The Secret to Loving Your Body

We live in a consumer culture that defines everything as a product. This even applies to the seasons of the year. Summer is sold to us as a time when we can shed the responsibilities and pressures we normally bear. But there’s something else we shed for the summer – our clothes. And for many of us, this is a humiliating experience. We may not possess the lean, toned body that’s supposed to conform to the ideal image of summer. For those people, summer isn’t a carefree time; it’s a season of self-conscious inadequacy.

Summer isn’t like winter. It’s easy to make a New Year’s resolution about diet and exercise while wrapped in layers of protective clothing -- and easier still to forget all about it. Who will know? But in summer the measure of your determination and discipline – or its lack – is revealed to others every time you go outside.

This fear of public humiliation is so great it spurs many of us to take action: crash diets, food fads, supplements, personal trainers, yoga, Pilates, etc. Yet, despite how motivated we seem to be, we can’t keep it up. Somewhere between Memorial Day and Labor Day we lose resolve and the program falls apart. If they are so driven to get in shape, how can they quit so easily?

Actually, quitting was inevitable. Why? Because our attitude toward our bodies is all wrong. That sleek, firm body isn’t a living part of us; it’s just another thing to acquire. The price might not always be money (although personal trainers, superfoods, and gym memberships aren’t free); just as often the cost is sweat and effort.

The problem is that, like anything else you “buy” in a consumer society, the product is presented as possessing the magical power to change your life. At first we believe this illusion; we pursue the perfect body with a desperate kind of enthusiasm. But at some point, usually sooner than later, we discover that we are still the same person with the same problems. Our body has failed us, so we give up. We cap this psychological disaster by viciously criticizing every physical imperfection we can find in ourselves.

This doesn’t mean diet and exercise are unimportant or that there’s something wrong with wanting a fit, attractive body. But these things can only be accomplished when you stop seeing your body as a thing you can command and control. In fact, “command and control” is a concept developed as part of warfare – hardly the right model for dealing with your physical health.

To succeed you must see your body as a living being you’re forming a relationship with. If you’ve been following this blog you’ve already read about Jung’s concept of the Shadow – an inferior part of yourself you hide from the world. We’ve explained how, when you stop hiding your Shadow, and bring it into the world, you release hidden forces. What does this have to do with your body?

Plenty. When your body isn’t “good enough,” when you’re afraid of what others think of it, your body has become your Shadow. At that point you can accept and bond with your Shadow/body just as we’ve described it in past blogs. And, as we explained, this bonding process must continue as long as you have a Shadow, which is all your life.

Let’s see how this applies to the everyday process of diet and exercise. The typical person watches their diet, makes an effort to become more active and starts to lose some weight. Soon enough, they realize this is not an easy process. They look and feel better, but no magic has happened. Then they slip: maybe a few drinks too many at a restaurant leading to a rich dessert. They wake up hungover and skip their workout. A few days later they repeat this pattern. All of a sudden they’ve gained a few pounds.

They’ve reached a pivotal moment. Usually, they begin to attack their body for its every imperfection. This is painful, so painful it leads to giving up.

Now let’s see what happens when they change their goal from pursuing magical perfection to forming a relationship with their body.

The consequences of slips change. Self-criticism becomes an opportunity. These instances become cues to accept your Shadow and bond with it. Rather than making you hate yourself, these challenges create opportunities to grant self-acceptance and to experience the peace of mind that comes with it. This actually makes the diet and exercise process less painful and, paradoxically, you become less likely to quit. And as a result, you get something more important – a new, more human way to relate to yourself.