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Sun, June 1, 2014
What’s in the Mirror? Non-duality and Body Image
As a mom of a teenage daughter and son, body image is an important topic that I have, and must continue to address with my children. I, like every other mother out there, want my children to always accept themselves just as they are. But, as a former teenager and young adult, I understand how difficult that can be.
 
For most of my life I've struggled to maintain a positive body image. No part of my body was ever exactly the way I wanted it to be. My stomach wasn't flat enough, my legs weren't toned enough, my skin wasn't clear enough and my arms weren't thin enough.  As a result of these, and countless other imperfections, I've been on several diets, taken hundreds of pills, spent thousands of dollars on dozens of gym memberships, and invested many, many hours feeling disgusted, disappointed, and ashamed of the image I saw in the mirror. That disappointment and shame went deeper than the image in the mirror, yet I was trying to use what I saw on the surface to fix what was inside.
 
When discussing body image with my children, there are a few ways I can approach the issue. Given societal trends and current perceptions of beauty, I'm compelled to tell them to embrace their uniqueness, and disregard society and its definition of healthy and appealing. One way to embrace their uniqueness is to repeat positive affirmations like “my body deserves love”, “I love and respect myself”, and “my body is a gift”.  While these affirmations may not do much about what others think of them, at least my children will think highly of themselves (ideally).
 
However, because society’s definition of beauty will have some influence on their definition of beauty, I could also take a different approach and make sure they adhere to those standards and eat the right foods, avoid unhealthy choices, and diligently count calories and exercise. This regimen will likely translate into a body that's perceived by others as healthy and acceptable; which will then translate into my children’s personal happiness and contentment with the image they see in the mirror.

While these approaches to a healthy body image have worked for some and may work, to some extent, for my children, I have found that they are limited and temporary and will never get to the root of the problem of poor body image. First, positive affirmations only bring attention to the negativity that's hidden under the statement.  I found that the need to look in the mirror and say, "my body deserves love", "I love and respect myself", and "my body is a gift", simply confirmed the fact that I did not believe those things. I really felt that I didn’t deserve love, I didn’t love and respect myself, and my body was not a gift. 
 
By affirming the opposite of what I really felt, I hoped to change my true feelings. This did not work and only made me feel worse about myself. Not only was I fat and disgusting, but I was also lying to myself.  In my experience, the truth doesn't need to be affirmed, declared, or reiterated. What’s true is true without my saying so.  Positive affirmations only placed a temporary band aid on the real problem.
 
As for regular exercise and eating right, this is absolutely the answer if you're trying to lose 10 pounds just for the hell of losing 10 pounds. But, exercise and cutting fat out of your diet is not the answer if you're trying to feel better about yourself. Feeling better about yourself must happen before the image in the mirror can change. This leads me to a third approach.

From a non-dual perspective, I can address the body image issue with one, direct question. What body? I could start the conversation with my children at the assumption, the assertion, the certainty, and the solid belief in the concept of a "body". Are my children bodies? Is that what they really are; an appearance... an image? Is poor body image the real source of unhappiness, shame, guilt, and self-hatred? No, it isn't.
 
Body image is not the source of the problem because they are not bodies. And neither are we. We are not "bodies". A “body” is a concept... a description, an interpretation, a verb or a noun (depending on how you use it in a sentence). "Body" is a sound that is heard (when someone says it) or a word seen on a piece of paper or on a screen. As a concept, "body" is limited and specific. That is the nature of all concepts... to be limited and specific.
 
My children are not concepts. My daughter is not limited. My son is not a specific thing. They are real and unlimited with untold amounts of boundless potential. The words "healthy", "shapely", "tall", "muscular" and "strong" will never describe who they really are in a way that locks them into that description. They are not an image in a mirror.
 
Therefore, attempting to use a "body”, an image, or an appearance as a tool to find happiness is futile. Thinking, feeling, and believing we are a limited concept compels us to look outside of ourselves for love, contentment, acceptance, and happiness. As a "body", food, diet pills, gym memberships, and other concepts are "outside" of you. So it's the body's "doing", "choosing", "deciding" and manipulation of objects that will result in happiness, contentment, acceptance of yourself, and love from others. But this is not true. You are not limited as a body, an image, or an appearance.

So if we are not a concept of a “body”, how do we deal with feelings of self-loathing, disgust, and shame? Why are they present? If we are not a body, yet when we look in the mirror, we feel self-hatred, unhappiness, disappointment, and revulsion at what we see... how do we feel better? Without looking outside ourselves, how can you solve the problem?
 
We must first recognize and acknowledge the real problem. The problem is not a "body image" and the fact that you now wear a size 10 instead of a size 2. The problem is not that your triceps and biceps are not as defined as the bodybuilder on the cover of MuscleMag. The problem is not that it's been 2 weeks since you've eaten a vegetable or drank something other than beer or soda. The problem is not the concept of a "body" and the way that "body" looks in a mirror. 
 
The problem is that you (the real you) have made a simple mistake in believing you are a specific, limited object separate from your Source. The solution to this problem is the realization that it is not true. It’s that simple. There is no problem. The belief in separation is a mistake... an error. You are not separate. What you are does not matter. What you are not is what’s key.
 
I totally understand the problem of the belief in separation seems to have absolutely nothing to do with the problem as you have defined it. What could a mistaken belief have to do with low self-esteem, guilt, depression, obesity, bulimia, and other physical and psychological problems?  As a small, limited, concept the solution to the problem, as you have defined it, is substantially more complex than a simple error in belief. As a body, solutions can be found in other concepts "out there".  In addition to being specific, limited concepts are also fleeting and impermanent. They come and they go. As a limited, specific, fleeting, and impermanent concept you will continue to search, seek, suffer and sacrifice to find an answer to the problem of poor body image.
 
I want my children to be aware that they have the option to look within for a lasting solution to any problem, including those associated with poor body image. Conventional solutions are everywhere, and my children are free to look outside themselves for solutions. They are free to see themselves as bodies.  They are also free to perceive differently. They are free to see and feel that they are not a limited concept. They are not an image in a mirror.  We all have the ability to see the problem as it is and solve the problem that is inside… which will then be reflected in the mirror.  

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