How do you feel about your body? How much do you connect with your body and its unique appearance, abilities, and limitations? How do you connect your body and your spirituality? And how has your spirituality impacted your relationship with your body? When we speak about spirituality we often sound like our bodies are not really part of us, like they’re just a temporary dwelling until our ‘real selves’ leave them behind to go to some otherworldly, disembodied bliss. And even our cultural obsession with physical beauty has done nothing but shame most of us for not reaching its standards. Most of us feel alienated from our bodies at least to some extent. And that can never lead us to love ourselves well or to live our best lives.
That’s why, in this episode of the EvoFaith Podcast, we’re exploring how loving ourselves includes loving our bodies. We’ll talk about why most of us struggle with the body we have and long for a body that’s different. And we’ll see how a healthy relationship with our bodies fits into a healthy spirituality.
On 4 May 2022, an article on the South African news site, News24, asked, Why are we never happy with our bodies? This article described how women live in a world where bodies are always under scrutiny and in dispute. A woman’s appearance is a primary factor in how women are treated and whether they receive respect or not. And yet even women who fit the societal norm for beauty find themselves focussing on what they dislike about their bodies.
The article quoted from an interview with Katie, a 24-year-old, woman who said, “A couple of years ago, I joined a boot camp, started dieting and ended up losing seven kilos. I was thinner than I had ever been and getting compliments left, right and centre, but all I could think was: ‘Oh my God, my boobs have shrunk’. I just couldn’t see anything else.”
The article went on to describe how women bond over their dissatisfaction with their bodies. Liz, a 27-year-old, was quoted in the article as saying, “I could be feeling good about going to the gym every day, but as soon as a friend says, ‘I hate my butt,’ I can’t help but join in with everything I hate about my own body.”
But it’s not just women who struggle to love their bodies. Men do, too. A Time.com article of 2014, entitled The 300 Workout: How Movies Fuel Boys’ Insecurities, explains:
We’re all familiar with the pressures on girls and women to look thin, but discussions of body image often overlook men—a demographic increasingly at risk for unhealthy behaviors due to body insecurity. Men are feeling increased pressure to add muscle mass and gain weight, not lose it.
It went on to say, “The ripped male bodies that grace our movie screens have boys thinking they’re inadequate” and “Fifty-three percent of men said they felt insecure about their appearance at least once a week.”
We can go on about media, photoshopping, and the unhealthy and limited standards of health and beauty in our society. But I believe that spirituality has a lot to answer for when it comes to our alienation from our own flesh. In many religious and spiritual communities we are taught to view our bodies as nothing more than a ‘tent’ which we inhabit for a while in this physical life and then discard when we die and ‘go to heaven’. The way the Bible has been interpreted to speak of ‘the flesh’ as evil, and inherently sinful only makes things worse. And that’s without speaking of modesty movements, purity movements, Love Waits etc. All of this leads us to think of our bodies as simply a vehicle to carry us through life rather than as an inherent and valued facet of our being.
On the other hand, society often leads us to feel that we are nothing but bodies and that our physical appearance, strength and abilities are the only things that give us value. Which leaves us with a choice between seeing our bodies as either everything or almost nothing. Neither of which is a helpful way to relate to our physical selves.
What we really need is a way to place our bodies in the context of our experience, our lived reality, other parts of who we are, and the world, society, and even history.
It’s strange that so few of us have a good relationship with our bodies when they are so integral to our life. Our loathing of our physical selves inevitably leads to feelings of shame and failure, self-loathing and inadequacy. We hold back in our relationships for fear of rejection, and we fail to attempt things or learn new skills because we are too afraid of the possibility of failure and looking foolish.
But if we are to love ourselves, we also need to love our bodies. In a moment I’ll offer some suggestions for how we can learn to love our bodies and integrate our physicality into our spirituality. But first here’s a quick reminder to subscribe to this channel. If you’re watching on YouTube, please click on the bell to be notified of new episodes and like and share this podcast far and wide. If you’re listening on a podcast platform, please rate EvoFaith and spread the news. Thank you so much!
So here are some ideas that might be helpful for you as you seek to learn to love your body. There are, of course, lots of other suggestions that could be added to this list, but this is a start.
Firstly, work on letting go of external evaluations and opinions about your body. Your body does not belong to anyone else. It is yours and the only opinion that really matters is yours. That means both refusing to be shamed by negative views and refusing to be flattered by positive ones. And try to resist the urge to join body-shaming conversations by sharing all the things you hate about your own body.
In the same vein, work on letting go of value judgments on other people’s bodies—positive or negative. Now, I know there’s another whole conversation to be had about attraction and how it works, especially as it relates to our bodies. And there’s no question that we are all attracted by different personalities, abilities, senses of humour, interests, and yes, body types. Perhaps this explains our insecurity around our bodies and the tightrope we walk between legitimate attraction and body shaming. But for now I’ll simply offer this as something to think about and talk about more, and maybe come back to it in a future video. The point, though, is to break free of the need to always be competitively evaluating and measuring our own and other people’s bodies.
Secondly, one of the struggles we have with our bodies is related to our abilities. What our bodies can do and what they can’t. And, of course, this becomes even more of a challenge as we age and our bodies become less able to do what they once did so easily.
But part of loving our bodies is about being familiar with their unique abilities and limitations. And learning to love them within these parameters, not in spite of them. We need to learn to find joy in our bodies doing what they’re good at and to be kind to our bodies with regard to what they can’t do, or can no longer do. These amazingly fragile and yet strong and resilient hunks of meat carry us through our lives and face so many challenges. They are stretched—literally and figuratively, they get sick and they get better. They give us so much pleasure and joy. And they can frustrate us. But they are us. They’re part of us. And they deserve our respect and gratitude.
Finally, one very important thing that we can do to love our bodies is to look after them. How we do this is different for each of us. So let me ask you:
What makes your body feel alive and healthy? What keeps your body from a sense of health and aliveness? What fills you with energy and what makes you tired and weak? What helps you to feel whole and together and at peace in your body and what makes you feel out of sorts? How does sleep affect you? And food? And what you drink? And exercise? And rest? And play?
I really want to encourage you to get to know your body in all these ways. Learn to build more and more of what is good for you into your life and routines. And of course, don’t always assume that what works for another person will work for you.
Loving your body is spiritual practice. It helps you to find and embrace a full and more deeply connected life. But it’s about living the body we have, not trying to turn our body into someone else’s.
I’m not saying we can’t try to maximise our bodies in terms of exercise and appearance if that’s our thing. But I am saying that we can’t love ourselves if we hate our body because it’s not like someone else’s. And we certainly don’t need to damage our bodies in the quest to look like someone else.
In the next episode we’ll explore what it means to love our hearts, our emotions, our moods, and our emotional range as part of loving ourselves. But that’s it for this episode. Thank you for listening. Thank you for watching. And I’ll catch you next time!
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