How our obsession with our outer appearance interferes with who we really are.
The other day, I was talking with a client who has lost about thirty pounds towards her goal of fifty. She even found this remarkable when she realized that the thirty-pound bags of soil she was dragging around her yard were the equivalent of what she had lost and had been carrying around every moment of every day. Yet, rather than being ecstatic about how well she’s doing, she was more bothered by the wrinkles that were showing up on her thinner face and the new bat wings on her slender arms. She said when she reaches her goal weight, she’s already planning to have the wrinkles and sagging skin removed.
This is not a unique story. According the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, Americans spent nearly $10 billion on surgical and non-surgical cosmetic procedures in 2011. And despite our obsession with dieting, as a nation, we’re getting heavier. We’re relentlessly fixing our physical selves as if we’re broken, yet, no matter how much work we do, we can always find something that needs color, concealing, lifting, separating, tightening, reducing or removing. Yes, we’re obsessed with our appearance and it never ends.
Could it be that our obsessions with our bodies are a smokescreen for something bigger? The other day, T. Harv Eker tweeted the following: “What a shame or a rip off to human society if you don’t share your unique message with the rest of the world.” This “message” as he refers to it, represents our non-physical qualities that we were put on this planet to express.
As children, we have no problem acting out our true selves, having temper tantrums in public, or dancing in the aisle of a train like the little boy I saw yesterday, but as we grow older, we're taught to conform, to behave, and to play by the rules. So as adults, putting ourselves out there makes us feel vulnerable, worried that we’ll be seen as different, maybe criticized, and even worse, afraid we might fail.
And so rather than break through our fears, listen to our inner guidance, and put in the time and effort it would take to grow towards the perfect versions of ourselves, many of us choose to focus on nitpicking over every inch of our outward appearances. I for one have done this for many years, believing that I could never reach the level of success that I want because I don’t have perfect facial features or because I have scars on my body, neither of which would have any impact on how well I coach my clients. If anything, they make me more human.
Also, we often don’t look at our bodies with regard to how they perform day to day but rather how they look. For example, rather than thank our legs everyday for carrying us around, we look at the cellulite on our hips and thighs and say, “Yuk”, and then we punish ourselves with a stream of negative thoughts and eat ice cream and cookies so that we can continue to obsess over our thighs rather than satisfy our true hunger.
Is there a dream you’re not pursuing, a relationship you’re not nurturing, or a talent you’re not developing? If so, imagine how it is serving you by holding back and then ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen if I went for it?”
If you want to make the shift, but are unsure how, here are two practices that have helped and still work for me:
1. I began to practice meditation and found that it not only started to give me a different and much more positive perspective of the world around me, I began to look at myself differently with compassion, appreciation and love. It also gave me (and still gives me) guidance around the issues I face in my world.
2. I lost myself in a cause doing volunteer work in Rwanda with people who were sick, starving, and living in poverty. This experience allowed me to quickly get over myself and at the same time be grateful for my body for withstanding everything I had put it through in my lifetime.
There is security in hating ourselves. It keeps us safe and small and busy and it’s easy to love that. Yet deep down, it won’t bring us happiness. It will keep us looking for more. And as long as we continue to search for whatever “more” is in our dress size or smooth skin, happiness will elude us. Only when we discover it from within, will the need for self-hatred melt away and give rise to the love of loving ourselves.