I’m beginning an exploration into how I – how we – can increase our compassion for our bodies.
The dominant culture doesn’t help. In her book, Beauty Sick, researcher Renée Engeln gives us the sad demographics:
- 34% of five-year-old girls engage in deliberate dietary restraint at least “sometimes.”
- 28% of these girls say they want their bodies to look like the women they see in movies and on TV.
In context, important developmental milestones for five-year-olds include accessible use of a fork and spoon and ability to count 10 or more objects.
- Between the age of five and nine, 40% of girls say they wish they were thinner.
- Almost 1/3 of third-grade girls report that they are “always” afraid of becoming fat.
It doesn’t stop when we grow older it isn’t limited to females. Mary E Pritchard reports that 90% of collegiate women and 80% of collegiate men don’t like what they see when they look in the mirror.
(Those of us who are longtime feminists are now saying “Dang, we thought we’d be over this by now!”)
Every culture has an idea of what makes beauty in the human form. That’s what they are – ideas. They are not truth. As a teenager, I remember finding Georgia O’Keefe’s face beautiful. I enjoyed looking at the images of her as she aged. I had an ambition to someday be as wrinkly as she became. Now that I’m in my 50s, I catch myself belittling my appearance because of saggy, wrinkled skin. As often happens, I am fixated on the product at the expense of the process! I plan to be more skillful from now on.
Imagine a culture in which varieties of bodies were celebrated! What a wonderful world it would be.
How do we get there? Here is my proposal:
- Find yourself beautiful. Every time you catch yourself denigrating your physique, take a deep breath in, recognize that you are enabling a cultural fantasy and blow it away as if you were extinguishing a birthday candle. Replace the negative thought with one like “I am worthy of love and belonging.”
- Find beauty in others. Each time you look at another human being, find something beautiful about them. It might be the shade of their skin, the shape of their shoulder, the stubble on their chin… Imagine you are an artist capturing what’s unique about that person. When appropriate, share your discovery with the person.
- Challenge the status quo. Whenever you notice the cultural one-beauty fantasy being put forward, call it out. Lovingly question statements by friends. Make and sign petitions. Write email messages. Make phone calls.
When I was putting together my Begin in Beauty E-course, I realized that beauty is sensual awareness of one’s part in the whole. Until we are all convinced of our beauty (inside and out), there is work to be done.
There is a cynical voice inside me that says we can’t build such a world. The idealist inside me suggests that it is the constant redefining and rediscovering of beauty and the continual effort to build a better world that makes a life worth living.
May you walk in beauty ~