The body of self-care
The body of self-care
From an early age we are exposed to a barrage of pictures and images regarding what constitutes the ‘perfect body’. By the time we are adults we have absorbed these pictures to such an extent that we have an ideal body weight and shape that we hold in our mind’s eye. It is from this ideal that we then monitor and judge our own body, as well as comparing our body to other bodies.
This is problematic in the sense that it disconnects us from who we truly are. We start to see ourselves against this ideal and base our sense of self-worth on whether we meet it or not. Men may lament the fact that their abdomen does not have a defined ‘six-pack’; women may criticize the shape of their thighs because they don’t resemble human twigs. The prevalence of weight-loss products, diet fads and even cosmetic surgery reflects the fact that we are desperate to meet the demands of the idealised picture that has been sold to us and has a firm hold on us.
Nevertheless, there is a profound cost to creating a lifestyle that places the pictures of the ‘perfect body’ over accepting the reality of our body. This cost is a deep disconnection from and negation of all that we actually are.
One extreme impact of this disconnection and lack of acceptance is eating disorders – where women and men suffer horrific and ritualistic self-abuse with their eating and exercise patterns that completely diminish their sense of self-worth and ability to perceive themselves clearly. Yet eating disorders are simply on the extreme end of the continuum of the phenomenon that could be identified as Disembodied Living – that is, living your body from the outside in rather than the inside out. Disembodied living means that we use external sources as reference points for living out the physical vehicle that houses our consciousness, our inner life, our soul.
Disembodied living directly impacts our ability to claim our life with confidence, zest and steadiness – and is the antithesis of self-care. It introduces a disharmony into our bodies that brings about a profound experiential misery to our livingness because in aligning with the external pictures we wage war on ourselves and the body that we have. We become trapped and powerless, forever pursuing illusionary images of ‘perfection’ rather than embracing the real beauty that is our very own intimate, warm and delicate body. This body is real, present and always waiting for our return to it.
From the age of 14 I have been an ardent practitioner, even an expert, of disembodied living. It was at this age that I began a variety of eating disorders, which culminated in a 10-year bout of bulimia that ended more than a decade ago. Nevertheless I am still in a continuous process of discovering, challenging and renouncing the various insidious practices in my daily life that have aligned me with pursuing ideals of body ‘perfection’. While it has been over a decade since I practised bulimia, the consciousness of body controlling is still being unpacked, layer by layer. For example, it is only recently that I threw out the scales that I had in the house. I realised one evening the level of disempowerment that daily weighing had on my relationship with my body. Indeed, if the scales read “59” in the morning I would feel light and breezy, but if they read “61” I would feel the stirrings of self-loathing. I realised that the practice of weighing myself every morning was actually maintaining a foundation for how I perceived my body. Rather than connecting within and feeling where I was at and what my body was actually communicating, I allowed the scales to become the external barometer that dictated how I was to see, feel and live out my body.
Pursuing a livingness that is embodied, self-accepting and self-caring by continually nominating and dismantling the many self-debilitating practices and alignments that I had made in the past is certainly not comfortable.
Something as simple as throwing out the scales was a momentous occasion. It brought up a striking sense of discomfort and even panic. This is because I initially did not know how to cope with the new freedom that I now had in my relationship with my body. There was no external barometer measuring it in any way and dictating its value and worth.
Indeed, all that was left for me was to connect even more deeply with the body and continually ask it how it actually felt.
For example, now in the morning I may check in and have the following internal dialogue with the body: “Do I feel heavy and dense this morning? Is that because I ate late last night? Maybe I won’t eat that late again”. A core part of my daily livingness is now constantly feeling into the body to give me a clearer, truer and more loving reflection of my entire wellbeing. This means that I am building a foundation where my body determines what I eat, how much I eat, what energy I eat it in, as well as the amount and type of exercise I engage in. The continuous and gentle process of checking in with my body now trumps the demands of external barometers or pictures of bodies.
Maybe it seems ridiculous, looking back now, that my perception and self-worth were partially determined by two numbers on a square metal box that I stepped on every morning. Nevertheless, embracing the inner barometer over the outer one can be very frightening because it calls us to surrender to the body that we have and thus to surrender to an unknown future that cannot be calculated and controlled via measuring tapes, dress sizes or scales. It asks us to trust in a future where the body can take its rightful shape and beauty that will be organically and naturally expressed from our inner connection to our soul-consciousness and listening to the true needs of the body.
This way of living can indeed seem risky for those of us who have a history of strict reliance on the idealised pictures and have invested in getting our self-worth by meeting the demands of these pictures. For some of us it may even have been a long time since we have lived the body with the child-like joy and fluidity that is possible for us all – a time where we did not think about what we ate or how our body looked because our bodies were just there to express the light that impulsed us from within. But the step towards reclaiming the inner lived barometer of empowerment over the outer barometer is worth it. In the latter experience we give our power away to an energy of phantom pictures and rigid ideals, and in the former experience we connect with and continue building on a real foundation of self-valuing that is priceless.
I was worth this leap in self-care. You are worth it too.