How we feel in and about our bodies changes as we grow older. We start by being born to embodied innocence, come through the self-discovery and awkwardness of the teenage years, the insecurities driven by media in our mid lives, at some point ending in the land of “I do not give a flying f*%£” , coming a full circle to the state of just being grateful to be alive and well (more or less). I am refusing to wait till I am on my death bed to get the the final stage and unfortunately I have left the age innocence long time ago, so the only solution I can see, is to stop caring about what my body looks like and instead treat it with the care and respect it deserves for serving me all these years despite all the crap I’ve put it through. Read on if you are with me.
Babies and mall children have very little self awareness and before socialisation starts they are fully embodied and run on instincts. They are at one with their body and actually to start with, they are at one with the body of their mother too. It’s not until around the age of nine months when babies start to realise they are autonomous being separate from their mothers and it takes few more months to fully sink in. They have absolutely no opinion on how anyone looks apart from familiarity because instinctively what is familiar is safe. They feel no shame of their bodies, their body is something that simply is the way it is and it does what it does, no need to hide or change it. Ideally, we all would stay at this stage as we grow, as people do in many remote tribes, where modern ‘civilisation’ has not had much influence yet. Interestingly, in these tribes, they have zero cases of sexual offences despite the fact that they walk around basically naked.
As we grow in self awareness and start to take in the world, we learn that we have we have to hide our bodies from each other and that some bodies are more beautiful and therefore valuable than others. We learn that in order to be loveable and socially acceptable we have to look and dress a certain way, this of course changes depending on cultural and religious practices. This pressure is there on both genders, however for women the ‘instructions’ are more confusing. If we want to be lovable we should be sexy and show off our curves and skin, however if we want to be taken seriously or to stay safe we must cover up. This constant judgement is hidden in our every day language, it is on our TV sets, our social media, in newspapers and magazines, every where we look, we are presented with the perfect woman that we should strive to be and yet even she is constantly watched and criticised, so how do we ever stand a chance of being good enough? We don’t, but we try, we diet and exercise and use make up tricks, we have cosmetic treatments, alterations and surgery, we dye our hair and paint our nails, we follow the latest fashion, we do everything we can to be lovable. Yet it is never enough. Our kids notice. Our kids follow.
When they reach teenage years, the path to autonomy is narrow and challenging, many get lost in the forests of shame and embarrassment, in the swamp of the desire to fit in and belong, get stuck in the fields of false gods. Sadly some never emerge and few even lose their lives, most take years if not decades to find their way back onto the path and eventually to self. There are helpful guides out there, but it is not in the nature of a teenager to listen and so those of us who found a way, must go back and help other to do the same, help them to find their way to self.
For women though, of they choose that path, there is one more hurdle to overcome on their way to a healthy body image. Motherhood. Motherhood and the body of a mother used to be revered, worshipped even, not something the raising patriarchy was keen on and so they made sure it became hidden and shameful, nowadays, there is pressure on mothers to not show their body unless they look like they never had children, unless their bodies are free from scars and other forms of evidence that this body has lived. We are not welcome to flaunt and celebrate the amazing vessels that created, carried and birthed new life at tremendous cost and risk to self. Apparently our body has no value unless sexually desirable by those in power. The worst of it os that we’ve been brainwashed to believe it too, to fight for the right to be perfect without realising we already are.
There is something interesting happening for women during and after menopause when it comes to self image. Perhaps as they can no longer reproduce and the society treats them as disposable, invisible and past their prime, they stop caring about what others think of them. They start looking inward and find their own power, strength and beauty in who they truly are once they let go of the expectations placed on them by others. They realise that external beauty has no bearing on their value as humans and they no longer need to feel beautiful in order to feel lovable. They understand that beauty is irrelevant (unless you monetise it) and contributes very little to life experience unlike health, confidence, kindness, love and joy.
Perhaps we can learn from them now. Perhaps we can listen to their wise words, let them hold our hand and guide us back onto our paths to ourselves. Perhaps we don’t have to wait years and years before we reach the state of empowerment, nor struggle with shame and guilt during the time of our lives that should be filled with joy and love.
If you are a mother, your body has gone through enormous transformation (perhaps even multiple times) to accommodate your growing child, only to go through an risky agonising labour followed by more transforming into another phase of continuous nourishment of others while severely sleep deprived. It is hard, but your body keeps going. If you are reading this, then you are still alive and kicking, your body has brought you here despite what you’ve put it through. I’d say a ‘thank you’ is in order. And then a little break. It’s well deserved.
Although beauty is in the eye of the beholder, that eye has been corrupted by biases delivered by the society we live in. It takes quite the creative mind to see beauty where others don’t, but you can train yourself to have an eye of the artist. Everything has the potential to be beautiful, all it takes is for us to decide to see it so. Start with something simple like a plain pebble. Keep looking at it as long as it takes until you see it as beautiful. Then pick your favourite aspect of your body, perhaps your eyes, hands or lips, and really focus on every detail that makes them beautiful and then do this with every part of your body. Then look at you as a whole and choose to see yourself as beautiful. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and no one can take away yours, so decide that you look beautiful just as you are right now. What others think is none of your business and what you think is none of theirs. You don’t need to tell anyone, you just need to know that you are beautiful.