Our bodies can give us immense pleasure and joy, and they take us places every day. As a sex coach and relationship therapist, one of my favorite things to explore with clients in session is their relationships with their own bodies.
Something I've learned along the way is it can be difficult to fully accept and love our bodies. We can be the most neglectful, spiteful and judgmental critics of our own bodies.
Most of us learn how to feel about our bodies through our interactions with others and the media. I remember when I was just hitting puberty at 15, and my boyfriend’s best friend made fun of my boobs.
We were all hanging out one day when I wasn't wearing a bra, and he said, “Wow, you have really pointy boobs, and it looks like you have big nipples.”
He meant it to be offensive. Regardless of the fact I didn't think very highly of this guy to begin with, what he said still stung my fragile 15-year-old, training bra ego. It took me years to learn to be happy with the shape of my breasts and love them for their teardrop shape.
I've learned we first need to accept our own bodies before we can expect other people to love them.
This past week, I was working with a client who has a lot of body shame about his hair, particularly hair on his face. (He didn’t have much.) He felt so betrayed by his face for not growing hair that he actually stopped looking in the mirror.
As we looked into the mirror together, and talked about how he had been rejecting his face all these years, it became very clear to us he was holding himself hostage with negativity.
This client had experienced pretty severe bullying about his lack of facial hair, and even after he was physically away from the people who belittled and criticized him, he was doing the same thing to himself every day.
The self-bullying had gone on for so long, he didn’t actually know how to relate to his own body without those mean voices. As we explored the landscape of his inner world, he started to soften, and even experienced a brief moment of acceptance of himself.
Too often, we look to the outside world to make us feel better about ourselves. I hear people talk about the longing to be with others who truly see them and accept them. But, they are doing a huge amount of the rejecting themselves.
It's hard to ask others to accept us, when we have not fully accepted ourselves. Furthermore, if we do not feel love or compassion for ourselves, giving love to others will feel draining after a while, as its very creation within ourselves is being thwarted.
Now, I realize I'm writing about this like it's as easy as flipping a switch, and all of a sudden, you’ll be able to fully love your body. It is not that easy. It is a process.
The first place to start is by undressing in front of the mirror, and taking a good hard look at your whole naked body, backside and all. If it seems overwhelming, work up to it.
What do you see? What do you like? What do you hate? What is hard to look at? What is easy to look at?
When you identify the difficult areas, see if you can feel the negative messages you have sent this area all these years. Maybe it was something someone said to you about your body, like what that guy said to me, or my client’s experience with bullies. Or maybe it is something you internalized from impossible beauty standards portrayed through the media.
See if you can understand how these are not your words; they are other people’s. See if you can feel the pain this part of your body has felt all these years by taking the negativity.
Lastly, try to bring some compassion for this part of your body. Can you be friends with this part of your body?
Let’s face it: Your ass, chest, skin, hair or lack of hair are not intentionally trying to hurt you. Some people in the world might still reject your body, but if you begin to accept yourself, that's one less person who won't.
It’s a really great start.