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Finding Joy in Your Flesh Prison

Real quick: How’s your body right now? What muscles are tensed? How hard are you breathing? 

I have a weird problem: I keep forgetting I’m in a body. I tend to think of myself as an abstraction. My body is the inconvenient meatmobile that carries my brain around.

And then I’ll get shocked back into my body, astonished by it. I’ll catch my smudged eyeliner in the mirror and think hell yeah, that’s me. A roaring hunger will grab my attention when I’ve been absorbed in work for too long. I’ll feel my cheeks flush in cold winter air. 

These days, I spend a lot of time reminding myself that I’m in my body. I can’t afford to be unkind to myself. I enact affirmation, over and over. Yes, I value this body. Yes, I want to protect it. 

There are the obvious tactics — clean eating, physical activity, no cigarettes. But I find it takes more than that. So here’s another thing I do: I lean into vanity.

Be conscious of the language you use to describe your body

Try to swap out negative refrains with positive ones, even in your head. (But if you want to say them out loud so you can make fun of yourself for it, I recommend that, too.)

I, for example, am often clumsy in situations that in no way call for clumsiness. I have reframed this as, “No one has more practice than I do at playing off absurd fumbling as natural and non-notable. You’re the reigning sovereign of this micro-genre of acting.” 

The other day I nearly fell over the “queue up here” sign at the pharmacy. I played it off so casually I bet the pharmacist didn’t even know I was mortified.

Look at the people in your life who look like you

Think about how much you love how they look, how you wouldn’t want them to look any differently. Try to see yourself the way you see them. It’s like a magic eye poster. Concentrate.

Look in the mirror and name things you like and why you like them

Do this with full awareness that you’re going to tell it as an anecdote to your friends later, and surely that’s the only reason you’re doing something so embarrassing. Then commit to the exercise, because you don’t want your friends to think you can’t be earnest.

Get some absolutely killer photos of yourself

This can be hiring a professional to shoot new LinkedIn headshots. This can be bribing a friend to take new dating profile photos of you hanging out at a park. Most importantly, have a photographer whom you trust not to judge you, or go somewhere you won’t feel self-conscious taking selfies. 

Take an absurd number of photos. Switch locations, wardrobes, poses. Keep only your very favorite ones, and let yourself believe that you always look as incredible as you do there. 

I’m confident that a not statistically insignificant number of marriages occur because someone involved wasn’t aware that you don’t need an engagement to wear amazing clothes, do your hair and makeup just so, and hire a photographer to make you look amazing. You’re an adult. You can do that anytime you want. There’s a reason Lizzo expounds on the power of “new photos with the bomb lighting.” 

Connect who you are inside to what you look like outside

Do your makeup like you’re a mermaid! Paint your nails in the color scheme of your favorite video game! Wear coats that make you feel like a character in Ocean’s 8! Externalize whatever makes you happy. Give yourself something to smile at when you look down at yourself.

Use clothes to try out different identities

Several months ago, I bought a pair of men’s jeans, and now I wear them at least once a week. Every single time I put on these jeans, something delightful happens. I look down at my legs, suddenly masculine, like they’re the hologram on the cover of the Mulan DVD. A wave of impish joy crashes over me, like I’ve flawlessly executed a heist. I always — always! — look up and catch myself in my mirror, where I grin at my reflection as if to say, How about that?

I don’t know what item of clothing makes you feel that way, but I hope you’ve got one.

So, how’s your body now? 

What can you do to be kind to it?

Featured photo by Florencia Potter on Unsplash.

Published inPersonal

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© Mary Gaulke 2023