It usually starts around age 11 for girls. From the moment we are born, girls especially, we are told it is important to be “pretty”. The sexualized shift occurs in pre-adolescence. Girls start to realize that how we look is tied to our value and also is connected to our sexuality. Of course, our brains are NOT prepared to handle this. It is very confusing to be just living a life, and then to suddenly feel pressure from the adult world that is very difficult to understand.
As girls start to develop, boys are saying things, our parents are saying things, and the toughest part is this realization that we have very little control of what is happening to our bodies at this age. Such a painful, scary time.
On top of these changes, there is a “hush, hush” quality to it. Nothing feels more mortifying than having your period and this fear that someone may know or find out. All this judgment from society leads to thoughts in our own heads that subconsciously sounds like “No one will like me unless I am pretty enough” “If I could just control my body, then I can control how the world treats me”, “My body needs to be kept a secret” These thoughts, of course, can lead to things like eating disorders, depression, anxiety…. And these thoughts typically lead to the emotion of shame.
Shame is one of those emotions that do not really serve us. Shame always leads to hiding.
So you can see a cycle emerging of shame, hiding our bodies, from ourselves, from showing up as who we really are, not feeling deserving of finding joy in our bodies. This cycle goes for all genders.
This is not healthy my friends.
Some of the most satisfying work I have done on myself and the work I do with my clients is to create a healthy relationship with one’s own body. This is not easy work to do. We are such an image-conscious society. We have turned delicious food into “good calories” and “bad calories” we have turned exercise into a self-punishing lashing to get into a form that imitates greased up actors on a movie screen. We have attached some “morality” into the food, the exercise, and all the ways we treat and punish our bodies. And no wonder! We are programmed to think this way all our lives.
The pathway out of this cycle is to start to think differently. Here are some questions that are worth exploring. First question: If your body was another person, what sort of relationship would you want to have with it? Do you really want to continue a hateful, mean talking, controlling relationship? Or do you want to consider a respectful, accepting, or even, dare I say, a loving relationship?
A second question to ask: Is it possible for you to think about your body as a completely neutral thing in the world? For instance, pick a body part that you don’t have a judgment about. You could start to say to yourself, “My toe is just my toe, my knee cap is just my knee cap, ear lobe… whatever” Then work from there, move to other body parts and see if any judgments come up.
It is so interesting that people develop such strong opinions about different body parts. What we don’t realize is that these thoughts about our thighs, bellies, and chins are all optional thoughts. Our brains tell us that if we just looked like Heidi Klum or Chris Hemsworth then we would be much more accepting of our bodies. The truth is, we have no idea what Hiedi and Chris think about their own bodies. They may be experiencing a punishing dialogue inside as well. We often hear about how models are very self-critical about their looks, partly because their looks literally are their value in their careers.
Look, our bodies are wondrous miracles. The more I learn about how brilliant our bodies are, the more I am just in awe. How can it be designed so well? So brilliantly. Just even thinking about some of our simplest organs, like the heart. I mean, brilliant!!! All 4 chambers, with valves, a system to self supply its own oxygen and fuel, a timing system, a special suitcase that holds it and protects it, a unique type of cells that have their own timer built it…I could totally geek out here. But it is so amazing, so glorious. Why do we choose not to love this?!
My challenge to you is; can you sit back and try for just a minute to thank your body for working for you? Can you just thank this vessel that holds you in the world, and through your life, for being there for you? Wouldn’t it be so much more fun to approach your body with love and wonder rather than hating and controlling?
For many of you, this may seem like an impossible place to get to. We are so used to wanting to change to feel better. We want others to tell us we are beautiful to feel validated in the world. We have been conditioned by society to hide, feel shame about parts of us that do not meet some impossible standard, and we just accept some voice in our heads that is cruel to ourselves and think that voice is true. But every belief just starts out as a thought, a sentence in our head, that we say over and over again until it feels true. I think looking in the mirror and just saying to ourselves, this is me and I am going to love it today. I think treating our bodies with love, respect, and treating it with a sense of gratitude and awe is worth trying on. Don’t you?