When my self-image bottoms out, I get adversarial: I pit my inner self against my body as if they are two are separate entities. I deem my physical self the enemy – a foreign, hostile combatant struggling to suffocate the true, non-corporeal me. I catalog its crimes, and read them out like a series of charges at an arraignment. Why can’t my belly firm up and shrink down? Why can’t my skin stop breaking out? Why can’t I be hairy on my head and my head alone? Why can’t my arms be slender and strong instead of meaty and strong? Why is my body DOING this to me? It’s all a plot. It’s all a cruel scheme meant to keep me from feeling beautiful and attractive and good. It is outright betrayal.
When my self-image is at its peak, I get holistic: I feel that there is absolutely no difference between my body and my mind. They are merged, seamless, an extraordinary machine. I see what makes my body different, and embrace it as what sets me apart and makes me ME. I feel that my body is not simply a vehicle for getting my brain from place to place, but an extension of my brain’s very contents. I see my body as the ultimate physical expression of my identity and true self. And I breathe easily and walk tall and smile, smile, smile.
But most of the time, I’m somewhere in between. I strive to love myself as-is, but stumble and struggle nearly as often as I succeed. And I’ve learned to manage that middle ground through simple forgiveness. I try to accept that my personal set of lumps and bumps are uniquely beautiful, biologically perfect for my own needs, and actually naturally lovely … and when that fails me and I verge on body-focused petulance, I forgive.
For me, there is a distinction between acceptance and forgiveness. I feel that acceptance is permanent, serene, logical. Forgiveness may be more temporary and volatile, but it is also more emotional. Forgiveness comes from my heart, and when I cannot wrap my brain around accepting what my body presents, I can usually still forgive it. I can access tenderness even when I cannot access understanding.
Forgiveness is an important step in healing, and in moving on: If you don’t pause to look at an aggravating person, concept, or body part straight-on, you’ll never truly make peace with it. By forcing myself to identify my frustration and forgive my body for doing or being something I don’t think it “should,” I am forcing myself to address my concerns in an active, healthy, loving manner. And my hope is that if I live through enough cycles of petulance and forgiveness, I’ll eventually bypass that step altogether and go straight to holistic, embracing self-love.
We don’t know for certain why our bodies do the things they do, or are shaped the way they’re shaped. Only our genes can tell that tale. And even the world’s most brilliant geneticists would have a helluva time deciphering our individual body-stories. Our bodies do what they do for important reasons, but those reasons may be forever obscured. As a result, we feel frustration, exhaustion, even hatred at times. And we must breathe through those times – when we begin to separate self from body – and forgive our bodies for doing what they must, mutely and unerringly.
And we must forgive again and again until forgiveness becomes superfluous and loving acceptance takes its place.
Image courtesy Loving Earth.