As I get dressed every day, I stand in front of my full-length IKEA mirror and look at myself.
It’s hard to do that—really see what I look like—without judgment. My first instinct is to look with criticism. I berate myself for looking nothing like the models in the media, even though I remind myself that they don’t look like that either: they have pores and blemishes in their skin and extra curves and wrinkles on their bodies.
I struggle to love my body for its strength and health, for birthing my two children, and for allowing me to feel and experience physical life. It’s a conscious struggle to do this. A constant reprimand and redirection of thought, like scolding a small child. “No, Marci, you’re making an unfair comparison and hurting Marci’s feelings. You say you care about her; why don’t you show it more by being kind to her?”
There have been facets of my physical body that I’ve always loved: my long, dark hair; my pale skin; my sexy, curvy, hourglass figure; my small waist; and my flat stomach. As I age it all changes, and I struggle to find my beauty in those changes, to not judge myself harshly, or compare my 52-year-old, post-hysterectomy, post-menopausal body to my 25 or 35-year-old body (which is an unfair comparison).
I’ve gained weight and many more curves lost collagen and estrogen and gained sags and ripples and wrinkles. And lots of gray hair (but I have hair dye for that.).
Like many people, I have a rich and complicated internal dialogue where I narrate everything I am doing and thinking to myself.
I am conscious of how I talk to myself about myself. Being a big proponent of talking to myself as nicely, kindly, and supportively as I talk to others whom I care about, I practice this daily. I sometimes slip into self-deprecation but quickly remind myself that I am kind, loving, and generous of spirit. I am open-hearted and loving in my relationships. I’m intelligent and creative. My past traumatic experiences have taught me to be resilient and strong. I’m compassionate and find deep meaning in helping others and being of benefit to them. I love these things about myself and remind myself of them often.
Despite being aware of all of this, I’m human, and sometimes I fall into the rabbit hole of negative self-talk and struggle mightily to climb out. I regularly judge and cruelly criticize my body, and I have to work hard to see it kindly and generously. I would never talk to, or about, another human being the way I catch myself talking about my own body. It’s so horrific and awful I could never utter them aloud. Yet, I think them loudly inside my noisy brain.
What is the reality of this?
My clothes fit differently. But instead of berating myself for it and forcing myself to wear things that, although I still like, I am no longer comfortable in, I buy new clothes that fit my style and aesthetic while flattering me and bringing out my confidence. I now value the feeling of comfort in my clothes over fashion and see how this directly translates into attitude, confidence, and mood.
I’m self-conscious about the extra stomach bulge over the deep scar left behind by two cesarean sections, the flabby bits that move on their own, that pull me out of the moment when I’m making love with my husband. As I move in passion with his body, I am sometimes embarrassingly aware of the not-so-subtle differences in how my body responds to pleasure and the new limitations of stamina and movement. This offers up new opportunities to scold myself.
But, he loves me and my aging body because it’s aging alongside his, and he thinks I’m beautiful. He reminds me daily by calling me beautiful as if it is my name. “Beautiful, do you want a cup of tea?” I love his aging body and never even think negative things about it.
It’s a process. I hope to get better at loving myself with time, patience, meditation, and daily practice.
Repetition is the key to creating any new habit. It helps to train our minds and accustom us to new behaviors. I consciously instruct myself in these new, more loving, and kind ways of thinking and behaving.
We need to practice expressing patience, forgiveness, kindness, love, compassion, and uncompromising support to ourselves and, over time, it will become how we think and feel. Our self-love and compassion will become instinctive and reliable.
We all have room to improve and be more compassionate and friendly to ourselves.
Next time you notice yourself slipping back into the rabbit hole of negative, self-criticism stop and consciously practice generosity, self-kindness, love, and compassion—maitri.
Speak it aloud. Write it down. Journal it. Leave yourself notes.
Let me know how it goes!