Body image issues are talked about a lot these days. Every era has its (unrealistic) beauty ideals and I think it’s safe to say that in the age of Botox, Photoshop and Instagram filters this pressure to look at our “best” isn’t going anywhere…
Body image is often a very complex psychological issue that has roots deep in our past experiences, trauma and culture we grew up in. I’m not even trying to dig into the immensity of it.
However, as a massage therapist, I see a lot of bodies, in all shapes, sizes and ages. I also see a lot of shame. A lot of hiding, a lot of apologising.
And it is not our fault. It is what we are taught to do, (especially) as women, when we think our body doesn’t fit into the elusive ideal that we are so used to comparing ourselves to.
I’m no exception.
I have certainly had my share of issues with body image and self-confidence, as most of us have.
Growing up as the shy nerd wearing coke-bottle glasses and piling on weight in my late-teens didn’t make love the mirror… quite the opposite. And even though I’ve made peace (mostly!) with the way my physical body looks like these days, the critic in the mirror still pops up uninvitedly from time to time.
As with anything in life, I am a work-in-progress, and every day presents me with challenges and opportunities to work on loving and accepting myself more.
But looking back, I have come such a long way in learning to look at myself with eyes of compassion. And the more I learn about the amazing ways our fascinating human bodies function, the more love and gratitude I have for mine.
And for me, it is more about loving the experience of inhabiting my body. The looks are less and less important. (Getting older helps in this, ha!)
Below I am listing some things that have helped me over the years to shift my perspective from criticism to love and gratitude when it comes to this body of mine:
- Touch therapies
Well, I am a massage and craniosacral therapist after all. I love giving massages, but I also ADORE receiving them, and do so on a regular basis. Nurturing, non-judgmental touch has given me a chance to practice shifting my focus from what (I think) I look like to HOW I FEEL in my body. And the better I feel, the easier it is to love the experience of living in my body, which in turn makes me want to treat myself kinder by choosing habits that support my physical and mental health. It’s like a positive circle that keeps on giving!
- Consciously seeking pleasure
Do you think this sounds a bit selfish? Bit indulgent? I assure you it is not! Pleasure is a choice and a mindset, and it isn’t taking away from anyone else.
Seeking pleasure for me, means choosing and allowing myself to experience things that make me feel good. It is also a way to practice being in the moment, taking in the fullness of the Now.
Going for a beach walk, having a dance for no reason, inhaling the smell of coffee, sinking into a good hug, getting emotional over a nostalgic song, swimming in the ocean, giving myself a little face massage whilst moisturising with rosehip oil. Little things, done mindfully, and soaked up to the max. That’s pleasure right there.
What does your list look like?
- Think of the things your body allows you to do and achieve
There’s nothing wrong about wanting to look good and loving what you see in the mirror, but what is REALLY FUN is all the experiences that our body allows us to experience! Yes, there’s the pleasurable everyday things, that deserve to be savoured, but there are also those huge achievements that we couldn’t have done without this amazing sack of flesh and bones! They are worth listing too.
Hiking up mount Kilimanjaro, bringing a baby into this world, marrying that dreamboat of a hubby/wife of yours, starting a new business that helps save the world (yep, that one!), photographing that stunning Tuscan landscape, growing the biggest pumpkin in your neighbourhood, rescuing 100 dogs from the pound.
I don’t know, obviously I made that list up (I’m too shy to share mine in public!), but whatever it is for you, your body allows you to do all those things. Plus you’ve got all the cool memories to prove it.
This has been a big one for me. Many meditation practices teach that we are more than our body. There is often a focus on connecting to the spirit/soul within us, the part that is more than meets the eye. Our energetic body, if you like.
And amazingly, regularly tuning in to this ‘inner spaciousness’ helps create distance to the idea we have of our body (the ‘flaws’ become less of a deal, as do the ‘good looks’). Focusing on the energetic body somehow makes the experience of being in the physical body more profound and gratitude-inducing. Paradoxical, I know.
PS. Craniosacral therapy is an amazing modality that can help with achieving this utterly relaxed, meditative state that allows to feel into all aspects of our Being, physical body and beyond. Highly recommend!
- Body positivity in the web
Internet and social media can be such traps sometimes, by getting us to compare ourselves, our bodies, houses, jobs, to the glossy, staged lives of the ‘influencers’. Not to mention the time we spent scrolling instead of savouring that frothy cappuchino in front of us…
BUT! There is also a lot of cool accounts and sites that celebrate body positivity and advocate selflove and kindness.
I love seeing real size women modelling (ethical) fashion, and cellulite and body hair celebrated rather than photoshopped, our imperfectly beautiful bodies made into works of art… Because that’s what they are.
What I’m doing more and more, since I’m still a social (media) butterly, is unfollowing people and accounts that make me feel “less than”, and filling my feed with inspirational and brave images and stories. The ones that make me appreciate our diversity and the beauty of our perfectly imperfect human bodies and lives.
Here’s some of my favourite ‘body positive’ Instagram accounts to give you an idea:
- @jadebeallphotography, @onbeinginyourbody, @hara_thelabel, @rosegrown, @skinonsundays @spencertunick etc
Riina Kosonen is a remedial massage and craniosacral therapist in Newcastle, NSW. To find out more or to book an appointment, you can visit www.riinakosonen.com or www.instagram.com/riinakosonenmassage