Sometimes the myths and stories we tell ourselves about our bodies cling to us for dear life. They pop up again even after we’ve tried to let them go, like a bad prom dress we keep finding at the bottom of the closet. Didn’t I get rid of that years ago?
There are three steps to deal with this: elucidation, education, and eradication. Elucidation means shining the light on them. Make a master list of all the myths you hold about your body… bellies aren’t sexy, fat women aren’t lovable, if I eat bad food then I’m a bad person, all fat people wish they were thinner, blah, blah, blah. When you think of another one, add it on to the list, and keep adding, even the absurd ones: fat people are jolly. Yup, take every ugly stereotype, every hurtful insult, every unsaid thought about your body, other people’s bodies, all bodies; bring them up from the dredges of your mind and lay them pen to paper. This process can be painful, but think of it as an exorcism. The unknown, the unconscious is often more powerful in our lives than the conscious. Bringing the unconscious assumptions to the surface and seeing the whites of their eyes, makes them less scary, more known, more familiar. They start to lose their power over us.
Then disprove each one of them, through your own experience and education. One of my myths was that big butts weren’t sexy. I had always secretly longed to have one of those butts that looks just like a tiny bulge at the top of the legs, practically invisible. Over many years I’ve collected experiences that have helped me disprove that myth. In the movie “Beauty Shop”, there’s a scene in which Queen Latifah asks her daughter if her jeans make her butt look big. Her daughter says, “Yes.” Queen Latifah looks over her shoulder at her butt in the mirror and says, “Mmm. Perfect!” In Brazil I’ve heard that women value having a big butt (wanting a different body than you have raises its own problems—more about that later), and they believe big butts are inherently sexy! Finally just a few months ago while buying dental floss at the Walgreen’s I saw a display full of an item called the “Booty Pop.” Yeah, seriously. It’s a pad you put under your jeans to make your butt look bigger. If it wasn’t dead in my mind already, that myth is cremated and blown to the four winds now. Just because I don’t see them on fashion runways doesn’t mean big butts aren’t sexy.
Some myths are more challenging to disprove, because we don’t trust ourselves. Even though we know (or are) fat people who exercise and eat well, we still might hold onto the idea that fat equals unhealthy. Nutrition researcher Linda Bacon’s book, Health at Every Size: the Surprising Truth About Your Weight, helped disabuse me of my beliefs that obesity causes poor health. I know, we’ve all drunk the kool aid, it’s hard to even entertain the possibility that fat doesn’t mean sick. I’ll let her speak for herself:
“That ‘obesity kills’ has been the backbone of the federal public health campaign. Yet that is not supported by evidence examined by federal employees. Their research found that ‘even severe obesity failed to show up as a statistically significant mortality risk’ and suggested that overweight may actually be protective.” (p 125)
The point is to look at our own beliefs and be willing to challenge them, to read things that upset the ideas we cling to, and start to see a different way to look at the world and our bodies. “Change the way you see, not the way you look,” reads one of my favorite bumper stickers.
Go through each one of your myths and systematically disprove them to your own satisfaction. Some may take longer than others. Be patient.
Take a good look at your list, however long it is. If your list is anything like mine, there’s a lot of negativity there for the body to overcome. Poor body! It’s not just carrying baggage, it’s carrying a truckload of crap. Maybe mountains. No wonder it gets so tired out.
The great secret to all of this is: your body never believed any of this crap for a minute. Think about it. Your mind tells itself stories about what your body means in the world, about what makes it attractive or painful, sexy or gross. Your mind believes these stories and imposes them on the body; my hips are bad, my breasts are too small, my feet are yucky. Your body doesn’t care about all that. Your body knows its value. Your body is happy to wake up in the morning, to be alive to live another day, to feel the sunshine on your skin and the smell of warm grass. Your body doesn’t believe anything anyone else says about it or anyone else’s judgment. Your body doesn’t even believe your own opinion about it. Your body knows it’s good. Trust it.
The final step in letting go of these old beliefs is eradication. Create a ritual in which you symbolically (or literally) throw these beliefs away.
1. Find a rock along the beach, and write some of the myths you want to let go of on it. Throw it (not near surfers, please!) as far into the water as you can. When these beliefs pop up again, remind yourself that you’ve already thrown them away.
2. Create a (safe) bonfire, write the myths on a piece of paper (obviously not the one you’re still adding to), and burn them. Watch the smoke curl up toward the sky, and when you catch yourself believing one of them, remind yourself that they are every bit as insubstantial as the smoke they turned into.
3. Compost your list of myths, tear it up, mix it with chicken manure, feed it to your plants. Chop it and mix it up with water in the blender, and pour it down the drain. Use it as bedding for your rabbit or bird.
Be creative. The more meaningful you make the discarding of your myths, the more you’ll remember that you’ve let go of them for good.