What was your first reaction to the question in the title? How comfortable is it to be asked the question?
I believe that asking these questions can help us understand more about our body image.
In the last couple of decades, we have been conditioned more and more to believe that there is a perfect body type. Chiselled abs. Toned bodies. Perfectly white teeth. Flawless complexions. No hint of body fat. Many of us watch programmes on TV like Celebrity Love Island and TOWIE, where this seems to be the predominant body type.
What happened to ‘average’?
All of us have been brought up with a fetishisation in our culture of the ‘perfect body’. I think it is even worse for those born since the eighties, the internet generation, who are presented with such images without any filter. In adolescence and in our early adulthood in particular, a real challenge for us is to develop an idea of who we are, what we stand for, and what we want out of life. We can be anxious as our bodies change, and as we face so much that is new and uncertain in our lives. We want instead to feel happy, and we want certainty.
We unconsciously buy in to the messages that our culture communicates: that having a perfect body will lead to you feeling happier, and that you will then feel more secure in yourself. That you are inferior and unworthy if you have any other body type than perfect. That we can only find love if we have the perfect body. That you are not enough as you are.
Can you get a sense of how it feels to believe these ideas? What sensations come up in your body as you read them?
I’m not saying that it is a bad thing to want to change your body, or to be healthier, or fitter. What I am saying is that it is worth us examining our attitudes towards our body alongside taking whatever action we believe is good for us, and seeking to develop more compassion for how we are right now.”
Here are a couple of simple exercises to explore your body image.
You may want to do this with a friend or someone you trust. Find a space where you won’t be disturbed and where you feel comfortable. You may want to find a recent full-length photo of yourself to have to hand. Get a large piece of paper and some pens – any colours you like. Draw an outline of your body, marking off the head, chest, arms, stomach, hips, genitals, bottom, legs and feet. Now spend a few minutes on each part.
Write down on each part of the body:
1) What sensations (eg tingling, tightness, spaciousness, warmth) come up in you when you consider this part of you
2) What feelings come up
3) What someone really compassionate might say about that body part.
Spend some time afterwards writing down if there were any surprises, things that you learnt about your body image, and how it felt to do the exercise.
Body Image Timeline
You may want to do this with a friend or someone you trust. Find a space where you won’t be disturbed and where you feel comfortable. You may want to find a recent full-length photo of yourself to have to hand. Get a large piece of paper and some pens – any colours you like.
Draw a timeline of your life across the page, writing ‘Birth’ on the left-hand side and your current age on the right-hand side. Write down your big ‘life events’ on the timeline. Then, write down the feelings that you have about your body at your current age, and which body parts in particular come to mind. You can draw instead of write, or do both. Going back in time, continue with the exercise, and note down the sensations and feelings that come up as you do the exercise.
Once you have finished, notice if there are any patterns that stand out. Have your feelings about your body been consistent over your lifetime? Can you identify when you felt positive towards a part of your body – and where in your body do you feel that positive feeling? What messages do you think you may have taken on board about your body, and where do you think they came from?
To finish either exercise, place your hand on your heart and feel its weight and warmth. Acknowledge that right here, right now, you are breathing, alive and safe. Notice how that feels.