For most of my life, I have loved my body. I loved it’s strong athleticism; it’s grace and curves. I loved being tall, wearing heels, and towering over men. I loved that I grew up swimming and generally felt more comfortable in my skin than in my clothes.
But lately I’ve been feeling a way about having a chronic illness, and living in a body that seems to change every day. I used to trust my body, but after multiple Lupus flares, my body doesn’t move the same way.
I also feel a way about not being able to maintain the level of physical fitness that I used to… And gaining weight.
Most of the time it’s just a nagging background thought, but body shame creeps in in unexpected moments with consequences of varying severity.
Like when I was recently on retreat and invited to participate in a cleansing ritual by bathing in the river. I was fully dressed and, my first instinct was to start taking off my clothes. Then decided not to because I was worried about how others would respond to my sheer and skimpy underwear.
So I went into the river fully dressed — and my phone in my pocket.
My fellow retreat goers tried to warn me about my phone, but there was so much noise and energy in the moment, I didn’t hear what they were saying.
My phone was ruined.
Sticking it in rice and sitting it in front of a fan were not enough to recover my little Pixel after having been submerged in river water.
One of my retreat buddies joked that my modesty had cost me my phone.
I was taken aback… “Modesty?”
I chuckled knowing that couldn’t be it. I had never been particularly modest. In fact, the only time I had ever felt compelled to cover myself was when I felt shame.
It wasn’t modesty that had cost me, it was shame.
Shame about rolls and jiggles in places they haven’t been before. About the loss of strength, mobility, and flexibility. Shame and fear of being rejected for exposing my nipples, soft belly, and thick thighs.
The mental calculus of body shame was so quick, that I didn’t even recognize it for what it was in the moment. It took me a couple weeks to process it and come to peace with the fact that despite teaching self love, I am not exempt from toxic body image standards.
But I’m not about that life.
Time to Detox
Just like any other toxic relationship, the shame always comes with both obvious and hidden costs. For me, there was the obvious (and expensive) cost of having to replace an unlocked smartphone for a non-standard carrier during a pandemic induced chip shortage.
There was also the hidden cost of not showing up fully myself in that moment. Instead, I unconsciously drank the body shame poison and hid from the joyous experience of being unencumbered by clothing during the renewal ceremony.
I’m sure there have been other moments in the past, and there will be others in the future. But I have no commitment to that shame, and every commitment to unconditional self love. I am committed to deeper awareness of those moments, and choosing to reject any form of body shame and toxic body image conditioning.
I commit to truly learning to love and trust this body that has carried me for through four decades on this planet.
I’m also prepared to remind myself over and over because the tacit societal agreement of body shame is like an inescapable drug forced upon us by the beauty and fitness industries. A nagging little ache constantly saying we are not good enough as we are.
There’s enough violence and oppression in this world that we don’t need to inflict it on ourselves. Let’s stop drinking the poison of body shame.
Self Love Journal Prompt
When are you aware of the effect of unrealistic and toxic body standards in your daily life? When has body shame kept you from experiencing the full joy of the moment? Create a new agreement with yourself that you will reject body shame and choose joy instead. Write your agreement as an affirmation in the present tense.
Here are a few examples:
- I am committed to loving and trusting my body
- I choose joy and reject toxic body shame
- My body is a magical wonderland
- (Channel Beyonce) I woke up like this!