Where did you learn what is beautiful? Where did you learn what is ugly? Where did you learn what a perfect body looks like? And how old were you when you came to these conclusions?
A few years ago when walking down the street in Paris we found ourselves taken by the body image represented as "beautiful" by the street lamps in front of the Paris Opera House. Built in the mid-1800's, those lamps are supported by statues of naked women. These castings done in the Neo-Baroque style are curvy, with rounded bellies and by today's standards they all need to go on Weight Watchers, visit Jenny Craig or at very least tighten their abs with a good dose of Pilates.
Our idea of a beautiful body was given to us by the culture we grew up in. By the time we reach puberty we each have decided what we need to be like in order to have the perfect body and by that time, we knew we never would.
One year the two of us led 6 weeks of consecutive courses at a conference center on Maui. The course room had an entire wall of mirrors so we became comfortable seeing ourselves daily in shorts and even from time-to-time in our bikini and swim suit. However when we completed the groups and went to a hotel down near the beach for a bit of R&R, we were surprised to discover that when looking in those mirrors our bodies appeared sadly lacking. It was a lesson, never forgotten, that the culture we are surrounded by can make a direct and immediate impact on our self-perceptions.
If you want to know your body image, begin by paying attention to your internal conversation without taking it personally.
"What?" you might say, "How can I possibly not take how I look and feel personally?"
It is easy once your realize that your thoughts about yourself and how you look are a collection of recordings stored in your internal Jukebox or MP3 player and when the circumstances apply a little pressure you play a familiar tune.
The key to creating something new rather than playing an oldie-but-not-so-goody is awareness. Learning the art of awareness, or self-observation without self-reproach, is a skill-set that can be learned. Like exercising a muscle, the more you simply see things without judging what you see, the more you discover how to neutrally observe yourself. As you discover how to be kind to yourself rather than berate yourself for the body you have, it certainly sets you up to find motivation for living a healthy lifestyle. If every time you step on a scale or go to the gym it is reinforcement that you are "fat," sooner or later you are going to want to quit on yourself.
Want to know a great secret for dissolving a negative body image? Take an anthropological approach. Pretend you are a scientist, observing a culture of one -- yourself. The trick is not to judge what you see but to neutrally observe how you function, including your thought processes. Awareness and kindness is key.
Be kind to yourself right now, not when you lose the weight and not when you continue the exercise routine that you promised yourself you would.
In this moment you are a perfect you. And if you gain or lose some weight, then you will still be you. But if you are kind to yourself right now, and just notice how you are without beating on yourself for what you see, then regardless of your weight, shape or size you will feel satisfied.
Most people are afraid that if they aren't hard on themselves then there will be no motivation to improve, no reason to move and that they will then turn into the world's largest couch potato. Not true. When you are feeling satisfied, and good in your own skin, there is no need to turn to comfort food. That extra cookie isn't a reward when living your life is its own reward. Don't you feel more like moving out into the world and being active in your life when you aren't being hard on yourself? Oddly enough, when you don't pick on yourself, your actions will tend to support a healthy lifestyle and your body is sure to follow.
About the Authors:
Since 1987, internationally acclaimed authors, seminar leaders, and business consultants Ariel and Shya Kane have acted as guides, leading people through the swamp of the mind into the clarity and brilliance of the moment. To find out more about the Kanes and their Transformational Community or to sign up to receive their article of the month, visit their website at http://www.