Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Your Body is Beautiful.

My mother bought me my first bra at 9 years old out of necessity. Unaccustomed to such accoutrements, I almost always forgot to wear it and would panic when I remembered my new, missing article of clothing. My breasts arrived amply and without warning, becoming the source of a good deal of embarrassment and shame. I got into the habit of wearing baggy, ill-fitting clothes to hide what I didn't realize were lovely curves, and began to identify as a "big girl." I have never really been overweight, but I didn't look like the models in Seventeen and YM, and to me that equated to being fat. So I hid my body under my big clothes and hoped that no one would notice me and my feared, resented breasts.

Then I went to college and started taking ballet three mornings a week and practicing on my days off. This physical activity combined with shifting hormones led to loss of baby fat and my favorite high school teacher questioning my eating habits when I went to visit her over my winter break. Even still, I continued to compare myself to the models and actresses populating the popular culture I consumed, and in my mind I never measured up because I still didn't look like them.

curvacious cutiepie
Then Hollywood gave me a role model in the form of Scarlett Johansson, the reviver of a modern day hourglass figure. There's a scene in He's Just Not That Into You where she looks positively bodacious and I remember seeing her and thinking, "Hey, wait a minute, I kind of look like her!" Finally! A woman in entertainment within my generation that looks like, well, a woman. The industry has been dominated by the flat chested, no hipped Kate Moss aesthetic for the whole of my formative experience and it was deeply empowering to see ScarJo on the screen in all her busty, hippy glory.

Shows like the enlightened, inspiring (and hilarious) How to Look Good Naked are encouraging women to stop comparing themselves to airbrushed, unrealistic images in magazines and movies, and start loving and working their bodies just as they are. The aforementioned show uses an interesting exercise in which the host asks the woman being body image reprogrammed to place herself in a line up of other women based on size. The woman inevitably always thinks she's three to four sizes bigger than she actually is and it's obvious looking at her in the line up. She cannot see what I see.

And yet, it's taken me ages to begin to see my own body clearly and learn how to appreciate and make the most out of my shape, instead of hiding it under over sized, shapeless garments. I still find myself in front of the bathroom mirror turning around, scrutinizing every inch and frowning at the areas that I find dissatisfactory. I possess a growing consciousness that every time I pass this sort of judgement on myself, it hurts me a little more. With every scornful look, I am missing out on an opportunity to affirm my worth and appreciate my amazing body for everything that it is, instead of furrowing my brow over what it is not.

Ultimately this is what we lose when we get lost in comparisons: the ability to appreciate what is. There is a beautiful Osho card that addresses this, Comparison:
"Who ever told you that the bamboo is more beautiful than the oak, or the oak more valuable than the bamboo? Do you think the oak wishes it had a hollow trunk like this bamboo? Does the bamboo feel jealous of the oak because it is bigger and its leaves change color in the fall? The very idea of the two trees comparing themselves to each other seems ridiculous, but we humans seem to find this habit very hard to break. Let's face it, there is always going to be somebody who is more beautiful, more talented, stronger, more intelligent, or apparently happier than you are. And conversely, there will always be those who are less than you in all these ways. The way to find out who you are is not by comparing yourself with others, but by looking to see whether you are fulfilling your own potential in the best way you know how."

This comparison habit can extend beyond our own self-image into our relationships with others with the same result. When we compare our partner or child or friend to another, focusing on what the other has that they do not, we are missing the wonderful things that they do have. This can also apply to moments in life that we find unpleasant. By demanding that someone or something be like something else, we are losing its reality and what it has to offer. I am attempting an internal shift in which I opt not to compare myself or another person or moment to anything or anyone else. With grace and neutrality, I hope to begin to open to the reality of everything, celebrating with every breath the beauty on offer in every person, in every moment.

As with most transformational journeys, once again, the path begins within, with your next glance in the mirror. Will you ask yourself to change and withhold your love until you do? Or will you look yourself in the eye and pour your love out without condition or comparison?

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