This blog is intended for women. I am not excluding men, gender fluid or non-gendered identifying people from the topic if it resonates with your experience. No matter what, we all experience body shame and my focus on women is purely due to feeling called to be specific in this blog. Apologies in advance for any unconscious generalizations that could show up in these words. I do make conscious general commentary regarding women, based upon history.
The truth is, I don’t know one women who does not feel shame for her body on some level from severe to mild. I don’t know one woman who does not criticize her fat this or that, her wrinkled this or that, the sagging neck or jaw, the ass that isn’t there, the boobs that are no longer perky, the aging body, the fat body, the misshaped body, on and on…
Me included and I have worked hard to heal. My intention is to weave my personal commentary into this collective epidemic of body shame.
Shame rises up for the body for being too much, not enough, aging, and flawed for every woman I know because women have long been expected to be beautiful, sexual objects for a very long time. If women are not expected to show their beauty or flaunt sexuality than they are expected to hide it. This blog is not intended to be a history lesson. Just a quick summary of what we are all aware of…
The mind grabs hold of shame and turns it into different stories.
Some minds put off happiness, relationships, sex, or self love until the weight is lost, the health is fixed, the cleanse is complete, and until the body looks good according to the expectations we have been conditioned to believe are sexy, pretty, appropriate, and healthy.
This is not to say that there isn’t any truth in health and beauty expectations stemming from some root of reality. Perhaps some eyes like sinewy lines. Perhaps some excess fat creates health issues sometimes. But not for every pair of eyes or every body. Some bodies are perfectly healthy in a larger size than the expectation. Some shapes appear sexier when not conforming to the hour glass or twiggy versions. The variety is lost on us when expectations turn into rigid belief systems that constantly are conditioned generation after generation.
Another aspect is that women are conditioned to find the bulk of our self worth in what a man thinks of our value as a sexual and beautiful woman. This may not be the case as much in the LGBTQIA community though I imagine it runs through every community and may be less prominent in communities where people have been forced to break free from conditioned ideas of what is right and good, in order to survive. Being outcasted and treated unjustly, as in the LGBTQIA community, usually leads the soul to more depth, compassion, and openness in all ways.
I also want to mention that many men feel body shame too but their conditioned standards are much more forgiving on the whole from a collective perspective. A man can look distinguished with wrinkles and cute with a belly. Most men don’t wear make up to accentuate their face. Their handsomeness and sexual attractiveness has more leeway to be connected to their actions, mind, and presence, especially as they age. Just to give a picture here, imagine society with men dressed as women and women dressed and as men. You can get the point when you see this in your mind.
I like to think of famous awards ceremonies where the women are stuffed into dresses like beautifully wrapped Christmas presents hugging their curves up on stilts for heels sucking in their tummies while the men walk around in the same natural fitting tuxedo outfit and comfortable shoes like a bunch of penguins. I don’t mean to say anything negative about anyone walking down a red carpet. My commentary is purely on the social expectations of beauty and worth.
This isn’t to say men and women don’t have differences either. We do and it’s great. Differences are wonderful and needed. It’s ok to honor differences and not try to make every human being the exact same prototype. Variety is important and spices up life. I am only calling out where the balance has been lost between men and women. Where women are so conditioned to be pretty sexy objects that look like the female magazine model and men are given the grace to stray from the male magazine model and be handsome for a variety of physical expressions and his inner qualities too.
We are so conditioned that we have become the judge of ourselves, holding ourselves to impossible and rigid body expectations. Even if you don’t care about how you appear to others, you may still care how you appear to yourself without understanding that your preferences are not your own. You may be heavily conditioned by your mother, father, and friends as well by society, since birth and through the bloodline. The conditioning is everywhere and has been going on for thousands of years even if the specifics have changed a little through the generations.
Another way the mind can grab onto shame is to avoid the body. Many of us live dissociated from the body. We can’t feel the negative effects of shame hurting the body. We do not sense the toxic effects of putting too much or the wrong food and drink into the body or the negative effects of not getting the right nourishment and movement for the body. Avoidance can look like wearing only sweats and baggy clothes when really you would love to dress differently deep down. Sexual avoidance is very real and this can be conscious or unconscious. You can think you want sexual intimacy but unconsciously push it away at the same time.
Sexual expression is a fundamental human need and pleasure that has been exploited completely by religion and the media in a highly contrasted fashion. Either you should feel ashamed of your sexual body or you should look like Marylin Monroe and be a sexual kitten. The former is more about shaming your desires and the latter is more about shaming what you look like. The former is more about putting the moral soul above the amoral body and the latter is more about needing to fit into one very strict prototype of a body that is impossible for most people. Whether it be the Marylin body, the yoga body, the model body, the strict prototype is that we must be thin and either have curves or no fat.
I want to share that I know body shame more than any other shame. I have been obese in my lifetime and grew up the chubby kid who was always teased. I put on a lot of extra weight due to coping with childhood trauma. I healed through the years and let the excess weight go and I am still many sizes above the expected beauty norm in our society. My body has been the place where psychological pain has expressed the most. Food addiction became my escape hatch and this is another method to avoid shame. Addiction is the number one way for the mind to escape shame.
You can be addicted to food and put on too much weight than what is balanced for your body or be addicted to dieting/working out and have just as much shame being a size four. Eating disorders are rampant in our culture as a result. Truth is, every body has a natural size and shape it wants to be from teeny to huge. We don’t need to glorify thin and shame fat. We don’t need to heal by glorying fat and shaming thin. Healing is allowing the variety to return and self-sovereignty over one’s body to be restored.
I am not afraid to share my story anymore but I used to be. I have worked hard on myself to heal body shame and I have approached healing from two angles, internal and external. From the internal angle I have found self love for exactly how my body looks in the present, flaws, fat, sags, wrinkles, and all. I also have an autoimmune disease that presents in very ugly skin eruptions. I found much acceptance and love for the way this disease attacks my body.
From the external angle, I have healed shame by losing weight, getting in shape, and being committed to my yoga practice. I was carrying more weight than what was right for my body due to food addiction, which is why losing weight was healing for me though losing weight may not be needed for every body to heal. Getting in shape brings me a lot of joy which is healing. My yoga practice connects me to my body each day and this is the crux of body healing for me. I do think every body benefits from mind body connection as it is our birthright to be whole and connected creatures.
I have made friends with shame along the way. I am not free of it but shame is greatly reduced and when I do feel it, I bring love and radical acceptance to the shame knowing that if I do so it will leave my body. Shame is a passing chemical storm. It is not who you are. And you can feel just as much shame being the body society promotes all the way to being the body society rejects. Doesn’t matter. Shame is not logical and it is not rooted in reality.
Learning how to meet shame with love and release shame from the body is the key to health, balance, and self love. True beauty is making peace with all of who you are body, mind, heart, and soul. But it’s hard because we are hooked on comparing ourselves, feeling bad about our bodies, and trying to meet society’s beauty expectations again and again. What has been most conditioned is the hardest to change.
To overcome body shame and feel self love for the body requires a commitment. Kind of like a marriage commitment. The reason why I say this is because it’s too alluring to slip into body shame and believe it, again and again. It only takes a moment to slip and fall into a shame spiral that acts like quick sand once in. Healing from shame sometimes requires a fight but more than often requires skill and dedication.
One skill is to utilize love and not confuse love with like. I may not like the skin eruptions I can get with my autoimmune disease but I can love the eruptions. Using the marriage metaphor, you can learn to accept your partner’s traits that irritate you because you love them unconditionally even though you may not like certain things about them. Love your body the same way. Just like a relationship, every body has its pretty and ugly parts or parts you like and do not like. This is ok.
Love is not about liking all the time. Love often loves what is does not like. This is hard to understand or put into words because love is a felt experience and not a logical equation. Body love is felt and the feeling grows with skill and dedication. This love versus like skill applies to body size and shape too. You may not like your body size or shape but you can love your body size and shape.
Some people carry more weight than the beauty standard and enjoy how they look and some don’t. You can work on your size and shape if you want to change it but are you doing it from a place of love or as a way to avoid feeling shame? This difference is important because if changing your body is motivated by shame you will never love your body no matter what you look like.
Changing from a place of love is the healthy route. This goes for any aspect of the body’s appearance. Sometimes accepting what you don’t like about your body’s appearance, that you could change, is the healthiest and most loving route. But to even have the choice between changing and not changing your body requires self love. If you do not love your body you will feel like you do not have a choice. You will feel victim to shame or your mind will tell a story that you must lose weight (or whatever it is) to be healthy, pretty, good, or valued.
So it gets complicated…
Having an autoimmune disease has taught me a lot about accepting my body when I don’t like aspects of it. Nothing screams shame like horrifying and unsightly skin eruptions. In my most noble moments, I feel this condition is in service to my work as a therapist because I have been forced to learn how to love and release shame to the extreme.
If you live with acceptance and love for your body you will live in the present, stay connected to body, and you will be more inclined to move and feed your body in the way your specific body truly needs. You will be more likely to let an intimate partner into your life, you will be more motivated to dress in a way you enjoy, you will be less judgmental of others, and you will experience more peace.
I feel that it is the responsibility of every woman to try to love and accept her body more so that we can change the beauty expectations and society’s conditioning over time. It’s not just for yourself you are healing for, it is for every women and every child. It is to bring more equality to women in this world. It is to bring more equality to everyone in this world.
Women can look refined with wrinkles too. Our bellies can be cute. We can be large or thin, flat or big chested, have a butt or no butt, wear make up or not, on and on, and we can be valued by society as healthy and beautiful if we make it a responsibility to own our self worth and body love within, first.
One thing I have learned on my path of healing is that even though it’s not my fault for what happened to me or how I got conditioned, it is still up to me to heal. This is the harsh truth of life for us as humans. Even if you have been truly victimized by another, by society, or in the world, you are the only one who can heal yourself. When you heal yourself, you heal everyone.
I want to share what I did to release shame and love my body because maybe it will help you too.
- I made the commitment to myself. I did this by creating a ritual on the new moon, calling in the directions and to the transpersonal forces in my own way, I asked for help and said my vows out loud. This was my marriage ceremony to my body.
- I began doing yoga naked in front of a full length mirror. This was very hard! I had so much shame in the beginning but I kept doing it anyway and asking the transpersonal to help me see my shape and size with loving eyes. Wouldn’t you know it, it worked. I began to see myself with authentic loving eyes and to have acceptance around parts I did not like. I still do naked yoga because it has become very enjoyable connecting to my body this way. Our society tends to over-sexualize the naked body but let us break that mold. The naked body is our innocence and creature self in raw form. You can try a practice of looking into a full length mirror naked once a day for a few minutes. I recommend asking spirit to help you see with loving eyes. Stick with it. This took me a few months before my perception shifted and shame lifted.
- I began mindful eating no matter what that looks like, meaning I can mindfully eat quickly with robust vigor as much as I might eat mindfully slow and methodical but the point is to be aware I am eating and enjoy the food. Thank the food. Thank my robust appetite. Thank my belly for digesting my food which is really number four.
- Giving gratitude to the body for it’s functioning. Thank you body for digesting my food, for my walking legs, my eyes that see…you get the idea. Take some time to think about all your body is doing for you and give it thanks. Give thanks for your body allowing you to be here alive on this planet.
- Radical acceptance. This one simple skill is hard to achieve and all you need to meet shame with love. I learned how to move through the shame by giving it space to express itself without fear. Learn to not fear shame. When shame rises up know that it is nothing more than a chemical storm coursing through your body. It is not who you are. When it rises up, notice shame as a sensation in the body and radically accept its existence just like you might accept a storm passing through your town. Shame will pass. Shame will leave the body when it is given non-resistance.
- Find the movement you love. I found yoga. I love doing ashtanga yoga. When I do it, I feel like myself. I feel open, free, peaceful. It’s not fun per se, but it makes me feel whole and balanced. I also found fun body movement in walking and other random activities such as swimming and being on a boat feeling the water move my body ever so slightly. It’s not just movement, it’s how your body feels. I love the way my body feels when the sun shines on bare skin, when I step into a hot shower, when I slide into clean sheets. Find all the little body joys. Every day.
- Stop looking at triggers like fashion mags or anything that seduces you into the comparing mind. I refused to pic up fashion magazines in the beginning stages of my healing journey because they made me feel not good enough. Now I can flip through them without being triggered but it took time. Know your limits. Honor your limits. Reduce triggers as much as you can until love starts to take over and shame is released enough. You will get stronger, I promise. It isn’t weak to know and honor your limits. It is smart and healthy.
- Be consistent with your practices. This is the hardest lesson of all but absolutely necessary. I have this skill down with ease now but it took a few years of pushing myself to do what I don’t feel like doing over and over. You can not listen to your feelings and do the thing anyway. Get on the mat. Go for a walk. Say the gratitudes. Eat mindfully. Look into the mirror naked. Do the things.
- Always call the transpersonal for help. Every morning I say my invocation and ask for spirit to take my body shame and bring me body healing. The transpersonal is real. You can surrender to your higher power. This is not weakness. We are only human. We are not superheroes and this is ok. Our wills are stronger when they are knitted to the whole, to the transpersonal larger forces however you relate to them, religious, spiritual, or nature.
- Get into therapy! Of course I say this as therapist, I believe in it. If therapy isn’t your thing than have therapeutic dialogue through diary writing, talking with friends, seeing energy healers to get support, there are many ways. I keep a diary, talk to my spirit guides, and have my support system. Body shame is a big deal and usually very chronic and life long in women. Be patient with yourself. The healing takes time but results are real.
May you find your way to release shame and love your body. I share my experience because maybe I can be of help or inspiration. We are all in this together and the more each one of us heals the more society will reflect balance, love, and true sovereign individualized health. Beauty’s natural variety will return and we will all feel more free, more peaceful and more content.