We live in a culture that hates the body. Don't believe me? Look around. We set unsustainable standards of physical beauty and enlist models to represent them. We then slather these models in oils and makeup, place them under "flattering" lights, and Photoshop them into oblivion.
We take these deceptive images and publish them to the world, insinuating that these lies are not only desirable, but also "the norm." Why don't you look like this? Why aren't you this beautiful?
Unable to attain this fictional and unrealistic level of beauty and perfection, we despise and destroy our own bodies. We do it in a number of ways. We either focus on our physical imperfections and try to starve them out, or beat them out through excessive exercise.
If that doesn't work, then we try to numb our feelings of inadequacy through addictions that include sex, drugs, alcohol, perfectionism, gambling, gaming, overeating, working, cleaning, shopping, and sleeping.
Anyway you look at it, we are a culture that is very uncomfortable in its own skin. We value the judgement and scrutiny of others more than we value the marvelous creation that is our own body.
I recently read Learning From Leonardo, a remarkable book that takes an in-depth look at the sketches and notes of celebrated painter Leonardo da Vinci. While reading the book, I was deeply impressed by Leonardo's fascination with the human body. Skimming through his sketches, one can tell that Leonardo had a deep love and reverence for life. Indeed, Leonardo himself once said: "Let not your rage or malice destroy a life -- for indeed, he who does not value it, does not himself deserve it."
Is the malice of our culture toward our bodies destroying our enjoyment of life? Does our rage and contempt for our own image destroy our happiness?
I've seen people waste their time and energy -- the very essence of their lives -- obsessed with body image and diet, or with weight-training and exercising, or with cankles and thigh gaps.
Your body wasn't meant to be treated like an object for others to scrutinize -- it was meant to be treasured as the most incredible and most advanced instrument that you have to receive the world. Life is so much more than what we see with our eyes, but we spend so much time focused on ourselves that we might as well be asleep. John Patrick Shanley wrote that, "Only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement."
Do you remember when we were kids? (You know, before school and all of that nonsense.) We loved life. LOVED it! Every moment of life was an absolutely astounding adventure. Swimming? Amazing. Mixing colors? Amazing. Jumping into a pile of leaves? Amazing. Petting a dog? Amazing! Touching a bug? AMAZING!
At that age, kids don't care about what others think about them, and why should they? Nature is so amazing! And if the nature is so amazing -- and their bodies come from nature -- then what does that say about them? In fact, most children chase life with such zeal and energy that they never need worry about diet and exercise.
I think there is a direct correlation between our love of life and our love of self. I believe that the more we respect, value, and love life all around us, the more we will respect, value, and love ourselves (and our bodies). And the more we value ourselves and the world around us, the more we will be able to achieve.
Leonardo da Vinci is a phenomenal example of this. The man loved life! His never-ending fascination with life was both childlike and genius. As a direct result of his love for life, the things he was able to accomplish with his own life are breathtaking. He was a painter, a sculptor, an inventor, an architect, a cartographer, a botanist, a mathematician, an engineer, a geologist and so much more!
Yet in his quest to understand life, he learned this fundamental truth:
"...and if this, [body], appears to thee marvelously constructed, remember that it is nothing as compared with the soul that dwells in that structure; for that indeed, be it what it may, is a thing divine."
Please stop hating your body. Not only is it an amazing tool for receiving the world, but it's also the host of a thing divine -- you. You are a marvelously beautiful and unique creation and you were born to achieve great things. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you will wake up to the glorious life that is all around you.
This blogpost originally appeared on SethAdamSmith.com.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.