Hey there friends!
You may have seen the post I shared on Instagram a few days ago about the thigh gap. I spoke about the gradual process that I went through of no longer believing that having a thigh gap (which doesn't occur for me naturally) is a necessary component to having a good life. Or to be considered attractive. Quite a few women messaged me saying that they have/have had this experience as well of believing that their body needs to look a certain way in order to be beautiful. Have you or do you believe this to be true?
A day after making that post, a friend and I were voice messaging each other about the notion of female body image and where these ideas come from. We were talking about how essential it is to continue our education in feminism and understanding the effects of patriarchy and capitalism on a women's perception of her own body. When we continue learning about these other ways of understanding the world, we come to see how we have adopted thought patterns and belief systems that are actually not our own. The belief that the body needs to be thin and white doesn't come from our own minds. Most of us didn't invent that thought. We were taught that thought through indirect or direct messaging through various sources (media, peers, family, etc.) But the underlying belief matrix of those groups are white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism.
Unfortunately, because we are so young when we are exposed to these thought patterns, we take them to be true because we don’t yet have the skillset to think critically about them and to offer pushback.
So a very large part of our yoga practice today MUST include identifying which thoughts are ours and which thoughts are not ours. That is a really key component of this notion of freedom that spiritual practices are often based around (also known as moksha). Being free includes being free from one’s limiting/false thoughts about one’s body. Freedom doesn't just mean spiritual liberation from suffering or the ignorant belief that we are separate from God. It also has to do with the self limiting beliefs systems that we hold about the bodies which we were born. That involves getting crystal clear about the thoughts that populate our mental space and then the slow process of teasing them apart like individual strands of cotton in a blanket. We ask ourselves: “What are my thoughts and what are not my thoughts? What do I really think and what do I know is not the truth?”
My friend and I were joking that if we all lived in the woods for a year or two and thus we didn't expose ourselves to the media or other peoples’ internalized false beliefs, our minds would probably be busy with thoughts other than how we look. I can attest to that fact having lived in baggy unisex clothes out in the woods for a year as a member of an ashram system. I was quite removed from these thought patterns and found that I rarely nitpicked my body or compared myself to others’ shape. It just didn't matter! There was so much freedom and space to reevaluate the relationship to my own body, because I wasn't exposed to everybody else's “stuff” all the time. I had space to come closer to what my own heart felt about my body.
There are so many ways that we can develop our own value systems. Here are a few examples:
1. Stillness practices
Stillness practices allow to come into a closer relationship with your own thought patterns and then question them; these are extraordinarily empowering. A seated meditation practice, for example, is something we can do on a daily basis to observe our thought quality and come into right relationship with our own thought patterns. Becoming aware of our own thoughts allows us to start to dismantle some of the internalized systems of oppression which we have adopted.
2. Be around people who have different thoughts than you
Secondly, being exposed to people who have different thoughts than your own is extremely enlightening. In learning how other people think, you can start to consider other ways of seeing the world and yourself and that in itself is extremely liberating. One way of doing that is through travel! When you’re traveling, you’re going to places where people believe different things than you. Then we can begin to consider that there is more than one way of being; there can be multiple truths!