When love is too much, just give yourself attention
December 4, 2017
We exist in a world is comprised of people with deep convictions and an ever-widening trench between opposing sides. We're astonishingly adept at using crafting data and statistics to push us further away from a single answer or agreement. Nowhere has this felt more true lately than in my conversations, readings, and experience in relation to our bodies and food.
"Self-care" and "Self-love" have become some of the most popular buzzwords on the internet. From memes rationalizing our Target spending habits as "self-care" to bloggers trumpeting restrictive eating plans in-disguise as "#selflove," it's rare that any of us can make it through a single browsing session without a new definition or avenue for reaching our personal enlightenment.
This truth, as someone who feels passionately about the pursuit of self-acceptance and body-peace, strikes me as both lovely and terrifying. It's a conversation that needs to be had — over and over again. I'm grateful for the amazing folks (DoTheHotPants, Strong Chicks Rock, Kelsey Miller, to name a few) storming the gates and demanding body justice and freedom for all people. Rhetoric is expanding and minds are opening and I couldn't be more excited.
The terrifying part comes in when I remember that potential for manipulation of what self-love is. It's a harrowing thought that as these different definitions for self-love and self-care evolve, the more opportunity there is for division and confusion among the people seeking it. The deeper our different convictions about self-love become, the wider that trench will grow.
I fear for the bodies that will get caught in the trench.
I fear for the bodies that are told self-love is clean eating, and then find that system to be stressful and oppressive. I fear for the bodies who are promised body peace through self-care but find only additional work in buying bath bombs and painting their nails. I fear for the bodies who are told yoga will heal them, but don't like yoga after all.
The truth is there's not, at this point or likely any point in the future, a "right" way to care for our bodies and our minds. There's no cure-all. There's millions of books, and programs, and movement regimens, and how-to's that tell you they'll get you there — and one, or an amalgamation of a few, probably WILL. Body peace might look and feel differently for all of us. However, one of the few things we can promise at this point is that it is possible.
As someone drawn to (and in open support of) Intuitive Eating, I was a bit surprised to see this demonstrated by my own mom this morning as we discussed our different journeys (mine with Intuitive Eating and the beginnings of Gentle Nutrition and hers with the new Weight Watchers program) to feeling at home in our bodies and normal around food. While I'm not exactly in support of Weight Watchers or any similar plan, I am in support of the woman that stood in front of me today. I'm support of a woman who has found ways to enjoy breakfast pastries with me on holiday mornings, who falls into the pool with laughter and grace after attempting a headstand on a paddle board, who rests her body when she's sick, and who has energy and abundant love for her granddaughter. I am in support that and the fact that she feels like she has the tools to be at peace with her body.
During this confounding moment, my mom and I agreed upon one thing that's center to both of our food/body philosophies, and consequently what I think might be the bottom line for the self-love conundrum — or maybe the starting point:
Pay attention to your body, your emotions, and your actions. Then, pay attention to the feelings that awareness brings. I recently saw the movie Lady Bird*, and at one point the main character, a teen attending Catholic school in Sacramento, is asked about her love for her hometown...
"I guess I pay attention," she says.
"Don't you think they're the same thing?" the sister asks.
I adore this line. "Love," and with it "self-love," is a hard term to define. It is an action, a feeling, a possession all at once. "Love" is enigmatic. Attention is definite.
The more I thought about the conversation with my mom, the more I realized how much I've been talking about attention this week. On Friday, a friend and I talked about how helpful those "gut-feelings" can be when navigating difficult situations. On Saturday, I threw myself a dance party in the mirror as a way of reconnecting with my body. It's a powerful thing, paying attention.
It's been said before that the first rule of self-care is to trust in the body’s natural wisdom, and to make choices that are consistent with that. An obvious example of this would be eating in-line with your allergies. If you can identify that eating a nut makes your tongue itch or your stomach sick, you'd likely stop eating that nut. That's were it starts. From there we move to less overt messaging. If eating nothing but leafy greens results in you feeling weak and grumpy, perhaps that's your body's way of asking for more. If running results in chronic pain, that's probably your body suggesting a different form of movement. When you listen to those messages, you're practicing self-care. It's that simple; all you have to do was notice the signs.
Likewise, I would argue that first rule of body-love or body-peace is acknowledging the body. As I mentioned earlier, I threw myself a dance party in the mirror on Saturday. I was feeling disconnected from by body and the negative thoughts had started to creep in. So I looked at myself. I put on booty shorts and a sports bra and I shook, jiggled, jumped, and shimmied in the mirror. Because you can't love your body without paying attention to it. I mean, how can you expect yourself to feel at home in a body that you don't even know? One of the most effective ways I've found, and seen practiced by other body champions, to garner more comfort inside myself is to witness myself. Stand naked in front of the mirror, look down at your legs while you shower, turn the lights on when you change, workout with your shirt off, even if it's just in the attic. When you pay attention to your body, you can start to reconnect with it.
So start with the basics and work your way up from the trench. Begin by acknowledging your body and the sensations it's experiencing. Notice yourself. When "self-love," "self-care," "body peace," and all of it feels too ominous, impossible, or inscrutable, try self-attention.