THE BLOG

Rethinking Body Image: We Are Not Our Bodies

06/08/2010 05:12 am 05:12:01 | Updated Nov 17, 2011

I shaved my head again last week. This is the fourth time in the past five years I've done this. As has been the case for me before -- it feels both liberating and vulnerable. My hair has been thinning for about 10 years (most significantly in the past two or three) and, as I've written about a few times previously, this has caused me a great deal of fear, insecurity and self criticism.

These feelings are not new and aren't specifically related to my thinning hair (although it is definitely something that triggers them for me in an intense way). Being critical of my appearance and concerned about my body have been consistent themes throughout my life. As a teenager with acne and braces, as a college and pro baseball player battling years of painful arm injuries, as the natural aging process starts to impact my hair, skin and so much more. There have been and continue to be aspects of my body that I don't like, feel ashamed of and worry about.

The deeper issue here for me and so many of us isn't about our bodies themselves, but how much we identify with them. I've lived most of my life as if I am my body, even though for a number of years I've been aware, at least intellectually, that this is not the case.

We tend to focus a lot of our attention on our bodies, at least superficially. We think about, talk about, and worry about how our bodies look, feel, and function all the time. Some of us clearly do this more than others, but if you just pay attention to the conversations, information, media, and advertisements around you on a daily basis, it's amazing to see how much obsession there is about our bodies and also how much we tend to equate our success, effectiveness and well-being to our physical experience.

While there's nothing wrong with us wanting to look good and it's vitally important that we focus on keeping our bodies as healthy as possible, in many cases we place a disproportionate amount of our self worth and value (or lack thereof) on our bodies. In other words, we think that if we look good and feel good, we are good. And we think that if we feel bad, get sick, feel tired, or don't like our appearance, then we somehow are bad (or at least not as good as we could or should be).

We also don't often make much distinction between our physical state and our other states (mental, emotional and spiritual). I remember hearing a story of a Buddhist monk who only slept two or three hours per night, because he was so busy tending to the poor, sick and needy people in his community. When people asked him, "Don't you get tired?" he responded by saying, "My body gets tired sometimes, but I'm alive and vibrant." The story really struck me and illustrated the important distinction between us and our physical body.

Our bodies are brilliant, beautiful, and miraculous -- even though we often don't think of, treat, or talk about them that way. As my friend, Steve Sisgold teaches in his wonderful book What's Your Body Telling You?, we can tap into the power of "whole body consciousness" and use the innate wisdom of our bodies to reduce stress, create peace, and attract success in our lives.

I'm not advocating that we disconnect from our bodies (which is so easy for us to do in our culture as we over emphasize the mental aspect of life and focus more on results than we do on experience), but I am suggesting that we disassociate ourselves from the notion that who we are is simply the flesh and bones we travel around in. Our bodies are an important aspect of who we are, but far from all of who we are.

Our body weight does not determine our worth. Our level of health (or lack thereof) is not an indication of our value as a human being. How much hair we have (or whatever other physical issue you obsess about) doesn't make us a good or bad person. And, how we look and feel is not the ultimate indicator of our success, fulfillment, and worthiness in life.

We are so much more than our bodies! When we're able to realize, remember, and live from this awareness -- we can take back our power, transform some of our fear, and create a healthy, loving, and empowering relationship with our body that serves, supports, and enhances our growth and our experience ourselves and of life in general.

Mike Robbins is a sought-after motivational keynote speaker, coach, and the bestselling author of Focus on the Good Stuff (Wiley) and Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken (Wiley). More info - www.Mike-Robbins.com