Reflections on Body Image

Body image is a source of unhappiness for many people these days.
Few of us are totally content with the reflection we see in the mirror when we step out of the shower or undress for the night.

Women tend to be particularly critical of their own appearance, and the modern men are no strangers to this sentiment either, to an ever increasing extent.

Social/societal conditioning is blamed extensively for imposing impossible standards of perfection.
When we attempt to measure up to these standards and fall inevitably short, we respond, on one hand with self-loathing, and on the other hand with denial of responsibility and shifting of blame onto societal conditioning.

When we make the argument that the societal conditioning is responsible for our unhappiness, essentially what we’re saying is that we accept what others think of us as truth. If people around me think I’m beautiful, I’ll believe that I’m beautiful; if they think I’m ugly, I’ll believe that I am ugly. I’m conditioned to believe it.
Such thinking is perhaps understandable in a small children, but in an adults it amounts to a complete surrender of one’s power to anyone who cares to take it.

Sometimes people say that they are really content with and accepting of their body image but it upsets them when ignorant and intolerant people say or think mean things about them.
This is just another way of surrendering your power and avoiding the responsibility for your own happiness.

Taking responsibility for the way we feel about anything is not an easy task. For most of us it is a struggle we carry on our entire lives, to one degree or another.

In case of the body image, taking responsibility begins with the answer to this question: what is my relationship with my body?

For most of us the honest answer will be: it’s a love/hate relationship.

From here follows another question: what would have to happen in order for this relationship to become more loving and less hateful?

There are three probable answers. (The most pertinent ones, anyway.)

1) Change the world, change the society, fix up or shut up all the mean people, so that no one tells or sees me as less than perfect, and subsequently I will not think the same. (Good luck with this one.)

2) I will dismiss all social conditioning, disregard the opinions of mean people (or cull them out of my life) and learn to love my body as it is. (You can try, but I don’t like your chances.)

3) I will learn to accept the limitations of my body which I can do nothing about and I will fix what I can fix. (Tough, but doable.)

Accepting the limitations which we can do nothing about is the beginning of wisdom in any area of life, body image included.

The knowledge that we’re doing what we can for the things we can change prevents self-blame and provides the peace of mind necessary to deal with other people’s opinions. (To accept them as their problem, not ours.)

Together these two ingredients lead to a loving relationship with one’s body, a healthy self-image and the knowledge that it is a result of our own doing and the product of our own power, not something begged, extorted or intimidated from the society.

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