“Your body does not need to be fixed, because your body is not a problem. Your body is a person.” ~Jamie Lee Finch
I was thirty years old when I realized that I was completely dissociated from my body.
I grew up in the height of the purity culture movement in American Evangelicalism. Purity culture was based on one primary concept: abstain from sex until marriage. But the messaging went further than this.
I sat next to my peers in youth group while the male pastor stood on stage and told us young women to always cover our bodies. For example, two-piece bathing suits were completely out of the question for summer activities. Why?
Our female bodies cause the young men to “stumble” and have impure thoughts. So out of love for the young men in our group, we must cover up and never do anything “suggestive.”
The message was clear: My body caused others to sin. My body is bad.
It would be impossible for me to accurately detail how many times and in how many different ways I received this message growing up.
I didn’t know it was happening, but over time, I learned to dissociate from my body. My body was bad, and I was trying to be good, so I must distance myself from her.
Thankfully, I listened to my body when she told me to leave this religious group and find my own way in the world. Yes, my body talks to me. More on that later.
Recently, society has seen more acceptance of bodies. We see variety in body shapes represented in the media. While that’s a great sign that we are moving in a new direction, simply saying that we love our bodies isn’t enough.
That feeling of positivity toward our body when we say that is momentary. We must take consistent action in order to make meaningful and lasting change.
Here are the ways I was able to radically change my relationship with my body and learned to see her as my greatest ally and most prized possession.
See Your Body as a Person
A concept introduced to me by Jamie Lee Finch, seeing my body as a person changed everything.
It allowed me to do one key thing: cultivate a relationship.
Once I started referring to my body as “her,” I understood how far from her I really was. I didn’t know my own intuitive “yes” and “no.” I didn’t know what I really wanted in life.
When was I safe? When was I in danger? These are questions that our bodies are designed to answer.
So I learned to listen to her. And I talked back.
A number of years ago, I noticed that I was constantly pushing people away. I really beat myself up about this, seeing myself as a cold, unloving person.
Eventually I realized that this behavior started after a traumatic body violation that I had experienced. I understood that my body was resisting vulnerability and closeness in relationships as a way to protect me from further harm.
I could see that my body had not been working against me, but for me. And I had the opportunity to say to her, “Thank you so much for trying to keep me safe, but I’m going to start trusting people again. I have learned from the experience and will trust my gut to alert me to danger.”
I realized that things I thought of as “wrong with me” were in fact genius protective and defense mechanisms that my body wisely developed in order to keep me safe in my environment.
I started talking lovingly to her, full of gratitude for all the ways she worked to keep me safe over the years. I started seeing past experiences through a different lens.
About ten years ago, I was in a relationship with a man who wanted to marry me. I was in constant turmoil inside about the relationship, plagued with doubt and uncertainty, unsure if I should stay or go.
I was so mad at myself for not having a clear “yes” or “no” about the situation. I didn’t realize this at the time, but I can see so clearly now that the anxious feeling in my gut was my body trying to tell me that this man was not my person.
In truth, my body was always working for my best interests. No one looks out for me the way my body does. She has always been my most fierce protector.
So I talk to my body and she talks to me. It’s the most important relationship I have.
Write a Thank You Letter to Your Body
There is a reason that gratitude practices have become so popular: they work.
One I started to understand just how hard my body had been working to protect me, I wanted to show my gratitude.
Writing a thank you letter can be the catalyst for a powerful mindset shift. It’s so easy to see all the things we hate about ourselves and our bodies.
Write a letter to your body. Think about all the millions of ways your body has worked to keep you safe.
How your body has alerted you when there’s danger, enabled you to speak truth by giving you gut feelings, and allowed you to experience the greatest pleasure.
We can never know all the ways that our bodies tirelessly work for us. Gratitude allowed me to further cultivate a positive relationship with my body and work in partnership with her instead of against her.
Gaze into Your Own Eyes
If you’ve done eye gazing with another person, you know how powerful and bonding it can be. This is true when you eye gaze with yourself.
I practice this by sitting on the floor in front of my closet doors that are large mirrors. I feel my body rooted into the ground before looking deeply into my own eyes.
As a woman, I often look into my left eye, which is generally considered to be the feminine side. The masculine is the right side.
This practice can bring intense emotions, so start with only a few minutes. You can grow your practice to twenty minutes or longer should you wish.
See yourself. Really see. And feel the feelings that arise.
It’s not uncommon for me to cry during this practice, reflecting on all the ways I’ve spoken negatively about my body and remembering how truly spectacular she is. She is beautiful, wise, and strong.
Eye gazing will allow you to see and experience these truths. And when you embrace those truths, your relationship to your body will change.
Try Mirror Work
Remember when you were younger and a parent told you to say one nice thing about your sibling or friend that you were fighting with? There’s something about acknowledging the good in another person that regulates emotions and stirs positive feelings. The same can be said about your body.
Mirror work is standing in front of the mirror and pointing out things you love about your body. This can be done clothed or unclothed depending on your comfort level.
The thing you love can be as small as an eyebrow or as large as your torso. As you start to focus on one thing you love and sit with the positive emotions that arise, you will start to consistently feel more positive about your body.
You’ll notice things you never saw before. Or see things as beautiful instead of ordinary.
The sexy curve of your left thigh, the strong shape of your ankles, the color of that freckle on your shoulder. You are uniquely you and that is inherently valuable.
Mirror work can be a ten-second practice or ten-minute practice. You can focus on the same part of your body every day or something different each time.
I incorporate mirror work into my morning routine when I’m brushing my teeth. As I brush, I look at myself in the mirror and pick one thing I love about my body that morning. This way, it doesn’t feel like I’ve added another self-help practice, but rather I’m taking advantage of opportunities to multitask.
When we take the time to see ourselves, what we really like about ourselves, we will learn to love what we see.
Commit One Loving Action
Similar to saying something nice about someone, doing a kind and loving action can also foster feelings of fondness and compassion.
For a week, do one focused, loving action to your body. If you can’t think of anything, ask this question: What’s something I have been wanting to incorporate into my daily self-care or hygiene routine, but haven’t done?
For me, this was moisturizing my feet. When I first did this practice, I had just moved to a new city with a much drier climate. My feet were so dry, but I wasn’t taking the time to moisturize them.
So I committed to do this once a day for a week. It wasn’t long before I started seeing my feet in a new way.
I was intentional when I sat on my bed and did this. I took my time rubbing the lotion in, observing new things about my feet I had never noticed before. Thinking about how hard my feet work and all the places they’ve stepped over my lifetime.
After doing this for a week or so, moisturizing became a natural part of my daily routine. In fact, I consistently moisturize all of my skin now, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.
Some extra tender loving care will naturally grow your love for your body and cause you to care for them better.