You may recall the hit song by John Mayer that had young women swooning in the early 2000s. While the song was rumored to be inspired by his girlfriend Jennifer Love Hewitt, she is on record denying that fact, with a self-deprecating statement saying her body is “more like a pawn shop.”
While the relationship between John and Jennifer has long since disintegrated, the uphill battle for a positive body image rages on. Think about it, when's the last time you looked in the mirror and said to yourself, "Self, you look fantastic! There's nothing I would change!" It's probably been a while, if ever.
We are programmed from a very early age to think that our bodies are meant to look a certain way. Tall - but not too tall, lean - but still curvy, tan - but not too tan, and hairless - but with a strong brow. Any departure from that ideal is something to be worked on, or hidden away. There are countless articles on how to look taller, lose weight, tone up, get tan, camouflage problem areas and every other thing you can imagine to increase your appeal to whomever it is you're trying to appeal to.
A quick google search of "how to look better" pulled up 1,000,000,000 articles in less than a second, while a search of "how to love yourself" only discovered 3,000,000. For those familiar with the "Three Comma Club" (thanks, HBO's Silicon Valley) apparently improving your appearance is in, self love is out.
Most of us would admit without question that the real you is inside, and what's outside is merely a shell. Yet we spend so much time and money on the outside and rarely stop to consider what's going on inside. We need to do a better job of taking care of our whole selves! Certainly all of us could benefit from more sleep, better food and some exercise, but where the real work begins is internal. Starting with how we view and appreciate our physical self.
When you really think about it, it's silly to be this obsessed about our bodies. After all, it's literally a bag of skin holding a bunch of bones and goo in place. You are who you are as a person because of your mind, heart and spirit, not because of how long your legs are or what color hair you have, or if you even have hair at all. While the human body is nothing short of a scientific miracle, at the same time it's just a vessel in which we reside. Its sole purpose is simply to serve as a vehicle to carry the real us, what's inside, around wherever we wish to go.
Imagine your body was a person, would you say the hurtful things out loud? Would you say, "I hate you!" to a person who has literally carried you around in the best and worst of times? Imagine if your body went on strike every time you offended it. What if next time you confided in a friend, "I hate my hair," you woke up without any. Sure, sometimes we may see a need for improvement. But if we don't like something about our appearance, think about where that comes from. If it truly comes from wanting to have stronger legs that don't tire as easily, then sure - you should work on that. Go running, work out, do something to improve your leg strength. But if it comes from looking at the latest issue of Airbrush Magazine, change your perception. "Sure, my legs may not be as long, tan, and hairless as this photo, but honestly whose legs are! I love my legs; they get me around and if I'm being honest, they don't look too bad in heels, either." You will be amazed at how differently you view yourself when you consciously change the conversation in your head from negative to positive.
I am currently participating in an Instagram yoga challenge, something I have always shunned, because one thing we aren't short of in this world is people taking selfies. But because the theme is body positivity and self-love, it has purpose. Typically selfie posts can seem as if one is yearning for external validation: posting your photos, feverishly checking for likes and hoping you chose the best one of 57 you had to take after putting a million filters on it. This challenge requires you to simply post a picture of yourself in the pose of the day and give yourself a compliment. I’ll testify, it’s much harder to come up with things YOU like about yourself rather than relying on the generosity of strangers.
The funny thing is, while it’s difficult for me to post pictures of myself on a daily basis, I am LOVING seeing everyone else posting their pictures! Each in various stages of their yoga journey, from beginners to advanced, the casual yogi and the committed teacher in training, some even proudly participating while recovering from injury. Seeing their poses and reading their compliments has really been great. And not once have I seen a photo and thought, "oh that picture is just awful" or "that's a bad angle." Good thing to remember when posting your own! When you look at a photo of yourself you immediately go into critique mode - but no one else sees your photo through that lens.
Each of us is completely and utterly unique and beautiful (or handsome!) in our own way. Think about your 3 closest friends right now and immediately you could name 10 things that make that person beautiful. But if I asked you to make a list of just 5 things about yourself it would likely be a struggle.
Not only are you less apt to like things about yourself, but even that thing you do like - maybe you secretly know you have pretty feet - you aren't able to say it out loud. No, it's more socially acceptable to demean yourself, right? I mean Jennifer Love Hewitt was widely thought to have been the inspiration for a song about someone having an amazing, wonderful body, and she couldn't even take the compliment.
How many cocktail parties have you been to where a group of women sat around and told each other the things they loved about themselves? While it sounds icky at first, I would definitely take that over sitting with a group of women who spend an hour discussing how one hates her eyebrows and another thinks her hips are too wide.
Let's all be more loving to ourselves - and to one another. After all, when you have compassion for yourself, it's easier to share it with others. Most of us upon greeting a friend or even a stranger will offer a genuine compliment. Our eye is drawn to the positive in others, why do we go on so harshly about ourselves? I’m challenging you to change the conversation you have with yourself about your body. I'll bet if you start your day by looking in the mirror and saying, "You know what, I look pretty damn good. I don't have to be a certain size or a number on a scale, or have curly (or straight!) hair. I am a wonderful person inside this body and it shows!" you will radiate an inner beauty that others will notice.
Maybe even John Mayer.
The Instagram challenge referred to in this post is hosted by Noya (Instagram: @Noya_yoga). Check it out and follow the hashtag #IFeelGoodToday to see participant posts.