Thinking about your New Year’s resolutions? Are resolutions about your body among them? (“I’ll go to the gym more,” “I’ll eat healthier.”) These may be admirable goals, but think about adding this resolution: I’ll work to become more comfortable with the body I have.
Yes, it would be good if you exercised regularly and ate healthily, but it wouldn’t guarantee that your body will look the way you want. Feeling badly about your body as it is now makes you feel badly about yourself. And that's a yucky way to feel.
Focus instead of the joy of moving your body through space, of the sense of your body as useful. Notice the feel of your muscles as you move—you don't need to be a particular shape to experience that.
Here are some exercises to do to improve your relationship with your body.
It's the Thought That Counts
Become aware of the negative things you tell yourself about your body. For instance, when dressing, a woman may look at her breasts and think that her breasts are too __________ (small, big, droopy, uneven and so on). The adjective "too" is the give away, implying that there is a right way to look. (Okay, there are ideals in each culture about the best way to look, but they are ideals -- not attainable by most people.)
Instead, try to think of your body in nonjudgmental ways -- without adjectives that are implicitly critical. Here are some examples:
"I have smallish breasts that tend to droop"
"I have a receding hairline that starts about two inches from the top of my forehead"
"I have crow's feet around my eyes"
Notice that these examples are purely neutral descriptions and don't make judgments. Try writing down some descriptions of your body as a whole, and different parts of your body. Then look carefully at the words you've used, particularly the adjectives, and remove the critical, disparaging words.
Go To The Mirror
Don't want people to see your body without a lot of clothes? Go to the mirror! Put on clothes that are form fitting (or be nude) and stand in front of a full-length mirror.
Try looking for 5-10 minutes at the body parts you like least, substituting judgmental self-talk with the neutral language that I described earlier. At some point, you should have an experience that resembles repeating a word or phrase over and over again -- it starts to lose its meaning. In this case, your discomfort with that part of your body should start to lessen as the negative meaning you've attributed to that body part lessens.
Much as you might wish otherwise, you've only got one body, and the shape of it now is the shape of you now. Be here now. If there are activities you're waiting to do or places you want to go when you body is in "better" shape, don't wait. Do it them now.
A Word About Exercise and Eating, Rights and Responsibilities
Accepting your body as it is doesn't mean that it's okay to be (or become) a sloth, or that it's okay to eat lots of junk food or even lots of food -- more than your body needs.
You have the right to enjoy your body, whatever its current shape. Part of what this means is to get past treating your body as an object (to be criticized or admired). Get inside your body so that feels more like a part of you -- a part that is useful and makes you feel good in your body (rather than feel good about your body). So exercise -- it is many and varied forms -- is a good thing because it allows you to feel your body's sense of agency -- your body in action. Consider any of these activities: taking a brisk walk, lifting weights, mopping the floor, painting a wall, going for a jog. Each and every one of these activities can leave you with a sense of your body feeling useful, strong, empowered and handy. Such activities, if you focus on the actions of your body while doing it and afterward, can leave feeling grateful for your body and what it is able to do. And that's part of the "responsibility" to your body -- to treat your body reasonably well.
Copyright 2016 by Robin S. Rosenberg
Robin S. Rosenberg, Ph.D., ABPP is a clinical psychologist in private practice in San Francisco and Menlo Park, California. Rosenberg specializes in treating people with eating disorders, depression and anxiety. She often writes about the psychology of superheroes and has co-authored several psychology textbooks, including and Introducing Psychology: Brain, Person, Group. To find out more about Dr. Rosenberg and her work, go to her website, www.DrRobinRosenberg.com. For Dr. Rosenberg's brief, easy-to-read guide Improving Your Relationships with Your Body, click here.