The flowers blooming outside my window mean that summer is on its way, which means a good percentage of us are freaking out about how not swimsuit-ready our bodies are. Again.
This yearly tradition really needs to take a hike.
Here’s the thing. It’s so easy to let society’s messages about bodies and beauty and standards and expectations and identity seep into your psyche. It’s so easy to glance at the cover of Shape magazine in the checkout line at the grocery store, with its “Flat abs! Lean legs! Firm butt!” headlines, and automatically start dogging on your body and feeling bad about yourself.
But you are not your body. When you look in the mirror, you see the physical form that transports you through this life, but that physical form is not YOU.
Your soul is you. Your body is the vehicle that enables your soul to do its work in this world—nothing more and nothing less.
I say it’s nothing more than that because the real you—the soul that is mysteriously but obviously associated with your body—is who you are. Your body merely allows your soul to experience joy, love, kindness, sadness, heartbreak, awe, humility and all other amazing things this earthly life has to offer.
And I say it’s nothing less than that because, well, the job it’s doing is kind of important. Vitally important, actually. You wouldn’t be able to do any of that earthly life stuff without your body. You wouldn’t be able to express yourself without your body. Heck, you wouldn’t be here at all without your body. You absolutely need it in order to be human.
And for better or for worse, you only get the one. You can’t trade in this vehicle for another one; the body you’re traipsing around with is the only one you’ll ever have. We don’t get to choose that, and it’s a colossal waste of energy to complain about it. As we tell our kids, “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.” All we can choose about our bodies is what we do with them.
Now, I could easily tell you that what your body looks like doesn’t matter, but we all know that’s not 100% true. If it were, we wouldn’t bother getting haircuts or plucking our eyebrows or doing any basic grooming. There’s nothing wrong with wanting your vehicle to look presentable, or even attractive. If you want to bang out some dents, go for it. If you want to give it a paint job, hang something shiny from the rear-view mirror, add some bumper stickers, more power to you.
But like any vehicle, how your body runs is much more important than what it looks like. If you don’t take care of it with at least halfway decent fuel and regular maintenance, it’s not going to run well.
Sucks, I know. I’d much rather sit and eat Tillamook Mud Slide ice cream (WHY is it SO GOOD??) and curl up on my couch than make myself eat salad and let Jillian Michaels kick my but for 25 minutes (WHY is it SO HARD??). But bodies generally don’t do so well sitting around eating ice cream all day and not moving. Life is cruel, isn’t it?
But for me, remembering that my body is a vehicle with a really important job makes it a little easier to prioritize taking care of it. The better our bodies function, the more easily they can do their work. That’s a fact. But your body doesn’t have be “perfect” in any way to function well. Tummy pooches, cottage cheese thighs, bony knees, a big schnozz—none of those things affect your spirit unless you let them.
Your identity is not wrapped up in your vehicle. Take care of your body, but don’t obsess over it. Strive to keep it healthy, but don’t fall for the idea that it needs to be perfect.
And most importantly, do not berate the one body that moves you through this life, no matter what it looks or feels like or how it runs right now. Kicking tires doesn’t do anything but hurt your feet, and hating your body won’t change anything about it. Treat it well, feed it well, and make it work hard. Decorate it however you want. Set goals for it if that works for you. Give it the love and respect it deserves for carrying you through the world.
But never confuse the vehicle with the person driving it. You are not your body, and your body is not you. Don’t listen to anyone or anything that makes you believe otherwise.