiritual Body
My tradition teaches that we were created by All That Is in Her/His/Their image. So it is ironic that my own tradition has turned so harmfully anti-body. Reclaiming our understanding that our bodies are good, worthy of love and care, and miracles in themselves is important to healing our world. I think it matters because it changes our connection to ourselves, to others, and to the Divine who made us in the Divine’s own image.
We can’t tell our Mother she is beautiful but that we hate our own nose. It is hers too to be perfectly pragmatic. If your spiritual life is suffering it might be that you need to spend some time reclaiming your relationship and love for your whole self.