Appreciating our bodies, imperfections and all

Appreciating our bodies, imperfections and all

Thank your body for serving you and allowing you  to dance and sing and  eat and see and smell  and touch and climb.

Thank your body for serving you and allowing you
to dance and sing and
eat and see and smell
and touch and climb.

by Susan Stiffelman — 

I  talk to my body a lot. Sometimes out loud. I do not usually share this fact with other people, which makes it kind of interesting that I am writing about it in an article. But the fact is, I place a lot of stock in having loving conversations with my body and its many miraculous parts, and I have decided that it is an idea worth sharing.

“Thank you, stomach, for digesting that meal so nicely.” “Thanks, eyes — what a great job you did in letting me see the colors of those flowers today.” “Thank you, heart, for beating so reliably and keeping my circulation going. You are amazing.” “Thank you, legs, for ferrying me around so nicely. Thank you, ears, liver, bones, knees, teeth.” This love fest with my body can go on for quite a while. I nearly always find that, by the end of it, my heart is soft and melty.

Almost all of us take our bodies for granted until they break down, and then we can be quite mean to them, complaining about their failure to do what we want. And then the features we loathe draw our attention, such as the lips we wish were fuller or the nose we wish were daintier. If you consider how relentlessly critical we are of our human containers and how they still plod on thanklessly, it really is a wonder that our physical systems work at all. If we treated employees with the same disdain we so frequently show our bodies, they would walk off the job. And yet our bodies carry on doing their duties as best they can.

Years ago, I took a workshop during which we were given a paper bag with two holes cut out for the eyes. We were instructed to take it up to our hotel room, remove all our clothes and stand in front of a mirror with the bag over our head. The assignment was to look through the holes at every inch of our bodies, noting the commentary in our head as we viewed ourselves. It sounded very weird. But in the end, it was a life-changing experience.

I began by focusing on all the things I did not like — the parts that were too big or too small, too soft or too wrinkled. As I eased into the exercise, however, I fell into a place that was almost holy. I moved from noticing how harshly I judged each part of my body to realizing what a gift it had been to receive it and how perfect it was, exactly as it was.

I saw the pooch in my belly as evidence of the blessing of motherhood. I recalled how my slightly wobbly knees had rallied through achiness to get me to the tops of mountains. I reflected on how my arms had cradled my loved ones. By the time I got to my feet, I was overcome with thankfulness — and remorse. Those feet! They had tirelessly ferried me through life for decades, almost never receiving a word of thanks. I felt waves of appreciation for the vessel I had been given, a gift extraordinaire — and one I had endlessly criticized for not being somehow different, or better.

We reassembled after the exercise to write letters to our bodies, then listened as people shared expressions of contrition, gratitude and shame toward the miraculous heart-and-soul containers each of us had been allowed to inhabit. The room was pin-drop silent. Between racking sobs, a man in a wheelchair described the horrible things he had said to his body for years, angry at all the ways he had believed it had failed him.

An overweight woman spoke of the unhealthy habits she had inflicted on her body to keep love and lovers at bay. The room filled with a quiet hum of gratitude. It was just a weekend workshop exercise, but it awakened something in me that, thankfully, has remained.

Thank your parts for serving you and allowing you to dance and sing and eat and see and smell and touch and climb. When your children see you acknowledging the wonderfulness of your body instead of complaining about what you do not like about it, they will be far more likely to regard their own bodies — warts and all — with respect, care and appreciation.

 

Susan Stiffelman, MFT, is the author of Parenting with Presence and Parenting without Power Struggles. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a credentialed teacher, and the Huffington Post’s weekly “Parent Coach” advice columnist. ParentingWithoutPowerStruggles.com or newworldlibrary.com.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 34, Number 5, October/November 2015.

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