Mindfulness and body positivity

“Without accepting the fact that everything changes, we cannot find perfect composure. But unfortunately, although it is true, it is difficult for us to accept it. Because we cannot accept the truth of transiency, we suffer.”

(Shunryu Suzuki)

 

Body positivity and putting an end to body shaming is a very important topic to me. But how does it relate to mindfulness? In fact, I have discovered that it relates to mindfulness in many ways, and today I will write about body positivity as part of embracing and accepting the natural differences and peculiarities that make us human beings.

One of the most important teachings of Buddhism is the impermanence of everything. Everything changes. Even things that look the same on the surface change continuously, from moment to moment, like the currents in a river that maintains its outward appearance on the surface. Below the surface, however, the water comes and goes, sometimes in strong currents, sometimes in weaker currents. But it is always flowing, moving, changing. Like the air around us that changes with every breath, even if we cannot see it. Oxygen gets replaced with carbon dioxide and then with oxygen again. Like the human body, the soul, our outward appearance and our inward personality traits. Some things might change slowly, while others change faster. Some things change subtly, while others change noticeably. But everything changes. Nothing is permanent.

So why do we find it so difficult to accept change? Specifically, change related to our physical appearance. We age, we grow, we gain weight, we lose weight, our skin stretches, our shape changes. Some changes are subtle, like longer hair, bigger thighs, smaller waist, stretch marks after giving birth. Some changes are more extreme, like scarring, injury, disability, or even the loss of a body part. But this is what makes us human. And this is what makes us all beautiful, in our unique little ways. We are not static beings. And change, whilst often difficult to cope with, is a natural part of life.

Yet most of us (and for a long time this included me) struggle to accept our flaws. We cover our skin “abnormalities”, we go on crash diets, we use creams to fight stretch marks and cellulite, we change the colour of our hair, our nails, and even our skin. We only love our body when it lives up to our “ideal”, which is not really our own at all, but based on what society has determined as “beautiful”.

So where does mindfulness come in? Mindfulness has already been applied, relatively successfully, to the treatment of eating disorders and distorted body image. Research has focused on acceptance and compassion in body image (Stewart, 2004), and studies have shown that more mindful individuals are more likely to be satisfied with their bodies, and less likely to compare their bodies to others (Dijkstra & Barelds, 2011). Most research on body image has focused on individuals with eating disorders or body dysmorphia. However, mindfulness can be applied in a much more subtle way to benefit every single one of us.

Mindfulness has the potential to teach us to start accepting ourselves for who we are and how we look. Being present in our body and in the now, we find our focus shifted to our internal sensations, rather than our external appearance. Being aware and non-judgemental, we allow negative thoughts about our appearance to enter our mind, without attaching to them or dwelling on them, and simply let them go. Being mindful allows us to develop kindness and compassion towards all aspects of ourselves. Accepting the impermanence of everything allows us to stay grounded in the present moment, just as we are, instead of reminiscing about how we used to look, or wishing that we looked different. Accepting who we are and how we look can help us develop love. Love for ourselves, love for our bodies, and love for others.

The purpose of this blog is not to criticise people who change their appearance through surgery, make-up, training or diet. It is simply to raise an important issue of body positivity and body acceptance. We will all have “bad” body image days, where we will be unhappy with something about ourselves. But if we can accept that everything changes, and develop mindfulness, compassion, and kindness towards ourselves and others, then just maybe, we can end body shaming once and for all!

 

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