Appreciating the body isn’t automatic. From our earliest years, we learn that how we’re treated often depends on how we look. In other words, our culture makes us anxious about our appearance. Since most of us don’t look like George Clooney or Charlize Theron, we tend to criticize our bodies rather than praise them.
Consider well-meaning parents who told us how to groom and dress (Comb your hair! Don’t wear that!). Remember the power of peer pressure in adolescence, how good-looking kids found popularity easier. Notice all the attractive faces on TV and the advertisements that use sexually appealing models to sell everything from hamburgers to fertilizer. This over-emphasis of appearance discourages us from appreciating our bodies. We know every inch of our organism’s terrain and feel too aware of its imperfections.
Lack of appreciation takes a toll. The body is sensitive; when the mind disapproves of it, vigor wanes. On the other hand, a body that’s loved reciprocates like any loved being: with eagerness and generosity. Below are some ideas for building up body-appreciation.
- The next time you find yourself criticizing your body, bring to mind two things it does well for every way it disappoints. For instance if you look in a mirror and see wrinkles you don’t like, appreciate the way your eyes detect images and your brain makes sense of them. Those are marvelous capacities, right? Don’t they count more than forehead furrows?.
- Or when you wish you weren’t aging so fast, remember all you body did to get you to this point. Remember its youthful lust and energies, its wild exuberance in earlier years. Now you are at a different stage of life, but you lived through all the earlier, more vigorous times in this same body. Shouldn’t you offer it a note of thanks?
- Remember that your body reflects your personal and family heritage. It is what others identify as your self. Your body is your avatar in this roiling world. Appreciate your body for its pivotal role in your life, for helping you become the unique and unprecedented person that you are.
- If you suffer chronic pain, remember that your body uses pain to alert you of problems. True, discomfort often outlives its usefulness, but the body is doing its best to respond as needed. Appreciate its effort to communicate. Remember that your body, like your mind, is hurting. Hold it in love, like an ailing friend.
- If you are dealing with serious illness and fear what the future might bring, try appreciating the fact that—in this moment—your body is keeping you alive. Your lungs still breathe; your heart still beats; everything still functions well enough for you to read this. Right here, right now, your body is providing you with life. Hospitals make proud claims about giving the gift of life, yet your body offers it every minute.
- Appreciate the little pleasures: the flavor of a good meal, the colors in a flower garden, the clarity of birdsong. Notice butterflies and honeybees sharing this world with you. Savor the embrace of a loved one. Enjoy the luxury of a nap. Every one of these pleasures is a gift from your body.
- Honoring the body for all it does helps limit our criticisms and concerns. We see the body more clearly; we don’t simply focus on our complaints. Personally, when I regard my human organism with love and gratitude, when I treat it with compassion, I feel warmer and happier inside. That, too, is a gift from my body.