The HOW of Positive Body Image
The HOW of Positive Body Image
by Sarah Ball
Positive Body Image is becoming a powerful conversation. Through social media and beyond, we see movements arising and gaining traction internationally, including like the Embody Love Movement; The Body Image Movement; and the Yoga and Body Image Coalition – to name but a few. A collective cry is rising up against industries that profit from selling us stories of unworthiness, and is a signifier of incredible progress in recent decades. Women and men around the world are standing together to reclaim our right to enjoy the skin we’re in, and leave behind old allegiances to stories of body shame and criticism.
And yet, with all this discussion about positive body image, and encouragement to choose body-love over low self worth, the question remains HOW do we do this? Our collective intention to enjoy our bodies is growing at an unprecedented rate, but if we’re going to truly sustain this change towards positive body image and not fall back into the arms of the next self-improvement project sold to us from the pages of glossy magazines, (or the well-meaning but nonetheless often unhelpful dietary advice from a colleague or relative), HOW are we to do this?
We know we WANT to love the skin we’re in. That much has become clear. We’re yearning for change. But after years or decades of self-criticism and disdain, HOW can this desire for change move beyond an intellectual concept, and into a daily, living reality?
Body Love must grow from the INSIDE-OUT. Despite the magazine articles that tell us to simply think more positively about our bodies (this is still worth practising, it’s just not the whole answer!) the mind itself cannot health eh wound of body-shame, because it is the mind that holds the voice that does the shaming in the first place, by focusing on our bodies from the outside-in, and believing that the external body is the measure of the body’s worth. Standing in front of a mirror and trying to intellectually convince yourself that you’re beautiful when you truly don’t believe it, is exhausting and often fruitless. We cannot truly learn to enjoy our bodies from the outside-in, because the messages of unworthiness are too pervasive. However, learning to turn your gaze inward and experience your body from the inside-out, is the key to feeling truly vibrant, radiant, and alive. This inner-gaze, which sensitises us to the direct sensations of the body in this moment, begets a sense of deep beauty from within the body itself. It’s not an intellectual process, but an embodied one.
Years ago I was a healthy moon-faced child. Years later I became a healthy moon-faced teenager. Eventually, however, I became so fixated on these rotund cheeks of mine, and an increasingly urgent desire to alter them, that I became a deeply unhealthy anorexic young woman, who had gone to absurd lengths to starve away the cheeks so many people loved to croon over and squeeze between fingers in my childhood. As I regained my health over the years, I returned to a healthy body shape, but the internal criticism about the shape of my face never waned, and this continued to create deep suffering.
During these years I practiced yoga, however yoga at that time was just another self-improvement project.
Gradually, however, my practice of yoga shifted from being a platform for body-monitoring and efforts to fix what I thought was broken on the outside, to a space in which I could celebrate what is inherently whole, healthy and unchanging from within. Yoga became about cultivating an inner-gaze that truly allowed me to love my body as a vessel for experience, play and sensuality. Ever-so-gradually yoga showed me a pathway to experiencing my body as a refuge rather than a battleground, and an ally in this glorious, mad journey of life. I have no doubt now that beauty is present in my body in a multitude of ways.
To be frank, however, I’m not so interested in external beauty anymore – my own, or yours. I’m having far to much fun enjoying my body from the inside-out and basking in all the freedom this brings, to get on with doing what I love, living a life I love, and encouraging others to do the same.
Sarah is the founder of Body Love Yoga Australia, a yoga-based approach to healing our relationship with body image so we can thrive. She is also an Embody Love Movement facilitator, eating and body image counsellor, social activist, senior facilitator with Off The Mat, Into The World, Australia, and lover of raspberries. Learn more: www.sarahball.com.au