zen habits : breathe

Learning to Accept Our Bodies

Post written by Leo Babauta.

One of the biggest manifestations of our fear that we’re not good enough, is our belief that our bodies aren’t good enough.

Almost no one is happy with their body.

I’ll say that again for emphasis: pretty much no one is happy with their body. Not you, not me, not our beautiful relative or co-worker, not that hot girl (or guy) you saw on the street today, not even beautiful celebrities like Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt.

Sure, there may be times when their egos say, “Yes, I’m hot!” but then they look at one particular part of their bodies and think, “Ugh, I’m getting fat!” or “Eww, my butt is too small” or “Do my thighs look too thin?” Beautiful people aren’t immune to body insecurities, and neither are any of us mortals.

We believe we are too fat, or unfit. Or we think we’re too skinny, or too short, or too thick, or weird looking. Or we’re not overweight but still want to lose 10 lbs. Or maybe we need more muscle, or want to be more toned. Maybe we have great bodies, but not enough definition in our abs. Maybe our skin is too dark, or too pasty white. Or our eyes are too close together, or our teeth are crooked or over- or under-bitten. Our hair sucks. Our toes are ugly.

Can you see what we’re doing to ourselves? It’s a form of self-hate, and it causes us to be depressed, insecure, unhappy … and seek external forms of happiness.

The Process of Hating Ourselves

It’s useful to pause at this point and remember that actually, the beautiful celebrities we worship in magazines and movies and blogs … they are also mortal. They are made to be glamorous and perfect by make-up, surgery, lighting, airbrushing and Photoshopping … but they have their flaws just like any of us. Take a look at them when they get out of bed, in an unflattering light, with their hair all messed up and no makeup on, and I can assure you, it’s not as pretty as you see in the movies.

But we compare ourselves to these images of perfection — these fantasies. They aren’t real, but we compare our bodies to them. How can we ever measure up?

So we have:

1. a fantasy;

2. an expectation that we need to measure up to;

3. a comparison of ourselves to this expectation and fantasy;

4. a judgment on ourselves as “bad” when we don’t measure up;

5. a bad feeling about ourselves because of this judgment; and

6. a bad image of ourselves based on the judgment and bad feeling.

This, btw, is the process we use to be unhappy with every part of ourselves, not just our bodies. Our abilities at work, our abilities in a relationship, our abilities as a parent, our abilities to relate to other people — these are all put through this process, and we always, always come up short, even if we don’t want to admit it to ourselves.

You can see that it’s not healthy, and that it’s a bit insane (even if we all do it). It’s insane because the first part of it, the foundation, is not real. It’s a fantasy. Then we build an expectation on something that’s not real, and do a comparison, make a judgment, and form a bad feeling and bad image. All based on something that’s not real.

That’s like judging a beauty contest where the cartoon Jessica Rabbit is the standard. She’s not real. The contest is ridiculous from the start, and none of the contestants can possibly win.

It’s also an unnecessary contest. Let’s let the contest go, and start building something better.

The Acceptance Process

If we recognize the above process when it happens, and then realize it’s unhealthy and insane, we can start to reverse it.

Let’s start by realizing that we have these fantasy images and unrealistic expectations. They are totally unnecessary. Let’s toss them out.

Now let’s look at the comparison: why do we need to compare ourselves to others, or the images we have of others (who are after all also flawed, in reality)? What does this do for us? It’s harmful, not helpful. Let’s toss this out too.

What about the judgment? Do we need to judge ourselves at all? Do we need to say, “This is good, but not this”? What if we just said, “I love all of it, without judgment”? Isn’t this how we’re supposed to love our children or spouses or parents — totally, unconditionally, without judgment? Can’t we love our bodies the same way — totally, unconditionally, without judgment?

So then, if we toss out fantasies, expectations, comparisons and judgments … the bad feelings and bad images go with them.

How do we do all this?

First, by recognizing when we’re doing it. Start paying attention, and then label these thoughts when they come up: fantasy, expectation, comparison, judgment. They happen all the time, but start by noticing when we do this with our bodies.

Take a look in the mirror. Do it naked if you can, or at least lift up your shirt and look at your torso, and then your face. What do you see? Do you notice your judgments? Do you notice what you’re judging yourself on — what you’re comparing yourself to? You might not realize exactly what that fantasy ideal is — but it’s based on images in the media and others you’ve seen in your life.

Second, when you notice them, realize that they’re not helping you, and that they’re harming you by creating these bad images of yourself, making you insecure about yourself.

Third, try looking at your body (and face) without judgment. Accept it for what it is, without thinking, “I wish it were different.” It’s not different. It’s exactly how it is, and that’s the perfect version of what it should be. There is no better version.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t try to do things that are healthy — eat healthy food, form healthy exercise habits — but you can do those things without thinking that your body sucks. You can accept your body as it is right now, and still want to do healthy things out of the joy of doing them, and out of compassion for yourself.

This all takes practice, and I’m not saying you’ll do it overnight. I’m still learning myself. But again, start by noticing, and start letting go. Start to love your body, without judgment, without reservation, without wishing it were anything but what it is: beautiful, and you.

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