Yesterday, I was sitting in an ice-cream shop with a friend, sipping a smoothie, when he looked puzzlingly at me and said, “We need to do something about your face.”
“What, like plastic surgery?” I asked.
“No, nothing that serious… I don’t know, there’s something not quite right about your face.” Then he asked what I would do if I had gone to a plastic surgeon. I couldn’t think of anything. He was sceptical. “Come on,” he pressed, “you know.” I told him that I’d wanted a boob job in my 20’s, but not anymore. He tried to help: “Maybe your nose?”
That short exchange was a powerful confirmation and reminder of how far I have come in healing my body image issues. Had he asked me the same question 10 years ago, I would have come up with a dozen things that I would want to change about my appearance: my eyes are too droopy, my nose is too broad, my mouth is too big …… and this is not counting from my neck down.
I remember when I hated almost every part of my body, and by extension my whole self. Had that conversation taken place 10 years ago, I would have immediately plunged into depression and locked myself in my house for weeks, even months, replaying that ‘criticism’ over and again, spiralling into a dark hole of self-loathe. In contrast, I felt no self-judgement or negativity yesterday. Ah, what freedom to be so at peace with my body now, that I can’t think of anything I would want to change about it.
Oh, I still have little judgements about my appearance. On ‘bad hair days’ (hair = any part of the body) my self-confidence can be compromised. Yet there’s a general serenity about my relationship with my body these days which makes it not such a big deal. These days, looking good for me is an expanded, celebratory energy – a respectful attitude towards my body as I enhance my beauty. In the past, every time I thought about my body I would contract into a self-hating obsession to change the way I looked.
If you’ve ever suffered from a negative body image, you might relate to the anguish of judging yourself harshly and finding various ways to abuse yourself to punish who you judge yourself to be. When I look back at my history of self-abuse, it’s almost as if I was systematically hacking myself to death, this detested body which represented what must be a despicable person.
The years of wrecking my body with diet pills, tranquilisers (painkillers, sleeping pills, hypnotics), alchohol etc – dangerously combined, at times to the point of convulsing and being rushed to hospital – each act of abuse confirming in me how despicable I was, believing that abuse was the only thing I deserved. Yet it was the endless stream of mental self-abuse, which preceded and accompanied these acts of abuse, that delivered the most poison, locking me in a state of perpetual disdain for myself.
I share this not to indulge in self-pity or wear my past pain as a badge of honour but to let those of you, who are still tormented with a negative image of your body, know that freeing yourself from the grips of such self-judgements is not only possible but can be easily reached.
Healing your body image requires substantial work. You’re unlikely to wake up one day and start loving your body if you’d spent the past 30 years hating it. Yet the process of facing yourself full-on and honestly to heal the way you see yourself is such a dignified act of honouring yourself that you’ll be rewarded with a sense of peace and comfort within yourself, leaving no place or desire for anymore self-abusive acts and thoughts. In this freedom from self-judgement, you are free to express yourself authentically and the world becomes a richer place because of that.
One way to start healing your body image is by observing the general movement of your energy. Being trapped in mental torment of constantly judging yourself harshly and needing to punish yourself is a contractive movement. It sucks you downward into a deteriorating sense of self until you feel powerless against your own self-created hell. In contrast, having a healthy body image – seeing yourself as beautiful, radiant and sacred – is an expansive movement. It opens you up to expressing more of your true, magnificent self as you recognise your beauty and worth.
Observe the general movement of your energy to see if you are contracting or expanding.
Take a prolonged breath to slow yourself down and get more present in your body.
Get clear of what is taking place in your head. Are your thoughts causing you to contract or expand? What is the tone of your thoughts? Is it loving, nurturing, supportive, inspiring? Or is it berating, disparaging, punishing?
How are they making you feel?
How is your body, and face, reflecting your internal dialogue?
Now, how can you change the direction of your general movement of energy from being contractive to expansive? Are your thoughts making you grow, expand outwards?
Where can you spot the resistance? Which thoughts can’t you carry through to completion? Which thoughts trigger fear and pain?
The practice of observing the general movement of your energy will train you to be more aware of what you are telling yourself about you. It may feel unnatural to deliberately make your energy expansive when you’ve been in a contracted state for a long time. Yet taking that step can tell you so much about yourself. See, we are naturally-expansive beings. Fear makes us contract. When we make ourselves expand, we come face-to-face with the fear that stops us. Isolating your fear has the effect of energetically drawing a border around it and making it easier to tackle.
For now, relax into the knowledge of whatever you’ve found in this small exercise. Even if it is more pain you’ve found, you are one step closer to healing your relationship with your body – one notch above the level of your struggles. The course of things has been changed. Keep moving, keep trying new ideas to shake yourself out of your body image hell. Plant the seed of doubt in your mind about how you’re seeing yourself. What if …..?