It has been a while since I’ve written a blog post, but I was inspired by the beautiful words and images from a post on a website I recently discovered, CancerGrad. In moving and eloquent words and stunning images, Aniela, after having gone through surgery and cancer treatment, writes a love/apology letter to her body:
“Now, I have done the unthinkable to you. I cut into you, had parts of you cut off, parts of you cut out. I poisoned you over and over for months.
Yet, every time you HEALED. ”
She thanks her body for always being there:
You only ever want the best for me. You only ever want me to succeed. I love you body! You are my best friend, my confidant, my lover.
You mother me and you protect me. You fight my battles. We will be together as long as we live and I will cherish you, hold you, caress you, kiss you, hug you, love you.
Many of us will never think these thoughts and will expend endless energy defying, hating and maligning our bodies. What needs to happen for us to move to this point of loving our bodies (ourselves)?
We see our bodies through such a highly critical lens. “I’m too fat.” “I have no butt.” “My boobs are too big/small.” “My thighs….” The idea of speaking lovingly to or about our bodies is so foreign to us.
As a therapist, I see many people struggling with body image issues; some have physical illnesses, and some do not. I sometimes ask clients, “What part of you do you find beautiful? Strong? Has served you?” And, they usually look at me like I have two heads. Some can’t come up with a single thing. What psychic scars are we inflicting upon ourselves, when we wholly reject our bodies?
I encourage people to write a letter to their bodies: What would you like your body to know? What have you been afraid to tell it? What questions would you ask your body? I ask clients to write a letter back, from their body. What does your body want you to know? How does your body feel about how you have treated it? Do you want to know what it has to say? Admittedly, this enforces an unhelpful binary view of the body as distinct from who we are. But, I also think this can be a healing exercise that almost anyone would find insightful. We have to start somewhere.
More often than not, we don’t think of our bodies as precious. We loathe, despise and resent them. I have struggled with these feelings too. But I also have found gratitude for my body for surviving toxic cancer treatment and surgery. And when my doctor (inevitably) asks me, ‘wouldn’t you like more “symmetry”,’ I say, “No.” No more surgery, unless it’s absolutely necessary.
We can explore the potential roots of this dissatisfaction with our bodies, such as sexual inequality (women’s value based on appearance) and capitalism (beauty standards that encourage us to consume products and sell us superficial and unachievable dreams), but we must accept the bodies we have (which are always in a dynamic process of change), not just intellectually, but on a gut level. I hope that if you write this letter to your body, it will be a step toward reconciliation.
We only have one life to live, and one body to live it in. You (and your body) deserve only the best.