When we discuss fostering positive body image – here and elsewhere – one of the practices that gets a lot of attention is learning to tune out external messages and focus on how you feel about yourself. There’s a lot of judgmental, shaming, comparative, hurtful imagery and discussion about female bodies floating around in the world, and finding a way to focus on yourself can help sort out what you are truly feeling, and what you only THINK you’re feeling because of external input.
Or can it?
I’ve been wrestling with this question for some time: How can I discern what belongs to me and what belongs to others? How do I know the difference between what I truly believe and what I’m told about my body, beauty, sexiness? Because, if I’m being truly honest, those lines are ALWAYS blurry. Do I think I have lovely wrists and ankles on my own, or do I think that because my husband tells me so? Is red really my favorite color, or do I adore it because my mom has emphasized since birth that I look ravishing in red? Do I hate my body hair because it’s actually ugly or because Nair wants me to buy its products? Or both? How much would I love statement necklaces if Lucky and InStyle hadn’t been pushing them at me for years?
And, perhaps more importantly, does it matter? Although I often see the world in stark black and white, I do believe that we can create our own realities. So maybe it doesn’t matter how my love of red was born. I should just embrace it now, and not worry about external influence. Maybe it doesn’t matter if my feelings about my body hair are fostered by advertisements and media input, and I should just focus on managing those feelings. Investing my energy in what can be controlled and changed sometimes feels more empowering than getting stuck on the questions of origin. The scientist in me wants data and history, but my soul just wants to feel good.
Does it sound like I’m questioning everything I’ve ever written about self-love, discovering your own beauty, accepting yourself as-is? I’m really not. This is no crisis of faith, as I still believe that we can learn to see, embrace, adore, and adorn our beautiful bodies. And I will still write about how, and why, and the importance of it all. My crisis is one of origins: How do we know which beliefs come from where? And do those origins impact our actions and feelings, or would we react in the same ways regardless?
I don’t have answers, but I feel the need to acknowledge these as important questions.