What would happen if I handed you a stack of post-it notes and requested that you write down, one on each note, all of your negative critiques of your body? How many would you have to write down to truthfully acknowledge, despite attempting to find acceptance, that you criticize your physical appearance? Would you have to start with your hair, then pick apart your facial features before making it to your too much or too little of each body part, all the way down to your toes? Would you feel ashamed in exposing the thoughts that no one else was ever meant to hear about your disdain for what you know is simply your outer layer, your physical body?
To bring awareness to how much it negatively affects those around us when we speak so harshly to ourselves, I ask participants in “The Beauty Shop” at Embody Love Movement to do exactly as described above. After the post-it notes are placed onto one volunteer to symbolize our collective body and consciousness, each negative belief is then read aloud. The result is stunned silence. To hear these cruel remarks verbalized is excruciating. It is heart breaking that we are so unkind to ourselves, speaking in ways that we would never consider thinking about or expressing toward another human being.
Whether we vocalize these negative thoughts or play the soundtrack of critical commentary in our minds as a way of imprisoning ourselves to impossible standards, we are impacting those around us. When we hold ourselves in contempt for not meeting an internalized standard of thinness or of beauty, we necessarily cause others to feel devalued. Our insecurity about our bodies, spoken or unspoken, is contagious. And although we are called to practice ahimsa, we are indeed causing harm to ourselves and to others by holding on to shame or to judgment about the way that we appear. We then make it impossible to recognize and to realize our internal value. And by measuring our worth in this way, we necessarily cause others to feel that their worthiness is based on their appearance as well. We lose sight of what matters.
How do yogis, as a culture of those committed to compassion, change the way we talk to ourselves about our bodies? We begin by understanding that being willing to embrace what we look like is a first step in embodying love for who we really are. Easier said than done? If this seems like an impossibility for you, begin with looking in your mirror, and instead of evaluating your reflection, look deeply into your own eyes. See into who you are. Then, try speaking aloud, directly into your soul. Tell yourself the truth: that you are exactly who you need to be in this moment and that you are exactly where you need to be right now. See if you can, even if for a moment, believe in the beauty within you.
Melody Moore, Ph.D., RYT, is a Clinical Psychologist and co-founder of Embody Love Movement, whose mission is to inspire girls and women to cultivate compassionate awareness through yoga, holistic nutrition, and psychotherapy so that they can embody truth, purpose, and love without condition. We stand for all girls and women being fully accepting of their bodies, themselves, and each other.