'Practices for Loving Your Body' / Ivana Brehas
(“Loving” as verb, as action, not simply as feeling.)
It’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and I’ve been wanting to write something about it. As an eating disorder survivor, I could share a whole emotional piece on my struggles and experiences, but I thought this year I’d do something more uplifting and share the techniques I use to foster love for my body. They’re all small habits, easily developed and integrated into one’s daily routine. They help me. Maybe they’ll help you.
The power of moisturizing should not be underestimated. To quote Lizzo’s “Water Me”:
"I don’t get dehydrated / I moisturize daily / I am my inspiration"
I’m not just talking about face cream here – I’m saying, moisturize your whole body. If you are able, follow Lizzo’s instructions and moisturize your body every day. Our skin is a huge organ and it takes a long time to get it all hydrated. The practice of moisturizing can become almost meditative, taking patience and focus and forcing you to create a space of a few minutes in your day, every day, dedicated to your corporeal form. It’s a slow process, rubbing in moisturizer, massaging it and sending it physical love. This allows you to have a moment of focus on each part of your body, like in Savasana yoga: my fingers, my hands, my wrists, my arms, my shoulders, my back, my stomach. In my experience, moisturizing never fails to make me appreciate the wholly unique body I am inhabiting. My hands trace every curve and lump, every roll and plateau, with such care that I can’t bring myself to find fault with any part of the landscape. How could I, when I smell so good and feel so soft?
Body modifications like tattoos and piercings aren’t for everyone. But they can be a great tool for reframing your perception of your body and its purpose. Getting tattoos can make you start viewing your body as a canvas, as space to be filled with self-expression. It’s harder to criticize your back rolls when they’ve got roses on them, harder to frown about the size of your thighs when they’re covered in your favourite poetry. Have fun with your body! Get wild haircuts and piercings and tatts. Play around with makeup. Your body is the one home you’ll never move out of, so throw a party now and then. (Folks struggling with orthorexia: this one’s for you. Taking these harmless “risks” with your appearance can help combat your-body-is-a-temple mind-sets. People painted temple walls).
Praying before a meal is a common practice in many religions and cultures. It does not involve any expectation of response, but is simply an expression of gratitude that doesn’t demand an answer. As such, it’s a practice that can be adopted by everyone, even atheists, as long as it is approached with an open heart. In truth, we all believe in a higher power. For some of us, it’s a deity or deities, while for others, it’s Mother Nature – a power none of us can deny. Regardless of belief, if you are provided with food and nourishment on a regular basis, you owe a debt of gratitude to forces out there that are much larger than you. Eating disorders can encourage us to resent and regret the food we eat. The practice of praying before meals can quell these anxieties. By forcing ourselves to stop, close our eyes, and spend a moment focusing solely on expressing gratitude for the food we have received (from whichever higher power we believe in), we are reminded that nutrition, and our access to it, is a blessing. This practice is about actively creating time in our day, every day, to be thankful for the meals our minds fret over – cultivating a relationship, over time, of love and appreciation for the food we are so lucky to eat.
We have little control over the images we receive in the media (that is, TV, movies, advertising etc.), but that’s not the case on social media. There, to some extent, we can strategically curate the content we receive to promote positive self-image. Instead of self destructively following accounts that are bound to spark body anxiety, actively start seeking out people and pages that post body-positive content. Instagram accounts are great for this, as it’s such a visual medium. Users like Megan Jayne Crabbe (@bodyposipanda), Allison Kimmey (@allisonkimmey), Harnaam Kaur (@harnaamkaur), and Keah Brown (@keah_maria), creator of the hashtag #DisabledAndCute, are just a few examples of people using the internet to uplift others and celebrate their bodies. The accounts don’t even have to be focused on body positivity – they can just be people who make you feel positive about your body; people who make you feel seen in a way you haven’t felt in other media. This means different accounts will work for different people – it’s all about making sure your eyes and brain are exposed to content that normalizes and celebrates bodies like your own. Michaela Coel talks about this in her W Magazine interview:
I’m pretty sure at one point in my late teens, early twenties, I was on Instagram or in the world, and I would idolize people. But they never looked like me, which meant I was constantly in a state of feeling like I have to look like somebody else. So I made the decision to follow a bunch of just dark-skinned black females on Instagram, so that when I’m on Instagram looking at the feeds of my friends, random accounts come up that reinforce my sense of pleasure of myself. I am pleased with myself, and I am enough, and that’s what Instagram can do. So all the accounts that are like “black and beautiful” or “black and bold” or “Naomi Campbell” I’m like, “Yes! I follow! I believe that!”
So that’s great. So go ahead and unfollow those “fitness” pages, honey. Find the accounts that tell you: your body is already perfect. Because it is.
This final one’s simple: don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to a friend. Take this seriously: if you start having negative thoughts about your body, imagine yourself directing them at your dearest, most beloved friend. Do they deserve that kind of abuse? Of course not! Neither do you. It’s a simple practice, yes, but adopting it can be hard, especially for eating disorder survivors. It takes time, and work. And you will slip. It’s important to forgive yourself for this, for having days where your mind is mean to your body. Don’t be hard on yourself for being hard on yourself. Stop, breathe, and give yourself a pat on a back for surviving. That is something that should be celebrated every day. -- Our bodies are complex machines capable of doing incredible things. What’s important is to them with kindness. Forgive them. Accept them. Gradually, start loving them. They’re the vessels that have carried us through our lives this far, and there is beauty in all of them. I hope these practices help you see yours.