How one woman found yoga, eased her inner hunger, and started loving herself. Follow Kimber as she shares her journey to loving her body, the joys and sorrows of yoga teaching, and venturing into the wilderness of writing and publishing.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Love Your Body Blog Part 38: The Myth of the Unlovable Body

Do you believe that some bodies aren’t worthy of love? You know those headless photographs that the media uses to illustrate stories about the obesity scare? Maybe you have a body like that, or fear having a body like that. Maybe you wonder, if I love my body the way it is, doesn’t that mean I’m settling for bad health, unattractiveness, and low standards? If I love my body the way it is, I’ll never have the body I want.

Loving my body the way it is right now doesn’t mean it won’t change. My body has changed tremendously over the years… gotten stronger and more flexible from my yoga practice, more fluid and expressive through dancing. And I’ve gotten much better about reading its signals and figuring out what it needs to be happy. Also it’s gotten older. And although I don’t weigh myself (just yesterday at the doctor’s office as the nurse had me step on the scale, I told her “I don’t want to look and I don’t want to know”), I know my weight vacillates based on the season and whether I’ve been playing outside much.

Loving your body doesn’t mean giving up on yourself. It means giving up the war on yourself. You learn to listen to your body, and respond to its needs for food and exercise appropriately. Calling a truce with your body means slowly unraveling negative habits around food, such as overeating, undereating, eating unmindfully, and poor nourishment. Loving your body means discovering the types of exercise your body loves, and offering it those activities in doses it enjoys without overdoing. For some of us changing our relationship to our body in this way will mean we lose weight, while for others it might mean we gain weight. Either way, we can enjoy the discovery process of finding out what our body needs to feel healthy and happy, learning what food and exercise and what quantity of both help it thrive.

Loving my body the way it is has helped me want the body I love. Just like I wouldn’t feed my beloved dog garbage and poison, or let my eleven year old eat only Cheetos and Sour Patch Kids (much as he’s sure they comprise two of the four basic food groups along with pizza and ice cream), I show my body I love it by offering it delicious food and fun exercise. What’s amazing is that when you treat something carefully and give it your affectionate attention, you start to care about it, and see that it deserves your love. The more you love it, the more you want to love it, the more lovable it is.

As I’ve treated my body with love, my body has become beautiful to me. As a result I feel more beautiful and comfortable in my body, and other people see and respond to that confidence. Over the weekend I met some people at a party who looking at me couldn’t believe that I hadn’t always loved my body. As if I’d make it up! The truth is, not only did I not love my body, but I literally hated it to the extent of wishing I was dead. Ouch. It’s painful to say that now, but it shows the extreme one can start from and still make it all the way over to the other side of acceptance and love.

If I’m “obese”, is it okay for me to love my body too? (I won’t argue here with the term obese, but just know I think the whole BMI thing is a terrible plane crash no one ever found the black box for.) One thing we know, but have forgotten in the midst of our culture’s thinness obsession, is that weight is actually not a reliable indicator of health. A thin person can be terribly malnourished with arteries that would make a veteran cardiologist wince. A fat person can have beautifully clear arteries, excellent blood pressure, and healthy exercise and eating patterns. You don’t know by looking at someone’s appearance whether or not they are healthy. You have to look beyond the surface. Where have I heard that before?

The upshot is people can be healthy and be overweight. Take the 400 lb sumo wrestler who recently completed the LA marathon. I’m sorry, but for all my yoga practice and organic vegetables, that guy is in better shape than I am. He trains hard as a sumo wrestler. His exercise routine would kill me.

But Kimber, you say, what about people who are fat AND unhealthy? And I say, why focus on fat at all? Unhealthy bodies need love too, be they fat or thin. Do we tell cancer patients, “Your body is bad, unhealthy, and it’s your fault. You should punish your bad body for being sick.”? Nope. We tell them to treat their body with kindness and encourage them to take care of their body in every way possible to restore its health and vitality. Even dying and irreversibly broken bodies need love. But you don’t need me to tell you this. You know this already.

All bodies are worthy of love. No one’s body is unlovable or undeserving. No matter how fat, no matter how unhealthy. No matter how unattractive you might feel. Everyone’s body can be treated like the best friend it is. Even yours. Even mine.