As we age, our relationship with our body often begins to change. We can feel a separation in how we feel inside and what we see reflected in the mirror. We may struggle with the ageing process and rail against our body slowing down. Perhaps you look back on the days when you could sit at a desk all day then go out for a pub dinner and a few glasses of wine a few times per week and your waistline stayed the same size? Maybe you still feel twenty and so it seems like the faint lines that have begun to appear in your face belong to someone you don’t know.
Particularly for women, there’s a lot of fear around getting older. We joke about finding our first grey hair but, privately, watching our bodies age doesn’t seem so funny. Also feeling less able to do certain things and decrease in energy.
Living in a society where our media celebrates youth and the label of beauty is reduced to a few narrow (and often unachievable) ideals, our relationships with our bodies are often complicated. Even when we’re young. Yet, as we age many of us find ourselves wishing we’d loved our bodies more when we were younger. Worn those skimpier outfits with more pride. Treasured our low-maintenance skin. Maybe inflicted less product and heat on our hair.
Surely if we can recognise that we should have loved our bodies more then, then it’s at least time to learn to love our bodies now?
To begin, you need to be honest about how you feel about your body. Women especially are overwhelmingly hard on their appearance. It’s not surprising – we are taught modesty from a young age and when tabloid newspapers find flaws in the appearance of young, beautiful girls then there’s no wonder we find ourselves feeling inadequate. Therefore we end up in a cycle of conflict with our bodies.
In order to break this cycle, you need to change the relationship you have with your body. Often, when we formalise relationships in our lives this involves some kind of contract. We get married, we establish business partnerships, employment contracts. When we have children we might not write a manifesto but plenty of us spend time deciding what kind of parent we intend to be and we review our performance almost daily. At times when relationships risk breaking down or we experience turbulent times, we find it useful to reflect on the agreements and promises we made to one another.
However, when it comes to the relationship we have with our body we don’t prioritise it the same way. This is why I suggest creating a contract with your body.
Shall we try it together? Grab and pen and paper and let’s create a contract between you and your body.
Step One: Honesty
Perhaps you have always loved your body and felt connected to it. Maybe you have a job or hobby which requires you and your body to work together. If you’ve had children, how did you feel about your body when you were pregnant or shortly after?
Be very honest as you write and don’t worry if you get emotional, being honest in how you feel about your body often isn’t easy. Be mindful to take your health into account, as much as your appearance, because feeling great in ourselves is not only about liking what we see in the mirror, but feeling strong and energetic too.
- How have you felt about your body in the past?
- How do you view your body now?
- What do you like about it? Love even?
- What don’t you like?
- How would you rank your average energy levels?
- Do you consider your weight healthy? Not aspirational in terms of shape, but in terms of health
- Do you feel your body has served you well?
Some of us view our body as a tool and others see our mind, spirit and body as a partnership. A few of us, unfortunately, have had times where we’ve been in conflict with our body or felt let down by it. Others are fortunate enough to have felt proud of our bodies, what they have achieved and how they have served us. Yet, as we age and our bodies change you may feel that relationship evolving.
In order to form or protect a positive relationship with our bodies, we must confront the relationship we’ve had with them in the past and the one we have right now.
Step Two: What Kind Of Relationship Do You Want To Have With Your Body?
Next, I’d like you to think about the way in which you’d like to see and feel about your body.
- Which words would you like to associate with your view of your body?
- When you look in the mirror, how would you like to feel?
Not what would you like to see looking back at you, but who? We’re not looking at transforming into Ann Summers models here – I want you to ask yourself, truly, would you like to feel proud of your body? Would you like to feel it is strong? That it is serving you and that you are, in turn, treating it with kindness?
Much like you might ponder on an ideal relationship between yourself and a partner, write down what your vision of a positive relationship with your body looks like.
Step Four: What Can You Do To Achieve This?
Recognising that every body and every person is different, I generally stay away from making sweeping statements about what everyone should or shouldn’t do. However, I can tell you sincerely that every body needs two things from the person inhabiting them – love, and respect.
Underpinning this is good diet and exercise as well as good sleep. To truly respect our body we need to give it what it needs to fuel us and we need to be mindful of what it doesn’t need. Too much alcohol, smoking and substance abuse will not only have an impact on your emotional wellbeing but also your physical.
Fundamentally, your body needs love. So if you are one of the many women who are critical whenever you refer to your body or appearance try to find a way to stop these negative thoughts in their tracks. Mindfulness can help with this and so too can affirmations. I know it can feel extremely awkward at first, but those who push through and repeat their affirmations daily find they not only start to come naturally but also transform their mindset.
Have you written down some vows you are willing to make to your body? Read them back to yourself and check that they’re realistic and achievable. For example, it may be too much to put your body through a marathon in three months time but maybe you could commit to some daily exercise that will strengthen your muscles and get your heart rate up. If you’ve vowed to love your body then you should ensure you’ve committed to taking steps to make this happen. Because this isn’t a quick fix.
Step Five: Sign Up To Creating A Better Relationship With Your Body
When you’re happy with the promises you’ve made and the intentions you’ve set then sign your name. Doing so shows you are committed to going on this journey.
Like all relationships, there will be bumps in the road – bad days and times when our body doesn’t seem to be pulling its weight. You may feel silly doing this exercise but out of all the relationships you have in your life, the one you have with yourself lasts the longest.
It’s time for us to stop punishing our bodies for not meeting unrealistic ideals of a damaging culture. Now, in our later years, it becomes time to appreciate what our bodies are able to do. They have been, and will continue to be, our most loyal companion until our last breath, so better to love, care and respect it than criticise, blame and abuse it.
You are deserving of a beautiful relationship with your body and it is deserving of your love and respect. After all, it’s got you this far and it’s still on your side.
Intuitive Eating – listening to your body is key to a positive relationship with it. Reevaluating your relationship with food can help you to respond to your body’s needs and even lose weight without dieting. You can read more about this at http://simplysune.com/blog/struggling-to-lose-weight-do-this-first/
Self-care – not only does self-care make us feel great but it honours the body. It helps us feel happier and more contented with who we are. Read my tips on self-care in menopause at http://simplysune.com/blog/how-to-supercharge-your-self-care-so-you-feel-fabulous-in-peri-menopause/
Ask for help – if you’re struggling with learning to love your body it doesn’t have to be a burden you own alone. Please talk about it in the way that you would when trapped in any damaging relationship. I offer one-to-one coaching and I have helped many women in their 40s, 50s and 60s learn to love their bodies. Please get in touch for a chat and let’s see if I can help mediate you and your body through the next stage of your life http://simplysune.com/work-with-me/
How mindfulness can help with making a contract with the body.
Mindfulness is about paying attention in the present moment to whatever is here; in a particular way. It’s one thing to have focussed attention, but it’s with an attitude of mindfulness which includes patience, acceptance, trust, non-judgement and gratitude that shifts our attitude towards the situation we mind ourselves in.
So as you’re deliberately making this sacred contract, there may be many difficult thoughts, feelings or emotions that are present. In the past, you may have ignored these or tried pushing them away.
You may have noticed that ‘trying to push these away’ has a very short shelf life, like pushing a ball under the water, only for it to pop back up when you let go of the resistance.
So what to do instead and how mindfulness can help.
To help you mindfully make this contract with your body, I’m weaving in the simple yet powerful R.A.I.N practice.
Allowing your body to become still…
R- Recognise what thoughts, feelings and emotions come up for you as you embark on making this contract. There may be thoughts of ‘I’m so ugly’, ‘I wish I looked like Frida’. There may be feelings of resentment, disgust, failure or joy and emotions of sadness, frustration and even anger, but maybe also love, respect and gratitude. Whatever arises, just noticing them.
A – Allow. See if you can allow all of these to be present, being with them, just noticing all these mental events playing off in the mind. Holding them lightly.
I- Investigate. What is happening in your body. What sensations are present in the body when you notice these difficult thoughts, feelings and emotions? Maybe even asking ‘ what am I not willing to feel right now,’ or what am I believing of myself right now? Allow the questions to fill your heart.
N-Nurture – It may feel tender, you may be moved or you may have had an insight. The last step of this practice is very important. How can you best take care of yourself? Maybe it’s to place a hand on the heart with compassion, to practise self-care in a way that feels nurturing, or to simply say the words, ‘it’s ok, I’m ok,’ or whatever feels most nurturing for you at this time.