Tuesday I was in a therapy group and a woman there was talking on and on about how she hates her body, even though she has dieted and has lost weight. While listening to her, I could just feel my anger and frustration rising. I wanted to tell her to shut-up. I wanted to tell her that I didn't care about her dieting and to please not talk about her body in that way unless she had something constructive to say. What I said instead was an awkward statement about loving her body. My statement was of course, completely disregarded and I didn't say anything more. My regular therapist who leads my DBT group and who specializes in eating disorders would probably not have allowed someone to talk on in that self-deprecating way, but I suppose the good that came out of it is that I pondered over the subject of body-love so much throughout the week that I could probably write a whole self-help book on the subject now.
First, of course, there's aesthetics: In body image workshops, individuals learn to become more comfortable with their body simply by looking at their body more. I started doing this by taking more pictures of myself. The trick is then to not look for your flaws in the photographs or mirror, but to actually start looking for something that you like. One thing. Then another. Repeat this often. The fat acceptance community, has really, really helped me with this.
Aesthetics are only a tiny part of loving our bodies though. It's the part that society tries to jam down our throat and is the standard empowering message for all women to accept: "All bodies are beautiful!" But with gender dysphoria, disability issues, fat stigma etc. not everybody can get on board with believing that their body is beautiful and admiring their own body and I don't believe that they should. Shakesville's post, You Should Stop Telling Me To "Love My Body" is a good read on this issue. It caused me to think about bodily loving essentials and so I don't believe that loving one's body is the same thing as believing one's body is beautiful.
When I say, "I love my body," I think people assume that I mean my superficial looks, but I mean much more than that. I mean my muscles, my blood, my intestines, my bones, my gut, my brain, my heart. I mean that I am glad that I can eat, that I can taste food and enjoy it. I am glad that my body keeps me alive and that it provides me pleasure. (Two words: My Clitoris! It has twice as many nerve endings as a penis!)
So another way that I show my body love is by doing things that give it pleasure. This can be enjoying bubble baths, rubbing on lotion, smelling flowers, looking at something beautiful and especially savoring and appreciating tasty food. (In DBT, we learn to self-sooth by attending to our five senses. Being able to approach things one-mindfully also helps one more fully notice and appreciate these small gifts of pleasure to ourselves.)
Recently a friend of mine took me to Sweet Hut Bakery in Doraville, GA and it was a lot of fun! I guess I've gotten old, because I was astounded by how many people were there so late at night! It's a Korean bakery and I'm still haven't been to enough of them to not get overwhelmed by all the options, especially by this one where everything looked so good. I ordered a caramel milk tea and it was a bit too sweet for me, but the lid sure was pretty:
I also got a small coconut tart, which was absolutely delicious! Sweet and sticky, dense and full of coconut, with a cherry on top!
My friend bought some "fried fish balls" and to my surprise, they were actually by far the best thing I tasted! They were small, zesty, warm bits of heaven! I heartily recommend them.
And so I gave and I give thanks for my taste buds.
Ultimately, I believe that loving one's body is about being grateful for being alive.
Thursday I found out that one of the residents at the assisted living home where I volunteer that I had really bonded with died and so I have been thinking about the temerity of life and how grateful I am to be alive. This is far different from where I was a few years ago when I was so depressed and in the hospital for wanting to kill myself!
Which brings me to my conclusion - loving my body means acting in a way that promotes my optimal living.
Optimal living is living in a that way promotes my thriving in this world, instead of merely surviving.
That's why I started seeing my nutritionist again - I wanted to work on getting more in touch with my body; on eating healthier without falling into the diet trap; seeing if there is a way that I can get some sort of exercise back into my life, despite my fibromyalgia. I've learned how to start eating when I'm hungry and how to stop eating when I'm full. Doesn't that sound funny? Gradually I realized this year that I had hung onto some eating disordered behaviors and thoughts that were because I had put other people's needs in front of my own. My nutritionist says that I have "worked really hard" and that I am the most stable I have ever been-I know for a fact that I have worked harder on my nutritional goals than I ever have before and I believe it is because this time around I actively practice loving myself.
"Optimal living" looks different for everyone and I especially want to caution my readers against judging people for not looking or acting in accordance with their vision of what "optimal" is. We all have different amounts of energy, ability, money, and access to resources-I think the biggest key is to healthily live into your passion in whatever way you can and to be as kind to yourself as possible. That's what I would tell the group member now if I had the chance-to be more kind to herself.
Treating ourselves with kindness is hard for people hardened by depression and other mental health issues, but it is essential to practice if we are to heal into people who also know how to self-love. As a Christian, I know I am instructed to love my neighbor as myself, which means I need to love myself (Matthew 22:39). Funny, how so many Christians, like the woman in my group, live in self-denial and self-deprecation, instead of self-love.
I realized today that I must practice self-love towards my body for my survival-it is no longer an option for me. If I tell my body hateful things and if I do not practice healthy living actions, then I am no longer in recovery, for I will be back in the clutches of anxiety, depression, mania, BPD and my eating disorder. Soon I will have lost all gratitude for life and I will be back at the hospital, back at square one.
I love my body, but it is not a superficial love based on looks alone-it is a sloppy, wild, overflowing love that comes from a knowing that it is what I must do and that I must work ever on to increase its flow.
"We were born to make manifest the glory of Love that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our love shine out, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” ~ Marianne Williamson from A Return to Love (edited to emphasize love)