I looked up the definition of perfect in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
“Having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be.”
This left me thinking, ‘whose desire? As good as it is possible to be for what? Who decides this?’
Perfect is such an incredibly arbitrary and absurd concept. Related to your body, it makes no sense.
It also means that not one, single one of us is perfect. Thank goodness for that!
Bodies can be saggy, bony, have cellulite, use a wheelchair, be large, small, chronically ill, toned, hairy, wobbly, fatigued, freckly, rashy, patchy, pale, dark, red, tall, short, fat, pain-ridden, of various sexes, genders and sexualities, big-boobed, no boobed, stiff, flexible, angular, soft, young, old, and on and on.
In addition, you are so much more than your body.
Your body is one fraction of many, varied aspects that make up who you are.
You can also define yourself by aspects such as what you love doing, what you’re interested in, what you’re good at, your beliefs, your goals and your cultural and social identities.
Following are a variety of resources to support you living in the body you have.
1. Exercise: Focus your awareness on aspects of yourself other than your body
- Find some paper and coloured markers (or any pen will do).
- Sit quietly and settle into your chair. If it feels okay for you, take some long, slow deep breaths (if not, sit and take in your surroundings for a moment).
- Write your name, or draw yourself, in the centre of the page.
- Now, start adding all the different aspects of who you are, onto the page. Write them all down, all over the page.
- There is no wrong way to do this.
- If you get stuck, think about:
What do you love to do?
What’s important to you?
What are your dreams?
What are your skills and experiences?
What kind of a friend, family member, work colleague or community member are you?
What inspires you?
They could be small things or big things, silly things or serious things.
- When you feel you’ve done enough, spend some time reading all these aspects of you.
- How does it feel to see yourself as all of these things?
If doing this exercise makes you feel upset in any way, please get some support for yourself – call a friend, ask for a hug, make some tea, cuddle a pet, or go for a walk. Take care of yourself.
2. Visual Exposure
Expose yourself to a wide variety of bodies in your social media feeds. Seeing lots of different people, in different bodies, doing lots of different things, on a regular basis, influences our sense of what is ‘normal’.
Some Instagram suggestions are:
underneath we are women
on being in your body
There are so many great books now on body image. Following are a small handful. Some are specifically about body image and weight stigma, others focus on our relationship with ourselves.
• 20 Powerful Books to help You Befriend Your Body – collaborative blog post, coordinated and edited by Psychotherapist & Eating Disorder Specialist Jodie Gale.
• The Gifts of Imperfection – Brene Brown
• Self Compassion – Kristin Neff
• You Have the right to remain fat – Virgie Tovar
• Health At Every Size – Linda Bacon
• The Beauty Myth – Naomi Wolf
4. Non-dominant Hand Journal Exercise
I LOVE this exercise. I use it with clients all the time, in a multitude of ways. It often produces quite profound outcomes.
This particular exercise facilitates you having a conversation with your own body.
• Some paper or a journal.
• A pen (some people like to use two different coloured pens).
• Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit.
• If it feels okay, take a couple of long, slow, deep breaths.
• Settle into your body and into your chair.
• With your dominant hand (your writing hand), write a message to your body. You might want to say hello, or ask your body how it feels, or you might want to tell your body something.
• Then, with your other hand, answer on behalf of your body.
This may feel strange for a number of reasons. You will be using your non-dominant hand, which is usually weaker and less coordinated. The writing will be messy and slow. Notice how that feels for you. Try not to think about your body’s answer, just write and see what comes out. Trust the process.
Here is an example:
You (dominant hand): “I feel angry at you for causing me constant pain.”
Your body (non-dominant hand): “That makes me feel sad. Sigh. I’m doing my best. I need you to have compassion for me when I’m in pain. When you’re angry at me, it makes my pain worse. Can you please try to be gentle with me?”
This conversation can go back and forth, between your two hands, for as long as you like.
Once you’ve finished, sit back and read over what you’ve written.
What do you notice?
How does it feel to listen to your body in this way?
What do you need to do to take care of yourself right now?
5. What I Wish I knew
And finally, an animation produced by students at Ryerson University, in Toronto, Canada.
“This project explores the notion of how we are categorized and judged based on our
physical bodies, how this shapes our perception of ourselves and our self-worth. This piece was written by Alex Markwell and illustrated/animated by our team of three.” – Carita Marsili, Alexandra Markwell and Kathleen Moya.
A Word About Privilege
I would like to acknowledge that even though none of us live in a perfect body, some of us live in a privileged body.
I live in a body that is multi-privileged. For example, among many other things, I am not subject to fatphobia, homophobia, or systemic racism. I am able to go about my day without fear of being prejudiced against because of how I look. I can easily navigate my way around in public without concern for whether there will be wheelchair access, or whether my body will fit through the turnstile.
I do not speak for others, or pretend to know their experience. I try to listen and I am still learning.
I’d love to know how you found doing the exercises, or if you have any other great ways to live with your imperfect body. Please comment below.
Do you need Body Image support in Perth or online?
If you need support with your body image, contact Toni Jackson for enquiries and appointments via the contact form below.
For a free 15 minute phone consultation, to discuss your situation and see how Toni can support you, please phone 0439 995 302.
Toni Jackson is a Psychotherapist, specialising in trauma, body image and eating disorders. She is a Gestalt Therapist, body-centred psychotherapist, creative (art) therapist and HAES practitioner. Toni works in Fremantle and Mundaring, Western Australia, and also provides online counselling.