An Invitation: A Letter of Gratitude to My Body
Everyone today is faced with messages that our bodies--at least their exterior appearance--are projects. To put the reality of this into perspective, I suggest looking into Jean Kilbourne’s work as she has chronicled decades of the increasing magnitude of cultural pressures on women, especially through advertisement, since the 1970s. Among the internet searches is an entire series of documentaries called Killing Us Softly 1-4. They are profound.
These cultural pressures have only grown ten-fold since social media has entered the picture. Rates of depression and suicidality since around 2011-13 have tripled for preteens. These are young people who grew up with social media. A recent documentary titled The Social Dilemma captures how these platforms are essentially taking advantage of the individuating process, which is developmentally appropriate during the teenage years, for profit. It explores how on social media the product is the person and how the concept capitalizes on insecurities. Young people understandably try to compensate for an unrealistic ideal.
I’d like to propose, especially for parents of daughters, to consider ways we can slowly counteract this some. As parents, we are also typically managing self-worth and body image. I invite you to consider how do you show up in your relationships? How does media impact you? In what ways do we as parents get swept away with the illusion that our appearance is our masterpiece, rather than our lives?
Now let’s reframe. What if it’s our lives that are the projects rather than our exteriors? What if the project is discovering one’s sense of self? What if the focus were on cultivating that and the relationships that bring connection and meaning to our existence? How can we communicate and reinforce that our physical bodies, in some ways, are mere skin bags that hold and enable so much more? Especially in our everyday lives with our children.
There are certainly many choices to us in this life--but when it comes to our bodies, at the end of the day, perhaps there are two: accept the exterior how it is, or not. If we don’t, we’re often wasting our time.
Imagine the power that could come from this shift. How many corporations would go out of business if tomorrow people woke up and decided they like themselves the way they are? What if we looked after our bodies in terms of a vehicle for so much more? What could follow in the wake of some acceptance, especially for this generation who is growing up on social media?
Many young people today are aware of the millions of ways our culture reinforces our bodies as a product. The young people I work with in the field, once reconnected with their sense of self, are often furious about it. But then what? How can something shift? It is a tall task that could begin in the dialogue in our homes around young people’s upbringing given the narrative of our culture and the stories we’re told about our bodies versus our sense of self. This begs for empathy as boundaries are held around social media.
For yourself, and for your children: Take a moment. Thank your body. See gratitude for things we easily take for granted. My legs allowed me to walk today. My eyes saw a beautiful sunset. This is just the start, but important small steps. Talk with your children about this refreshed sense of awareness. Gratitude can turn what we have into enough.
Ultimately, my body works on behalf of my soul. Why be at war with it? In the end, we don’t have the weapons to defeat nature, time, biology, fate.
This isn’t to say there is a moment of “peace, at last.” There is a place for body positivity, body neutrality, and body acceptance, each in their own. We just have to let our soul shine through and trust it will work its magic. Our bodies are our vehicles for life. They are the vessels for our Self. I’d argue that our bodies aren’t the art itself, rather the paintbrush.
It is overdue for us as a culture to examine when the external fine tuning overtakes the internal magic.
We need a call to arms in our culture and especially for young people today. It isn’t the body’s purpose to be a project or a product. We can meet all those means--finding connection, romance, success--with our souls. We can foster our bodies to move safely through life. Beyond that, our bodies have one purpose, to let the Self shine through and reach its full potential.
I sit with people and listen to their very long battles against an enemy that in the end they don’t intend to defeat. Role model giving this up for your children’s sake. Accept. Hold space for yourself and for them to express whatever is needed so that a Self is discovered. Watch how it will shine through. It is when truly living begins.
Kilbourne, Jean. Killing us softly. (Series).
The Social Dilemma. 2020. Netflix.