I think about body image a lot. Like a lot, a lot. I can't really recall a time that it wasn't on my mind. I was thin as a kid and then when I hit middle school, I put on a lot of weight. From that point on, I've been thin (not that I believed that at the time, of course) and voluptuous. I've spoken at dozens of events about the importance of saying a big f*ck you to the media for their role in creating an unattainable beauty standard that leaves millions of us feeling like crap about ourselves (because we aren't all a size 0, white, with blonde hair and blue eyes). I've written papers and blog posts about my belief that it's all a big conspiracy -- companies WANT us to feel bad about ourselves so that we buy their products in our never-ending search for perfection. I even participated in the CTWorkingMoms goddess gathering as a way to empower other women to accept their post-baby bodies.
And yet, I've still found myself plagued with body image issues.
Recently, though, I've started to feel a little better. This past past September, I ventured out to the Odiyana Center (a Buddhist meditation center near me) and started taking weekly meditation classes. Even though I started to feel a fairly immediate sense of inner peace, I still felt really badly about my body. I would worry about what other people thought of my body, about how it looked in whatever I was wearing and I would wish for baggier clothes so I could hide it better. (True confession -- I've even worried about what my fellow meditation practitioners think about my body while I'm at class.)
And then I started to listen to meditations about our attachment to our bodies and as silly as it might sound, I had an epiphany:
I am not my body.
That might seem like a simple statement, but this true realization has had a positive impact on me. To remember that I am not my body, that my value does not lie with how my body looks, makes me feel just a little bit better.
I suppose the natural follow-up question is, "Well, then, what are we?" I think we are our minds, our thoughts, our words and our actions. By reminding myself that it's important to me to show compassion to everyone, to be kind to those who cross my path and to help other people be happy, I can find some distance from caring so much about how I look.
Cause really, this is true, isn't it? When we die we'll be remembered for how we treated other people, not how we looked. I'm not saying being healthy isn't important, in fact I believe it's very important to be healthy. But by being able to remove our attachment to our bodies, we can find relief from constantly hating ourselves.
Am I saying I do this perfectly? Definitely not. But each time I start to feel badly about myself, I say in my head, Michelle, you are not your body. You are a compassionate, kind-hearted person and that is the most important thing. And for a little bit, I feel better. Try it out -- you might too.