Walking down the street, I used to have two different reactions to women’s bodies. The first was disgust tempered with pity… Ew, I would never want to look like that, poor thing. The second was jealousy… OMG how does she do it? I wish I looked like that! Ugh, so unfair!
I was caught between aversion and attraction… rejecting what I didn’t want and resenting what others had that I wanted. You can imagine that by grouping every woman into the category of “I’m sorry for you,” or “I hate you,” you’re not going to make many friends. Casting oneself as the Great Uber Judge of All Bodies is a lonely role to play.
Weirdly, I did not wear my Uber Judge hat when with my own friends… they were wonderful… I loved them… their looks were not the point. I loved Susan’s eyes, and Tab’s hair looked adorable in braids, and Deidre’s light-up dimples could eradicate my worst moods. But the minute I strode out into a group of strangers, I’d pull my safe, lofty, body-judge hat over my ears and eyes and let the judgments fall where they may. Of course, I assumed that everyone else wore their Uber Judge hat as well, throwing their own judgments my way, thereby making every trip to the store a running gauntlet of self-consciousness, resentment, and pity.
Fortunately, at some point I realized that my internal ranking system was a little, shall we say, superficial. All my body judgments served no purpose but to make me exhausted and crazy. If I could appreciate the sparkle in Susan’s eyes and not worry about her dress size, couldn’t I do the same thing with the woman walking down the street toward me? Could I enjoy someone wearing a lovely dress without wishing I was her, and hating being me?
I didn’t know it at the time, but there’s a Buddhist concept that neatly encapsulates the idea of being joyful for someone else’s success. It’s called mudita, or sympathetic joy.
Could I look for beauty everywhere, and be happy for its existence? Imagine the freedom of walking down the street, and instead of feeling frustrated and hateful, feeling light, open, and joyful! Instead of every person increasing the desire to cower in the shadows, every person you see could increase your happiness.
There are three basic steps for this:
1. See something good in each person. (This might take some practice.)
2. Be glad for them. (Think of them as someone you genuinely want to be happy.)
3. At the same time, appreciate what is good about me. (Not seeing myself as better or worse than anyone else, but recognizing my own uniqueness.)
You can practice this at home with a piece of paper and a list of people in your life you want to feel sympathetic joy towards. Go through the first two steps above for each person, and check in periodically with the third step, remembering to see what is good about you. If you still find yourself feeling envious of someone on your list, ask yourself, “What is it about their life that I want for myself? How can I invite that quality or experience into my life?” If you still find yourself feeling pity for someone on the list, ask yourself, “What is it about their life that I avoid or fear? Can I soften around that fear, and acknowledge that I have the resourcefulness and resilience to meet whatever life offers me?” Invite a genuine feeling of well-wishing for each of these people in your heart, seeing their goodness, and feeling joy for them. You may find this practice like taking a bath in love: wonderfully refreshing and transformative.
When I let go of being the Great Uber Judge of All Bodies I finally saw all the beauty I’d been missing… in myself and others.
Love Your Body Blog: Part 57