Body Positivity – Beyond the visual aspect
Body positivity has come into the public awareness as something to aspire to. We all have bodies in various forms which serve us well and, therefore, deserve a little respect and admiration. Often self-acceptance of our physical forms focuses on how our bodies look. For example, connecting with our unique beauty regardless of how our appearance might match, or not match, societal standards.
As someone who works with the body, I would also like to bring attention to the idea of accepting how our bodies feel and work. Day after day, I help people “work on” themselves. Since many of my clients have ongoing health concerns, like chronic pain or anxiety and depression, I spend a lot of time focused on what is wrong in the body and how to change it. Of course, I also have my own aches and pains that I likewise try to improve.
Instead of always having a “fix it” mindset, I sometimes try to step back and appreciate what I’ve got. This body positivity exercise helps me mentally and emotionally. Taking it one step further, I like to mentally map my body and thank it (me) for all its (my) work. Paying special attention to areas about which I might sometimes think negatively.
When we have chronic pain or other health concerns, it can feel like our bodies have betrayed us. I find this personally helpful for making amends. I’ll walk you through what this looks like for me.
I tend to start at the feet. I have always had a frustrating relationship with my feet. Born a childhood toe-walker, I have teetered from my very first steps on the balls of my feet. I went through painful tests and lots of physical therapy starting around kindergarten to “fix the problem.” Now I can walk flat, but I still pop up on my toes when I’m tired. I get plantar fasciitis. The bones in my feet spread wide to support me, so finding shoes that actually fit me is nearly impossible. What’s more, my toenails are now damaged from wearing ill-fitting shoes. My legs and feet hurt often.
Although I often dial in to how my feet and legs don’t work right, I do the mental exercise from time-to-time to think about the good. Take the sentence from the last paragraph, “the bones in my feet spread wide to support me.” I find it amazing that my body actually shifted itself naturally to accommodate my structure. Another couple of positives include: walking on my toes has strengthened my calf muscles and I find it easy to run on my toes (which is supposedly better running form). They work hard and I thank them. In order to show them care in return, I give them a short self-massage almost every day.
Another major area of concern for me is my abdomen. Not only do I have IBS, but I also had to have abdominal surgery. Between the two I have had abdominal pain nearly every day of my life for 20 years. I’ve been to at least ten doctors and tried different diets and medications to improve it. Thankfully, the nutritional counseling I’m getting from Sara (our nutritionist) combined with pelvic PT and abdominal massage are finally starting to ease my symptoms.
On the other hand, my gut works hard for me. Day in and day out it processes what I put into it to draw nutrients into my body. It takes the rest and expels the waste. My muscles and bones support me in almost every movement, helping me be dynamic and active. Miraculously, I tend to have a decent immune system, which has strong ties in the gut, despite my IBS. I am so thankful for this amazing system functioning inside me. I constantly send it care by simply putting a supportive hand on my belly and taking a few deep cleansing breaths.
Now, what is an area you have that needs some body positivity? Focus in on it and notice how it feels. What sensations do you have there? You can notice what you sense internally as well as anything external you feel. Do you feel any emotions connected to this?
Once you’ve had a moment to dial in, shift your focus to try to find some positive thoughts about it. How does it serve you? Can you think of anything amazing about how it works? Perhaps you’ve noticed that it doesn’t feel as bad as thought it did when you weren’t paying attention.
Next, thank it! Maybe put your hand over the area. Or breathe into the area. Or imagine light filling it. Perhaps it’s an area you can reach to do a little self-massage or some yoga stretches. You’ve been thinking of this area as a problem area. Nevertheless, it is part of you and what makes you. Maybe, just for a short while, you can shift to a more positive relationship.
And who knows, over time, maybe a little body positivity can help you accept it into your vision of your whole self.