The new year is upon us.
Brace yourself for the bombardment of “new year, new you” messages from the beauty industry that your body isn’t good enough. Your hips are too big, your bum is too fat, your breasts are too small.
On a trip to Paris I remember seeing the L’Origine du Monde, a painting of a naked female body laid bare on a bed, like a piece of meat. When I think of the beauty and diet industries this painting comes to mind.
I imagine a cattle market where women are reared as prized specimens.
Women are taught to examine their bodies with a microscope. We learn from a young age that the beauty ideal is thin, white female. The new year means big money for the wellness and beauty industries. Body acceptance and self-love certainly aren’t in their interest.
A worthwhile resolution
Every body maps out a history. When I look at my hands, I see the hands of my mother, my grandmother and all the women that came before them. The same hands that were with me as a baby now support me in my yoga practice every day.
Ironically, people come to yoga for the physical benefits. But the practice has the power to irreversibly change your perception of your body.
Over time, you can learn to quieten that self-critical voice and become present.
This year, join me in making a promise to your body – to accept and cherish it, as it is now.
Why aren’t we satisfied with our bodies?
Body dissatisfaction is a side effect of living in a consumerist society, one that profits from our insecurities. Consumerism encourages a commodification of our bodies which allows us to decouple the mind from the body.
We are taught from a young age that success as a women can be found by shrinking our bodies. Despite considering myself a feminist I have lost count of the amount of times I have fallen prey to unhealthy beauty ideals.
For example, my best friend and I would write diet plans during breaks when we were in school. We’d be brimming with excitement and anticipation for the new bodies that we would sculpt.
Yet, by lunch time we would be eating whatever desert was on the school menu. But we were bred from a young age to praise and chase the promise of a different body than the one we already had.
Body image – it matters
At 18, I put on weight during a trip. I felt incredibly self-conscious about my body which cast a shadow over the whole experience.
Low body confidence makes us uncomfortable in our own skin.
We become a hostile observer of our body. We put our body on trial. Then we scan other bodies for signs that they are smaller or larger than our own. We start to believe that our body is an obstacle to happiness. Finally we become disembodied.
When I got back to England I followed a strict diet and began running obsessively. As a result, I did loose some weight.
Around this time, I was approached by a modeling agency.
I felt I had finally proved something to myself, I wasn’t fat after all. People validated me constantly. “Have you lost weight?” “You look great!”
I squeezed my body into the tiny outfits, restricting it. Even though I was tiny I felt like a beached whale compared to the other models. My stint as a model was less than successful.
Nobody knew that underneath the shiny exterior of the pictures was a desperately unhappy person.
While I eventually gave up modeling and started to look for happiness in other places besides my body, the urge to do so stayed. There was a low-level dissatisfaction luking.
The answer? Yoga
In the end, it was yoga that pulled me out of my head and dropped me into my body. Over time yoga encourages you to notice subtle shifts in your body from one day to the next.
It can be an uncomfortable process. Some days your mind will shriek at you for not being flexible or strong enough, while other days you will learn to surrender to the practice.
Gentle forms of yoga have the power to lead people on the journey to embodiment.
We can begin to experience our body rather than attempt to alter it by tuning into the rhythm of our breath.
The western yoga world can be very body focused. Which means that yoga on Instagram is a confusing place. We have been raised to judge and critique our own body which makes us do the same with other bodies. It is a form of manipulation that puts barriers between us.
If we had all that space not to worry about our bodies, imagine the power and connection we could harness. We would be an unstoppable force.
What does this mean for you?
This year, make this your New Year’s resolution:
Drown out the messages sent by the media and work on treating your body with respect and love.
Through accepting your own body you can learn to be compassionate to other bodies. Make a promise to never comment on another person’s weight or judge someone based on their appearance.
Learn to live connected to your body and be in awe of it every day for keeping you living on this planet. When we treat our bodies with tenderness and acceptance we can truly start healing.