Before I begin, let me just make a quick disclaimer: I am young, able-bodied, and generally a sporty person. However, I have struggled with body insecurities in the past and I do think I put my finger on something that anyone could benefit from, no matter what their circumstances are. What I have found to help with body image issues is two-fold: accept that you are your body and focus on what it/you- can do.
Like everyone, I will always have insecurities. And I have never felt better about my body than when I was a the top of my shape. Surprisingly, though, that had a lot less to do with how I looked than I ever would have expected. Let me explain:
I am a professionally trained dancer. The very thing that could have done horrible things to my body image and sense of self-worth, was actually the thing that made me feel the best. The good news is that you don’t need professional training to get there, all you need is a bit of perspective.
At my most intense year of training, my body changed drastically. I got a lot leaner and more muscular. I also got a lot faster, a lot stronger, a lot more precise in my movements. I had more energy, more stamina, and I could breathe better.
My intention was always to perfect my technique, but of course, I also wanted to look the part. The exercise was what changed my body, but the reason why I did it is what changed my mind. And let me tell you that even though I don’t look like that anymore, my mind has never changed back.
You don’t have a body, you ARE your body
I can feel you cringe already. Hear me out: will you ever live outside of your body? Maybe, we don’t know what happens in the afterlife. But you’re not going to wait until you die to feel good, now, are you?
Your body is just as much a part of who you are as your personality. It can and will change over time. You can change it too, to an extent. But you’ll never be able to trade either your body or your mind or your soul for a new one. Why? Because it is you. Is it the most important component of you? Well, that depends. Most of the time no, but if you get a terrible life-threatening illness, you can bet your body will become the most important thing in your life. There is no point in denying it or downplaying its importance. Your body is you.
The body positivity movement is a strange one that I, as someone who has a job that’s directly linked to the body, cannot understand. It focuses so much on body image, it became the very thing it was born to fight: the superficial ways people view their own and other people’s bodies.
As a society, we’ve been trying to deconstruct body ideals, and build self-esteem, but we do that by still focusing on looks. Isn’t it strange? Wouldn’t you think that the solution would be to focus on other things?
Why does everyone have to be beautiful? Can’t Lizzo just be praised as a good singer, for example? I’m not criticizing her looks, I’m really asking. Why do we have to constantly debate over whether or not she looks good? She is amazing! She’d still be amazing if she was thin and she’d still be amazing if she had an “ugly” face, whatever ugly means to you individually.
Isn’t it strange that we have created a collective cognitive dissonance where we want to feel like looks don’t matter, but we keep putting them at the front and center?
We can’t really democratize perceptions of beauty, because they are so subjective and specific to each of us. There are overarching themes, yes, but the ideals have changed so much through the ages, it only serves to prove how subjective they are.
Instead of trying to fit an ideal or change the ideal to fit us (which is impossible), why not just recognize how unimportant the ideal is? That brings me to my second point:
2. Function over beauty
I am not disregarding the fact that everyone loves to feel pretty, I am simply trying to work out a way to help put that sentiment a lot lower on the list of things that make you feel confident.
Your body is designed to do many things. While attracting a mate is one of them, and I don’t discard the functionality of beauty for that reason, it is only one of the many, many functions. None of your body’s other functions require external approval for you to feel good and yet we never think about them.
We’re so used to seeing the body as a shell for who we are, (while tying so much self-worth to it at the same time!) that we forget the behind the scenes. Your muscles aren’t there to be admired, they are there to allow you to move through the world. Your bone structure exists for the same reason. Your boobs are there to feed your possible child. Isn’t that a wonderful thing in and of itself?
Your body is an amazing machine, designed to keep you alive and well and to allow you to do all the things you love to do. I can’t describe the happiness that comes with realizing that you can run to catch the train and not be out of breath, when before, you couldn’t, or lift something heavy over your head. It is a lot more satisfying than looking in the mirror and being content with what you see. It’s also more achievable.
I teach dance now and I work with many different students. Elderly people can’t do what someone in their twenties does, obviously. People with disabilities can’t do many things an able-bodied person does. But each of us can get immense pleasure out of simply evolving and learning that our body is so much more than what we thought of it as.
How to start on this journey, you ask?
- Take care of your body (yourself) Try different exercise and eating regimens and see what feels best. “Best” meaning what makes you feel energized, happy and powerful. Everyone is different, so you never know what you might discover.
- Turn inward. If you look for approval elsewhere, it will look different every time. You’re the only one who has to live in and with your body.
- Everything is relative. It’s not about becoming an athlete, it’s about appreciating your body for what it can do, whatever that is.
- Girls, guys don’t care as much as you think. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, and you probably ignored it. But they don’t.
- On that note, nobody will ever pay as much attention to your perceived flaws as you will. They’re all concerned about their own.
All in all, the biggest lesson I learned is this: Our body is a machine to put to work, not a statue to put in a museum.
Previously published on “Change Becomes You”, a Medium publication.
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