So many New Year resolutions have to do with the body: we want it slimmer or more muscular. We decide to eat healthier, choose a no-alcohol January or start going to the gym again. In themselves, these are good aspirations. But I wonder: are we respecting our bodies or are we attending the Church of Body Worship?
“What’s the difference?” you may ask. Let’s take a look:
At the Church of Body Worship, you focus on the appearance of your body: fantasizing about people with perfect bodies (in fashion/fitness magazines, movies or videos) and wishing that you could look like one of those people. Maybe you areone of these people, and you spend a big chunk of your life maintaining your perfect body. Maybe you used to be one of those people, and – like Cher – you still spend endless time and money (personal trainers, liposuction, fillers, plastic surgery, super-rigid diets) trying to prevent your body from aging/changing.
Here in Southern California, we find ourselves in a prison of impossibly high standards of beauty. Even if we are highly accomplished and deeply loved, we’re still held to an impossibly high standard of physical appearance. We’re told that we must have perfect teeth, skin, muscles and hair in order to be barely acceptable.
This quest for physical perfection feeds the consumer economy. Plastic surgery, which used to be common only among movie stars, is now something that many aspire to: save your money and get a new face/butt/chest/waist. It’s become quite common for people to have plastic and chemicals inserted into their bodies to make them more valuable. Have you ever wondered how your body’s natural processes feel about all this artificial crap being forced in? Some studies I’ve read say that plastic surgery disrupts the body’s natural processes and actually ages the body internally (which eventually manifests externally).
What’s the solution?
First, instead of Body Worship, focus on Body Respect, where the health of your body is what matters. And happy, healthy bodies look better: your skin shines, your hair grows better (when your scalp relaxes) and your body will find its “natural” weight and shape.
Very few of us have bodies like fashion models. They’re genetic freaks who typically undergo rigid exercise and dietary programs to market and sell their highly atypical bodies. I’ve had friends and clients who were fashion or fitness models: the constant focus on eliminating every little imperfection, the intense daily weight training and super-restrictive diets don’t make for happy people. But when you focus on health, you feel better inside and out.
Second, if you want to develop your body, focus on strength, flexibility and practical usefulness. It’s great to be strong enough to do the things you want to do, but flexibility is just as important.
Focus on your entire body: make sure that all the parts work well, individually and collectively. I’ve seen overly muscular people who can barely walk normally, or folks at the gym with amazing upper bodies but underdeveloped lower bodies (or vice-versa).
Take care of your body so you can live your life the way you want. This may be easy at ages 20 or 30, but how about when you’re 40 or 50? As someone who turns 70 in June, I’m very aware of what my body will and will not do. To minimize the aches and pains of aging, I’ve created my own fitness regime (a very flexible combo of weight training, yoga, meditation, walking and swimming) to help me stay as strong and flexible as possible.
Third, wise up to the forces behind Body Worship: social media/advertising/marketing encourage us to obsess on our body’s appearance so they can make money off us. They sell us Desire: a desire for a better body, perfect hair, nicer clothes and ageless skin. Wake up and stop consuming media content that encourages you to treat your body as a commodity to be manipulated.
Luckily, it’s never too late to break out of the prison of Body Worship. Begin to truly appreciate who you are: invest your time and money in self-development, healthy friendships/romances and work that fulfills you. Use your intelligence, kindness and creativity on a daily basis and stop hating yourself for not looking like a model. Happy, healthy people are usually more liked, loved and respected. Why not try making this your focus in 2023? You have nothing to lose but your self-hatred.
—Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBTQ clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.