Shedding Layers of Pain and Learning to Love Our Bodies

Amy Pence-Brown

“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 

About Kaylia Dunstan

Kaylia Dunstan is the creator of The Word Room, a place of freedom and fancy, healing and wholeness, and desire and dance. She loves expression liberated and beautiful being. Kaylia has been a commercial writer for many years. Meet up with Kaylia in The Word Room and on Facebook. There’s a cup of lemongrass tea waiting.

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  • Narwhaltat

    A great piece of writing – thank you. It struck lots of chords for me. My earliest memory of becoming aware of my body, and learning to dislike it was when I was 4 years old. My mum used to do exercises at home at that time, trying to lose the weight she’d gained while pregnant with my baby sister, and I would do them along side her, as she explained why we were doing them. She always spoke in terms of ‘we’ – and I absorbed her own layers of not liking herself as my own set of beliefs – ‘we are terribly overweight’ ‘we have to lose this fat’ ‘we can’t be happy if we’re fat’ ‘we look terrible’. Over the years, this message was reinforced, in her attitude towards me and my body. I took on layer upon layer of self-loathing, from an early age.
    Using your house analogy, I would say I vacated most of the rooms in my house, and just lived in the attic – my head, my intellect. I numbed out, and buried all my feelings. It wasn’t until my early 30s that I had a bit of a breakdown – all the built up feelings burst through the barricades I’d constructed, and I gradually woke up to the extent of my own inner disconnection, and my harshness towards myself.
    I’m 48 now, and have done years and years of unpicking the layers, and feeling the feelings beneath .. and letting myself express them .. shedding old unhelpful attitudes and finding my own voice beneath.
    I am still a work in progress! These days, though, I have a much stronger positive, loving, kind inner voice .. reinforced over and over by the love and kindness of others along the way, too. I have been supported by countless ‘good mother’ figures, for which I am so grateful. I am much more at peace with myself, and my body … and am still learning, still coming up against the layers yet to be shed ..
    Thank you once again for sharing your words and wisdom <3

  • EaganRon

    Thank you for this post. I encourage you to listen to Aimée Ringle’s beautiful song “Body Mine” which affirms the beauty of our imperfect bodies.

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  • Thank you so much for sharing this. I was saying the other day to a friend when we were discussing the article that our families, particularly our mothers, can also be such big influencers in terms of how we perceive our bodies. I also love your attic reference. So true. Thanks for responding in such a powerful way. I really appreciate it.

  • Such a lovely song. Thanks so much for sharing 🙂

  • Hi Kaylia, I really enjoyed
    this article. I will admit that I have always been fit and exercised but I was
    always self-conscious of my appearance. I would go to a pool party or the beach
    and wonder how one of my friends could just stand there with their shirt off
    even though they were a bit over weight. I have always tried to keep my shirt
    on and hide who I am. A few years ago I had a heart condition that brought me
    time to reflect on how I have gone about my health in life. I realized that my
    health has always been about how I looked and not how I felt. This was
    something I had to change. I too looked back on the days when I was a child and
    would run in the rain just to feel it on my skin. Invite everyone to join me
    just to share the experience. I realized then that it was like being covered in
    mud. I was a mud man. I had smeared it on me to cover the places I didn’t want
    to see because on shame. I understood then that I needed to wash off this mud
    and feel exposed again. To exercise for the experience not the image. I began
    to make changes to how I conducted myself and learned to be gentle with myself.
    To stop using force and let my physical body take whatever form it wanted, as
    long as I always focused on treating myself with care and respect. What I have found
    is my feelings of insecurity are fading and I am getting the opportunity to
    really see others around me. I also understand that we all have our place and
    purpose. That we must not throw away the layers of mud but accept them and
    share them with others whenever we can. By healing our own layers of mud we can
    provide the opportunity for people to begin to heal themselves. Thank you so
    much for writing this article.

  • I love this post! I can totally relate.