January can be a virtual minefield for those of us trying to have a healthy relationship with our bodies and minds. You can’t swing a yoga mat without hitting an article or advertisement for weight loss, undoing the effects of the holidays on our waistlines, or getting minutely closer to that ill-defined and literally impossible beauty ideal. If you’re like me, trying to live a life that doesn’t hinge on having rock-hard abs, a creaseless forehead, or anything preceded by the word “perfect” (not that there’s anything wrong with that [that’s not true…there kind of is]), perhaps you would like to share in my anti-resolution for 2014:
1. I will tune out the relentless refrain about “having my best body,” “making this the year,” and anything vaguely resembling “New Year, new you”
These phrases all sound great at first, but they have a surly undertone: they are typically meant to sell us something, either directly or indirectly; they suggest we can improve ourselves but are maddeningly vague; and they are usually accompanied by tips that seem easy enough to implement except that they don’t address the reasons certain behaviors exist in the first place. Most of all, this type of refrain smacks of “everyone else is doing it…better get on the bandwagon.” Bullying couched in healthy-speak is still bullying. I say, “Resist, my friend, there is a better way.”
2. I will not make promises about changing my body to look like someone else’s (even if that someone else is me 10 years ago, before a pregnancy, etc.)
The shape and size of my body are the results of many things, including genetics, culture, beliefs, and habits of diet and exercise. Any goal that involves losing a specific amount of weight, fitting into a particular jeans size, or lifting, shrinking, nipping, or tucking my shape ignores these things. What’s more, it creates an environment of black-and-white thinking, self-judgment, comparison with others, and inevitable failure. Relying on external milestones and ideals of beauty, we fail to heed our internal wisdom: our basic biology, signals of hunger and satiety, and our true wants and needs.
3. I will not participate in fat shaming, the dieting dialogue, or moralizing about food, eating, and weight
“I’m so huge.” “I’m never eating again.” “I will need to run home (from vacation, 3 states away) to burn off that dinner.” “I’m so bad.”
Let’s. Just. Stop. This type of language is subtle but subversive. It gets into our vernacular and we stop noticing how shaming, diminishing, and downright cruel it is. The more time and energy we spend on such drivel, the less time we have for more productive thoughts, for really taking care of ourselves and one another, and for appreciating the beauty in ourselves and in every day of our lives.
Reversing this habit is difficult, to be sure. But rather than getting down on ourselves when we do participate, we can just notice, pay attention to the motivation behind it (self-deprecation, fear, anxiety, or just being part of the crowd), and challenge ourselves to not participate next time.
4. I will slow down, get quiet, and tune into my body
A promise worth making is to pay attention to ourselves, to create the space necessary to listen to what our bodies and minds are telling us, which is often “slow down,” “take care of me,” “I can’t support you if you don’t give me what I need.” Whether we do this through meditation, a mindfulness practice, or simply choosing to say “No” to unnecessary commitments, we will develop a foundation from which to make skillful decisions and wise changes to our lives, if necessary.
5. I will become a curious and objective observer of myself
As we tune in to ourselves, inevitably things will arise. Thoughts and strong emotions present us with a choice: we can either identify with them and react, or simply observe them without judgment. By learning to do the latter, we develop resilience and become more and more able to tolerate discomfort without automatically reacting.
6. As the epic battle between head and heart rages on, I will try to pay more attention to my heart
Rene Descartes, who famously said, “I think, therefore I am,” would disagree with me on this one. But as someone who lives in her head, I know I need to connect more with my heart. My head is more likely to get confused and caught up in futile attempts to do battle with my body. My heart, on the other hand, is patient and quietly certain that I’m fine just as I am now.
7. I will become a love ninja
Not everyone will understand this anti-resolution approach to the New Year. Many will get swept up in the usual tidal wave of extreme behaviors that peter out in a few short weeks (and the self-recrimination that inevitably follows). Rather than hurling judgment at them, however, I will stealthily launch my compassion, empathy, and love.
8. I will contemplate a world in which the hierarchy of value centers on kindness and compassion rather than beauty, youth, and thinness
Just considering this for a moment opens my heart. And I think we are getting closer. If Intuitive Eating, the Anti-diet project, and the entire mindfulness movement are any indication, we are heading in a good direction.
Happy 2014 everyone!