“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love & affection.” ~Buddha
I cried when I watched the YouTube clip of Amy Pence-Brown standing in a bikini in a crowded marketplace in Idaho.
In the clip Amy asks people to write on her body. Her arms are wide open, she has a blindfold on, she has curves and cellulite, and she is completely vulnerable.
Why did she do it? Because she wanted to say: Here’s my body, complete and real. You can choose to accept me or reject me, but here’s my body. I want to make a statement that all bodies are valuable. I want to work toward self-acceptance.
I cried because she was doing the inverse of what we have trained ourselves to do.
I cried because I have spent most of my life disliking my body.
I cried because I recognized how brave Amy’s gesture was.
I cried because people were kind and wrote words and symbols of love and acceptance all over her body.
I cried because I’ve experienced the inverse.
I cried because so many of us have experienced the inverse.
Let’s acknowledge just how deep it goes.
I know a lot of people write about this. The advice is usually that we need to ignore the billboards and societal pressure and to stop striving for the body perfection we’ve been taught to seek; that instead, we should embark on a journey to love the skin we’re in.
This is all true but it doesn’t really acknowledge just how very hard this is to do. It’s flippant.
The fact is that many of us have had days, weeks, months, and years of messaging. It’s first come from external sources but is then repeated over and over again internally. The messaging is that our bodies are not okay; that they unacceptable.
We have been living in a house that we’ve been taught to dislike or hate for a very long time.
So when we are told that we should learn to love our bodies, we need to recognize that this is not an easy thing to do by any means. It’s going to take work and focus and a lot of grace and love.
The whole debate about whether someone should be happy with themselves as “fat” or “thin” or “athletic” or “normal” is immaterial.
When love is given, it doesn’t matter what shape it’s given to. It’s just given. Really, that’s what we are all looking for. When we think of our body we want to think of it lovingly. I’m not talking about pride here as pride arises from comparison and ego; I’m talking about love.
Can we remember what it was like before?
How on earth do we learn to love our bodies given that we have years of training to hate them?
When I thought about what it would really take to love my body, given what I was up against, I had a fleeting memory of myself as a young girl playing in a stream on a sand island off the coast of Australia.
I was determined to build a wall to block the stream so I could have a bath. I remembered how fun that was and exactly how it felt to be in that body.
I then remembered other experiences in my young body like doing high jump, running around in bare feet, climbing up trees, dancing, and swimming in the ocean.
I remembered back then I didn’t think of my body as anything other than a vehicle for adventure. In fact, there were many times I didn’t think of my body at all.
I then started to think about the exact point in my life when I started to acknowledge and dislike my body. For me it was around puberty when my body started to fill out.
I got pimples and started to be rated by others as attractive or unattractive. Soon boys rejected me or were indifferent, and the appearance of my body became a priority. My outside was now part of my worth.
My body was affecting my social standing. I saw the people who had better bodies become more popular; their experience of life seemed effortless. Whether or not this was the reality was lost to me.
In these formative years I would consciously or subconsciously direct my thoughts to how much I disliked my body.
I had years of training before my twenties hit, so these thoughts didn’t go away even though, in my case, the pressure to have the perfect body did.
After all of this remembering I asked myself, how I could get back to the little girl in the stream that was determined to build that dam?
I looked down at my body. It’s not something we body traumatized people often do.
Then. One by one, little by little I saw grey layers form around my body.
I knew that these layers were old.
They had formed over many, many years.
They built on each other, binding together.
They built over the little girl.
They were the specific experiences that had haunted me. They were the memories of the people who rejected my body, who had called me ugly, whether it was through a gesture, a look, or words. They were the moments when I experienced overwhelming dislike for various parts of my body.
I acknowledged that there were a lot of layers and my job was to work through them bit by bit. To thank the memory and experiences, to cry and to say that’s enough, I’d like to move on, thank you very much. You will not define me or my concept of who I am anymore.
For the truth of it is that these are just layers and underneath them all is the girl that didn’t see her body as anything other than a vehicle for adventure. She is still gloriously there.
I know there a lot of us out there who have these layers.
I know that the journey toward body love is not simple.
I wondered what would life be like if we worked through these layers and shed them with the goal of coming back to the part of ourselves that is unencumbered. I wondered if this would mean that this part of our existence would be a little freer, a little more joyful?
Amy Pence-Brown did a very brave thing and stood in a crowded marketplace. She asked people to love her body, and they did.
Her reward for this brave act was a shedding of some her own layers of pain and hurt and I’ve no doubt that she loved herself just a little more on that day.
We have that opportunity to love in this lifetime as well. We just need to remember.
Photo by Melanie Folwell