Loving our bodies can be a challenge. Although our physical bodies work hard to carry us safely and efficiently through the world, if we’re facing illness, pain or physical limitations it can be hard to keep that fact in mind. And even in good health, we often focus on a physical feature or two that we don’t like for aesthetic reasons. It’s easy to get tunnel vision and only see those disliked features and to forget all of the other parts of your body that help you every day. This article will provide guidance on how to learn to love your body, flaws and all, by getting to know the parts of you that you may have never noticed before.
As therapists and psychologists know, it is difficult to change a strong dislike into a strong like, and if you really don’t like your nose or your thighs, it’s unlikely that even the most positive thinking will transform those feelings overnight. Unless of course you get hit by a car and lose your nose or thigh and then pretty quickly most people will come to the conclusion that they were lucky to have had such a functional nose or thigh.
But your nose or your thighs are just a small piece of the puzzle--one shouldn’t need to be hit by a car to appreciate what you already have, so take a moment to identify an overlooked part of your body that you feel neutrally about. It could be your elbow, your eyelids, the soles of your feet--any body part that you spend little time thinking about and which you genuinely neither like nor dislike.
Once you’ve identified this body part, commit to paying attention to it for the next week. Each day at the end of the day, in a journal or anywhere that is easy, write one function that the body part helped you achieve that day. For example, if you are writing about your eyelids, you might write “There was a lot of pollen in the air and my eyelids protected my eyes from it.” For your elbow, you might write “I had to carry a lot of groceries today and my elbows helped me get them from the car into the house efficiently.” You might also incorporate these reflections into your sex life, such as “My elbow helped me get into just the right position to digitally stimulate my partner the way they like.”
These reflections may feel a bit silly at first, but by the end of the week you will have several positive observations about your body that you can look back on when you start to feel down about yourself. Perhaps most importantly, by making the effort to notice and record these observations, you are training yourself to learn to love your body. Psychological research shows that even when it is difficult to find things to be grateful for, the effort alone to find gratitude rewires our brains to be more positive and self-loving. So even on those days when it is tough to think of anything to say about your eyelids or your elbows, make the effort to identify something!
At the end of the week, you’ll probably notice you have a much stronger sense of your elbow or eyelids or the body part you chose. Although you may still have moments of focusing on the features you don’t like, you will have balanced them with moments that have helped you learn to love your body. You will have expanded your sense of your body and become more aware of the ways in which your body helps you every day. Now it is time to expand your awareness further: in addition to reflecting on what your eyelids or elbows do, focus on how this body part feels.
As you journal your observation on what your elbow or eyelids did each day, take a moment to bring your sensory awareness to that body part. Some questions you may ask yourself during this exercise: Does it feel hot or cold? Does it feel sore in any way? Does it feel relaxed or stiff? How itchy does it feel? You can also touch the body part and simply observe what the part being touched feels like in that moment. Each day try a different type of touch and record what you notice, e.g. “Day 1 - I tried a soft tickling touch on my eyelids and it really relaxed me” or “Day 2 - I tried a firm, kneading touch on my elbow and noticed that I felt a tingly sensation down my arm and into my fingertips.” You can play with different sensations, too - bringing in a soft silky fabric or warm water to see how this changes the touch your body part receives. There is no “right” or “wrong” kind of touch--though you should stop any painful touch immediately--and you may try any kind of touch that you are curious about. Try and identify at least 3 different types of touch that feel amazing! See how these kinds of touch can elicit feelings of relaxation/calm or pleasurable excitement. Take a moment to notice any emotions that come up during the sensory experience.
You may notice that some types of touch elicit sexual arousal, perhaps unexpectedly. Feel free to explore this as much or as little as you would like! If you notice any arousal, you may observe it and simply let it be--there is no need either to increase it or discharge it at the moment, unless of course you would like to. You could likewise decide to bring this practice with you into your sex life: the next time you’re engaging sexually (alone or with a partner), pay attention to what you may be feeling in your identified body part. And as with non-sexualized touch, pay attention to any emotions that arise with this sensory experience.
You may choose to write freely about your experiences, or even keep track of your experiences using a table:
Type of Touch
Sensation I experienced during the touch
Emotion I experienced during the touch
Circular motion with one finger tip, lightly touching
Calm and optimistic
Ice cube on it for 5 seconds
Cold, wet, uncomfortable
Tingly, a little aroused
You may notice through this exercise that observation and curiosity have replaced some of the self-judgment or critical thoughts you have historically directed toward your body. You are learning to treat your physical features with love, which helps you learn to love your body as you begin to view your body as something worth nurturing and respecting. You may still find it difficult to take on the features that you have felt distressed by, but over time as you build skills in showing your body love, you can extend them to even these parts. And if you would like to explore these issues further, or to develop a personalized plan to learn to love your body, you can schedule an appointment by calling 215-922-5683 x 100 or book an appointment online.