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We’re part of a unique time in history.
One that’s inundated with messages and images that tell us what we should look like: whether that’s in the form of our favorite character in a television series, the social media influencers we feel like we know, or the advertisements that line our streets as much as they do our web browsers.
In the context of that world, experts believe that children are beginning to form thoughts and opinions about their body as early as the age of three. If—at that young and tender age—those thoughts and opinions skew negative, it’s incredibly difficult to overcome them in your adult life.
But, try we must.
A big part of the problem, in learning how to love our body, is how we go about it.
A Body Love Check-In
Before we start exploring body image and how to love our bodies better, it’s important to check in. This will give us an opportunity to gauge how we currently feel about our body and form a base from which to compare how those feelings improve over time, when we actively begin to love it.
Like any instance in which we’re asked to reflect, take time before solidifying an answer. Take a moment to slow down, feel your breath, and connect with your body. From a place of mindfulness and intention, we’re more likely to respond with authenticity. And remember, there’s no right or wrong answer here—only honest ones.
When you feel like you’ve found that sweet spot, say this statement out loud or in your head:
“I feel love for my body.”
Now, rate your level of comfort with that statement on a scale of 1 to 10. A rating of 1 indicates that you feel extremely uncomfortable with that statement, whereas a 10 indicates that you feel an abundance of love for your body.
When you’ve arrived at a response, consider it more deeply. Do you believe that your response indicates that the relationship you have with your body is in need of improvement? More importantly, do you have a desire to improve that relationship?
If the answer is “yes,” then keep reading to get started.
Understanding Body Image
Body image is defined as the mental representation we create for ourselves. Sometimes far from accurate, what we think of our body is subject to outside influence and a number of distortions. Distortions may be learned through our parents and guardians, childhood experiences, cultural attitudes, our emotions, mood, and a host of other things.
All of that is to say that what we think we look like can be different from how we actually look. I would argue that in many cases, if not most, what we think is an inaccurate reflection of what we truly look like to others. What’s more, it’s often negative.
There wouldn’t be an issue with that except that negative body image impacts our lives in ways beyond our thoughts; it can impact our confidence and self-esteem, in turn impacting everything from our relationship satisfaction to our professional career.
What Does Body Love Mean?
Loving our body is often talked about in terms of acceptance. We’re told to accept the physical flaws as defined by our body image as much as we accept what we’ve defined as positive attributes.
But, to me, body love is so much more than loving how our body looks or loving our nose and hair and butt—that type of body love is conditional.
Nor is body love about loving our body for what it does. It’s not about the poses we can get into or the number of miles we can run, because that, too, is something conditional.
These are things that can change and therefore have conditions associated with our love. If our butt or hair were to change, or we couldn’t run as many miles, could we love our body the same way?
While we can be grateful and appreciative and even happy about those aspects of our body, instead, let’s try looking at loving our body like an actionable concept. As in, how do we love our body in a doing way? How much do we listen to it, care for it, and pay attention to its needs?
Body Love in Yoga
Yoga can help us learn how to love our body in an active way. In fact, these four yogic principles (from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras—the yamas and niyamas) are directly connected to body love and the things we can do to start learning how to love our body.
Ahimsa: non-harming, nonviolence
This principle doesn’t distinguish between harm to others, harm to our self, harm to the earth, or harm to animals. Because, as any yogi with the right idea will tell you, there is no distinction between those things; they, and we, are one and the same.
And that’s why we should love our body with as much love as we would an animal, the earth, or a friend. Non-harming can also be thought of as treating our physical body with love, especially while we’re using it. That means listening to our body while exercising and avoiding the risk of injury.
Aparigraha: non-grasping, nonattachment, or non-greediness
In a way, it means accepting our current state. But this sort of acceptance means more than just being happy with our “flaws.” Take, for example, the physical yoga practice. If we’re trying to push our body into a posture it’s not capable of, we’re not practicing aparigraha. We’re pushing the body to do something it’s not ready for, instead of listening to what our muscles and joints are telling us and accepting our current state of flexibility.
And while we’re taught to accept where we currently are, that doesn’t mean we accept it for what it is and forget about it. We should challenge ourselves to try to improve, and for the “right” reasons. Reasons that aren’t tied to the ego, like looking good or getting a great Instagram photo.
Cleanliness in its most basic and literal sense is, of course, important. Good hygiene and cleanliness not only keep our own bodies healthy, they also protect others by minimizing the spread of bacteria, germs, and even disease.
Therefore, keeping our physical body clean is an important part of loving it—and that includes eating a clean diet. Cleanliness can also be understood as a clean mind; it means regularly clearing out toxic thoughts and beliefs to support mental clarity.
This principle roughly translates to discipline. It’s not difficult to see how this is related to learning how to love our body. Because it’s not enough to start using and moving the body in the ways it was made for, we have to stick with it to actualize the benefits. Especially when we’re first starting out, we need discipline to stick to the routine, both physical and mental.
Living Body Love
Living these principles is an active form of body love. They teach us to listen to what our body needs, to provide what it asks for, and to pursue goals based on their value instead of our ego. In this way, we can learn to love our body, no matter how we feel about what it looks like.