We only have one body for our entire life. This is it! We can’t trade it in for a new model just because it doesn’t look new anymore, is worn out, or riddled with imperfections. There may be wrinkles, stretch marks, loose skin, soft muscles, age spots, not to mention some aching parts and frequently falling apart parts that need constant maintenance and extensive repair. Sometimes, we really wish we could get a new or different body or find a miracle to fix all that has gone wrong with it.
Our relationship with our body starts early in life. Family, peers, other adults, the media, culture all has had influence on how we relate to our body. For example, my family used to make fun (not mean-spirited) of my super curly hair as a toddler. Then during kindergarten some kids were making fun of my round face. And later on in my adolescent years, different adults warned me about eating too much, being chubby, and that I may have a hard time finding a husband because of it. When I started learning dancing and later on performing, I became very self-conscious about my body because my dance partner was beautiful and slender while I was a plain Jane who was chubby. I observed how people treated more attractive girls better. This caused me to envy her and resent how people treated me differently even if only subtly. So I experimented with different extreme diets to slim down fast in a frantic effort to be liked, loved, and wanted by guys, but also respected and admired by girls. Yet all these unhealthy self-talk coupled with reckless eating habits only lead to my being sick during college years. And still no boyfriend!
Wow, what an unhealthy relationship I had with my body! And what a miserable ride I had with it! I was not happy with how it looked. I blamed it for the rejection I experienced. So, of course, I would not give it the love it deserved. I did not nurture it properly. I starved it, then I’d overfeed it. I’d exercise it hard, then I’d criticize it more for not looking the way I wanted it. I was not proud of living in it; in fact, I was right down ashamed of it! I told it, “Why can’t you be as beautiful as those popular girls’ bodies?” I would look at my face in the mirror and say, “Nose, why are you so flat? And lips, why are you so fat? Hey, cheeks, why are you so plump? Why are you doing this to me? Don’t you know boys don’t like any of you? What am I going to do with you?” The constant berating felt normal and acceptable to me at that time. I did my best to correct what I perceived as wrong or ugly with make-up and “unique style” clothes. But it didn’t fix the real problem.
Then I met my husband. And boy, did love prove to be a powerful motivator to stay slim! I ate healthy, exercised regularly, and received validation frequently. But when I became pregnant, I gained 65 lbs. that I had a hard time coping with. The old guilt and shame from the past resurfaced. When my husband made a comment about my weight, I naturally reacted in a negative way because I was triggered. His comment touched an old wound that hadn’t completely healed where extra weight was a source of pain and unhappiness, a sense of being judged, rejected, and deemed unlovable. And so I began to do all that I could to lose weight out of fear of losing his affection. This caused resentment in me and eventually I gained my weight back.
After he died, I went back to dieting and exercising to stay healthy out of a different fear: dying of a heart attack like he did. Fear also proved to be a powerful motivator. But after having gone through several relationships, job changes, and other challenges, the stress of life, and the process aging caught up with me. I found myself not caring about how I ate or how little I exercised. I felt justified to neglect my health because life was hard.
Until one day, I realized what I had become: rounder, puffier, flabbier, and having some health changes that I hadn’t expected as part of being over fifty. That was hard to swallow. But that was also my turning point. As I’ve written in previous lessons: when the going gets tough, I need to love myself fiercely, and my strength really comes from remembering who I am. With that in mind, I decided that I wanted to choose love over fear to motivate me to get healthier once and for all. This meant that I chose to love myself and my body more, rather than allowing the fear about what could happen direct how I relate to my body. I took steps to study about health and what I could do to improve and maintain it instead of focusing on what was wrong with it.
I decided, once and for all, to have a healthy, loving relationship with my body until I die. This is a “till death do us part” kind of vow. I will take my body as my beloved partner for the rest of my life! I will treat it with respect, patience, and love. I will forgive it readily when it doesn’t please me in some way. I will listen to it when it speaks to me and adjust my actions accordingly as part of taking care of it. I will speak kindly of it rather than criticizing, scolding, and shaming it. I will feed it the healthiest food and not poison it with junk food or other toxic substances. I will let it rest when it is tired. I will move with it happily, being careful not to push it too hard to do what I demand or to look the way I wish. I will dress it in a flattering manner so it will look/feel its best. I will show up in life being proud to be in relationship with it.
I will stop fooling it with excuses. My mind can be manipulative, telling me that it is okay to eat a king-sized chocolate bar when I’m stressed. When that happens, I will call my mind on its BS. “It looks so good I can’t help eating the whole thing!” is just more BS. “It’s my birthday and I deserve to eat whatever I want” our mind might say. “You look so fat so make sure you only eat lettuce this week!” my mind may scold, or “you’re such a pain to take care of! Why can’t you be healthier?” These are all BS. Nothing more.
If our body is our beloved partner in this journey, under what circumstance is it ever okay to disregard, bully, or mistreat it? Remember, we cannot be divorced from our body no matter how much we hate it. Our body’s unhappy response will simply show up as inflammation-related diseases, indigestion, weight gain, low energy, brain fog, and a slew of aches and pains. And when that happens, we create an endless assault cycle of mind and body that will lead to anxiety, depression, anger, shame, guilt, mood swings, and low self-esteem, sometimes even to the point of despair and hopelessness. But we can break this painful cycle by choosing to love our body and learning to tame and train our mind to be kind, forgiving, and compassionate.
I want to teach my mind and body to dance together like lovers who know each other so well that they will always be in sync with one another, responsive to their every intentional and purposeful move to create the most harmonious relationship.
I am willing to assume the responsibility to understand how my mind impacts my body and vice versa. I am willing to take the time to properly learn—without judgment—the detailed history of their relationship from the time they met to now. I am willing to understand their hurt and struggle as well as recognize their strengths and aspirations. I am willing to accept their imperfections and celebrate their accomplishments up to this point. I am willing to provide unconditional love for them to flourish. I am willing to stop pointing a finger at societal norms, cultures, and past events as the source of friction in my relationship with my body. I am willing to do all I can to heal both (mind and body) which may involve getting help from a professional.
I will not wait for another lover to prompt me to take better care of my body. I will not wait until a health scare forces me to change the way I treat my body. I declare that I am the lover of my entire body (head to toe, warts and all) from this day forward. “It’s you and I till the finish line,” is my mantra. What’s yours?