Let me share my earworm. It’s a riff of a Backstreet Boy’s song
Everybody (yeah, yeah)
Love your body (yeah, yeah)
Love your body now.
Adam Sud should have died. Seriously addicted to amphetamines and fast foods, his body and soul were in rough shape. Feeling defeated, he attempted suicide. In an interview with John Robbins, Adam said that when he survived, he grasped how hard his body fought to keep him alive. From that moment on, he decided to give back, to take care of the body that had taken care of him. He began to love his body. At 350 pounds, Adam said he didn’t love how his body looked; he loved what his body did for him. That love turned his life around.
Recently, a friend asked me how I found the time to get outside and exercise daily. “I don’t know,” I said. “It just happened.” But as I thought more about it, I realized, it didn’t “just happen.” Something changed. I had begun to love my body as much as I loved work.
For decades, I’ve been addicted to work. I love doing and accomplishing–the more the better. Then, when we were away for a week on Vancouver Island in March, I noticed how much I enjoyed not working. When we got home I didn’t want to go back to the same old same old. I made sure that every day, I took a mini-vacation. I got outside.
This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this desire. When I worked as a pastor and had a few weeks off, I felt like I’d stepped off a fast-moving train. I remember feeling afraid that I wouldn’t get back on. I believed that getting on that train and pushing myself to accomplish more was what I needed to do to be a faithful Christian. I also believed I wouldn’t have worth if I didn’t.
But I don’t believe that anymore. God isn’t asking me to push myself, do more, and sacrifice my body to serve the kingdom. I’m not indispensable, and I don’t need to prop up my ego by doing things to prove my worth. I have worth because I’m a child of God, and what God loves God cares for and wants us to care for as well.
When I was obese, I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. I believed I was a beautiful person, and I tried to see my physical appearance as beautiful, but I didn’t know how to equate my state of unhealth with any sense of objective beauty.
I think it’s because my body saw what I was doing to it and didn’t like it. It also didn’t like what it heard from me. I gave a clear and consistent message: I don’t like you. I criticized my body, frowned at it, fought with it, berated it, and ignored it. The only way I could conceive of loving my body was to love how it looked (and I couldn’t lie) or give in to its cravings (and that would be disastrous). I knew on some level that my body wanted to be fed nutritious foods and get a good night’s sleep and regular exercise, but it was hard to believe it really wanted that because none of those things made my body sing. Not at first, anyway.
But that wholesome desire was there. When I saw others my age losing a significant amount of weight, I thought, “If I ever lose the extra weight, I’d be able to bike farther and faster.” More than looking good, I wanted to feel good when I moved. I knew what that felt like, and I wanted more of it. That’s when the pounds started to come off. Adam Sud helped me understand what was happening to me. I had begun to appreciate my body for all it did for me. I felt compassion for it, and I wanted to take care of it.
I hear time and time again from wellness experts that we think we can improve ourselves by being critical, and if we let up on ourselves we’ll become fat and lazy. “But the opposite is true,” experts say. “What you love you will care for.”
I love my body. I love what I see in the mirror. I’m grateful for how my body moves with energy and ease. I thank my body for all it does for me and am learning to ask it, “What can I do for you?”
The first law of healing: We want to care for the things we love. The first step in toppling Galatea from Pygmalion’s pedestal is for you to love your own body just as it is now. To love your face, your skin, your shape, size, age. To love it first, and then to let your self-care arise naturally from the love and respect you have for who you are, not for who you should be in the eyes of others. We want to care for the things we love. Most of us have it backward: I’ll love my body if it’s thinner, if my thighs don’t jiggle, if I change the way I look–my nose, my hair, my skin my breasts, my neck, my belly. We diet or exercise or buy products in hopes that maybe one day we will love what we see in the mirror. We regard the body as if it’s a problem to be solved, as if there is something fundamentally wrong and it’s up to us to bully ourselves into lovability. And because the motivation to care comes from the outside, from someone else’s standard of acceptability, we cannot apply the first law of healing.
—Elizabet Lesser, Cassandra Speaks: When Women Are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes
∗ ∗ ∗
Elizabeth Lesser is the co-founder and senior adviser of Omega Institute, the largest adult education center in the United States focusing on health, wellness, spirituality, and creativity. She is one of Oprah’s SuperSoul 100. She is the author of Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, A Seeker’s Guide: Making Your Life a Spiritual Adventure, Marrow, and her latest book, Cassandra Speaks: When Women Are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes. There are a number of interviews with Lesser about Cassandra Speaks. Here is one by Banyen Books. Once you hear this Ted Talk you will want to hear her other one, Take “the Other” to Lunch.