In this day and age, our experience of our body is very much influenced by the idea of control. Whether we embrace the idea of willpower and believe our bodies can be molded into pre-determined sizes through our actions or, if we embrace the philosophy of the mind/body connection which, for some suggests an ability to control the health, wellbeing and even appearance of our bodies through tools such as inner healing, visualization or positive thinking.
Whether we feel willpower or the mind/body connection (or a combination of both) is the road to control over our wayward bodies, what this idea of control means for many of us is that we’ve been convinced to relate to our bodies as projects, as canvasses that display to the world how well we are taking care of ourselves physically and even emotionally.
I work with women who believe that their unwanted bellies or ‘thunder thighs’ are the result of either a failure to find and stick to the right plan, to find the right magical balance of food restriction and exercise to shape and sculpt their body into our current ideal. And it’s not just the mechanics of our body (fat production or loss, building muscle mass) that we feel we should be able to control. The idea of the mind/body connection for many of us suggests we should have control of all our mental and emotional processes as well. We become convinced our fatness, our unhappiness with our bodies is the result of some unresolved issue, some un-actualized aspect of our personality. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard women tell me that they want to heal their emotional wounds so that they can ‘release’ the weight they are carrying. It makes me sad that many women believe the amazing and miraculous bodies they live in are outward manifestations of inward demons or unresolved issues.
Now I’m not saying that there isn’t some room for willpower when it comes to taking on goals for our wellbeing. To applying a little tough (but compassionate!) love to ourselves to break out of unhelpful habits. And, I’m not saying that our state of mind doesn’t have an impact on our physical wellbeing. Inner work, healing, positive thinking all can and do have positive impacts on our health and support our efforts to reduce stress which has huge health implications. I am saying that many of us believe that through willpower and the mind/body connection we can and should have a control of our body that is simply not possible. And this is a problem because when we cling to the idea that we should be able to control our bodies, we are put at risk for falling into the blaming trap. Not only are we at fault if our bodies don’t look like we think they should, we also may blame ourselves for any and all illness or disease. Too fat? Not disciplined enough. Got cancer? Not self actualized enough.
Finally, we set ourselves up to determine our self worth by how well we can control our bodies. How we feel about ourselves is determined by how close we can get to the societal ideal. And this is dangerous because the ideal is a mirage. A bill of good we’ve been sold so that we will continue to hand over our money to anyone who promises us weight loss. As a result, we are all trying to slam and sculpt our bodies into a shape only achievable long term by 5% of the population.
We cannot control our bodies….but we can take care of them. Our quality of life can often be improved through considering our nutrition choices, engaging in joyful movement and caring for our mental health. We can work to improve fitness, strength, or perhaps aim to improve other indicators of health like blood pressure or cholesterol. For some of us, these health supporting actions may mean significant changes in our body size and shape. Or, for others it may be just a slight change in appearance. For many of us, positive lifestyles changes may mean no change at all in how we look. There are no guarantees…and certainly no magic formula. But whether our body changes or not, if we let go of the idea of control, we can still have a positive impact on our health.
I have a vision that we can live free to care for our bodies as we wish, without judgment. I look forward to a time when we can know we are living our version of a healthy lifestyle, not by how our bodies look, but rather by how we feel in our bodies. Bodies that come in all shapes, sizes, colours, genders and abilities.
So here is my wish. May the actions we take for our bodies and wellbeing be motivated by care and compassion rather than control and punishment. May we all revel in the connection and gratitude we feel for the body we live in.
Thank you for reading!