In my most recent blog, I wrote about a broader definition and experience of positive body image. I shared that positive body image is not confined to a sense of feeling attractive, but can and does encompass other experiences with our body. I want to write about one of those experiences.
Feeling gratitude for your body and all it does for you is one of the ways I can feel positive body image. This concept is simple in theory but requires effort. How often during the day do we even acknowledge our body? How often are we even aware that our body is working for us? And what it is doing? I know for myself, when my body calls my attention, I’m often slightly bugged. “Now is not a good time to find a bathroom!”
There are several times during the day that our bodies ask/demand things of us (food, water, sleep, bathroom breaks, etc) but in reality, it asks very little as it busily hums along, doing the billion different functions, totally outside of our awareness or volitional control, that keep us alive! When I stop to meditate, I sometimes find myself struck by the fact that I am breathing. I know we all know we are breathing, but how often do we actually notice it? Experience it? And recognize the beauty of that?
A Choice to be Made
Sometimes it’s easier than others to feel gratitude for my body. I know when I feel healthy, strong, and in shape, I experience more joy in my body, and therefore it’s a short leap to feel grateful for it. However, when I’m sick, or my body doesn’t work the way I want it to, this becomes more effortful. In those moments, there is a choice to be made: get mad at my body or love it anyway.
I had a powerful experience a little over a year ago. I have an autoimmune disorder that causes my doctors to confusedly scratch their heads, and also causes me pain when it flares. I can’t predict when I will have a flare and while I do my best to manage it and prevent flares, I can’t stop them. One winter I was in the middle of a flare. My fingers ached with pain and as I was driving I found myself frustrated that simply turning the steering wheel felt painful. But then I lifted my fingers off the steering wheel and looked at them.
Suddenly I had a vivid thought, “My body is doing the best it can.” When I had that thought, I was flooded with compassion for the experience my body was having. The experience we were sharing together. And I deeply felt that statement was true. My body is doing the best it can.
That moment and that thought, changed my life. It changed my relationship with my body. My body doesn’t deserve my gratitude just because it does so much right for me. It deserves my gratitude because it is doing the best it can.
And sometimes your body can astound you with what it is capable of.
October, 2016 I almost died. Unbeknownst to myself and my doctors, I had an ectopic pregnancy. As a result, at 7-weeks pregnant, my fallopian tube burst. Luckily I was in the ER when this happened and was rushed into emergency surgery. Skillful doctors saved my life but I lost 3/8ths of my blood! I had to get four blood transfusions and even then my Hematocrit number was scary low.
When I was recovering, I remember being surprised by how many doctors and nurses told me I almost died and they seemed astounded that I had made it. My body went on to carry a healthy pregnancy and right now I have my baby making a giant mess in his high chair as I write this post. His face and clothes are covered in pear and blueberries and he keeps giving me a mischievous grin each time he drops his spoon. Doctors saved my life but so did my body. My body pulled me through that experience and allows me to continue to live and witness the messy, joyful moments my son experiences as he learns about his own body!
Gratitude for our bodies is a choice and something our bodies deserve from us. Gratitude and love go hand in hand. When we practice this, we practice positive body image.