Posts Tagged ‘body image’

There is No One Way to be Beautiful

This post is very personal and was quite challenging for me. Please keep that in mind when commenting.

Like so many women (and men) I have struggled for a long time with self-image issues. Surely I don’t need to detail the rantings of the demonic monkey on my back, the cultural expectations, the long naked look in a full-length mirror. With or without a bikini on. I’m sure that most of us have some passing familiarity with the feelings of inadequacy, doubt, and shame that come from comparing the ideal of beauty (or fitness or motherhood) that are projected upon us by the prevailing cultural norms. I don’t want to go into all that, there are so many who have detailed the body image struggle before me so much better than I ever could. I want to talk about the beginnings of seeing beauty. That first tantalizing glimpse of the goddess within.

This past Saturday, I was treated to an amazing and eye-opening experience that forced me to ask myself a difficult question: if all the women around me are beautiful in all their diversity of shapes, sizes and ages, why am I not also beautiful in my own eyes? I was in a Korean spa, a most un-American tradition where a bunch of women gather in large rooms to bathe, soak in pools of warm, cold or herbal water, luxuriate in saunas and steam rooms, and scrub their skin until it is as smooth and shiny as a newborn. Oh, and all this is done while completely naked. Stepping into the room for the first time was daunting as my doubts rose to my mind and my monkey shrieked that I was too pudgy, too pale, too hairy and I was met with… complete indifference from the other women. I was just another woman sharing in the ritual of bathing. As I looked around, half expecting to be met with the hard, flat gaze of judgment reached and found lacking, I was met only with smiles and the hints of similar doubts hiding in the other women’s eyes. And I was struck by their beauty, over and over. The older Korean women scrubbing each other’s backs and chatting aimiably; the round-bellied women with stretch marks bearing the signs of childbirth; the incredibly varied shapes of each woman; the different color of skin. All were so very womanly. It was this undeniable womanliness that transcended shape or size and suffused each one with remarkable beauty.

There is no one way to be beautiful.

How does this fit in to a blog about health and acupuncture? In a number of ways. As I’ve said before, health is so much more than just the absence of disease. Health is vibrancy of the whole person, body, mind and spirit. When something as inescapable as our very body causes us suffering, that suffering is not healthy. A wonderful blogger posed the question, why does body image matter? One of her beautiful and well-thought out answers to that question was, ” because we cannot thrive and blossom if we hate ourselves”. And isn’t that what all this is about? Isn’t that true health?

Many of us work so hard to eat right and exercise right in order to be healthy and fit, but often it is the specter of body image chasing us toward the thin ideal we are working towards. And just to be clear, there is a difference between health and fitness. Fitness implies a certain body shape and athleticism to it, but one can have both without being truly healthy. There is much disagreement on this, but I believe that one can be healthy without being skinny or an athlete. A certain degree of fitness is a huge part of health, especially cardiovascular and musculoskeletal health, but not all of us are going to be triathletes. Not everyone who is thin is healthy. Not every healthy body is thin. Not all of us are going to be size 2 or even size 12. Push yourself to be healthy without the attachment to looking a certain way- they are not the same thing. As you refine how you eat (by not eating refined foods!) and how you exercise, your body will find its healthy balance. It may be skinnier than you are now, but then again it may not be. Being healthy depends on what we nourish ourselves with: our food, exercise, sleep, thoughts and emotions.

I am finding that the real question is not, “why am I not thin?” but a whole slew of much more diffucult and personal questions. What is keeping me from health? What beliefs are being played out? What am I getting out of being less: less healthy, less vibrant, less me? Does being unhealthy get me attention or love that would otherwise be lacking? Is it the comfort of being someplace familiar (even if I don’t like it) where I am not forced to grow or change? Are there beliefs of unworthiness, feeling fundamentally broken or lacking? What is keeping me from loving my body, from loving myself wholly and without reservation or caveat or condition? What is underneath the self-loathing? Try writing a letter to your body and see what comes up. It may surprise you. I know it surprised me.

Also worth considering is acupuncture. Five Element acupuncture changed my life many years ago and continues to help me evolve consciously into the person and practitioner I aspire to be. I feel so strongly that it makes me a better person, or rather that it makes me a better me. In Five Element acupuncture, the practitioner seeks out the core of the spirit and carefully crafts treatments from that deep place. Patterns that unconsciously play out as issues of self-worth, self-esteem and dis-embodiment are addressed and can be dismantled. When an element is out of balance in ourselves, we are not living from a space of unlimited potential and are not fulfilling the destiny of our highest selves. In the context of body image issues, if the Wood element is not healthy we may not be able to “see” ourselves properly or without distortion (Wood governs vision on all levels). If Metal is out of balance, we may have low self-worth because we cannot percieve our own value. If Fire is out of balance, our Heart is not at home in our body and we may look for love in all the wrong places/ people because we cannot give it to ourselves. In Earth we see issues of nourishment, when it is out of balance we may find that we are never satiated by food or that we look to food for the comfort we can’t recieve elsewhere. Eating disorders tend to rise out of this element as well. When Water is the core issue, there may be intense feelings of anxiety or powerlessness driving the car. Your practitioner will help identify what is out of balance and help balance it. However, it is still vitally important to continue practicing compassion, acceptance and self-love on your own.

As much as I sometimes long for it, I’m realizing that there is no one right way to be healthy, just as there is no one right body type or one right diet. That would be too easy. It is hard and tedious work to figure out what is right for me, to find my balancing place of health. Last Saturday I got a glimpse into what it feels like to see myself as being beautiful. Not because I am thin or strong or curvy or any other cultural ideal of beauty. Just because I am a woman. And that is beautiful.

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