BY Jo Taylor
We hear a lot about making peace with our bodies. And rightly so. It’s an enduring debate that seldom leaves the mind of every self-aware woman. However, lately I’ve been thinking that we could also start to make peace with other people’s bodies. Although the two obviously go hand in hand because how we feel about others is so often a reflection of the way we feel about ourselves. This led me to think about making peace with other people’s bodies as a tool to help make peace with our own, like a circle of acceptance.
Because the heart of this stems from compassion and kindness, reaching out to others rather than damning them for their lifestyle choices, which might inadvertently be a cry for help. (But hell even if it’s not, who are we to judge, really?) Either way I believe it’s an inside job. What if we could start to accept that there is no right or wrong way to look or live? It’s so easy to make a flippant comment like, “she looks like she needs to eat a sandwich” which is actually just as insulting as “she looks like she needs to put down the fork.” Oh my god, when will we let up on each other?
Of course this ties in to the whole media debate about the images we are fed. It leads me to ask, are celebrities really the perceived enemy or is it actually our own contemporaries who are? Is it the editor of a glossy fashion mag who is to blame for our lack of empathy towards the way others look? Or is it the friend you sit and have a coffee with whilst verbally crucifying the food choices of the girl sitting on the next table? You could argue it’s a chicken and egg scenario, but ultimately it boils down to everyone taking responsibility. That includes us. We can’t keep blaming fashion designers, celebrities, and magazines for promoting pictures that make us feel inadequate when really, we could do with taking some responsibility for our own outlook. At some stage we have to acknowledge that we can choose to think differently, no-one has (yet) microchipped our brains. We still have the opportunity to think for ourselves.
So, perhaps making peace with other people’s bodies starts not only with ourselves, but with our friends and contemporaries too. We could promote change from the inside outwards rather than waiting for magazines, fashion designers and celebs to change what they’re doing and change their attitudes. We don’t need to wait, we could act first. Of course the media have a responsibility too but it is my belief that the buck doesn’t stop there. We don’t print the pictures, we can’t ban the ones we like and keep the ones we do and unless we start living under rocks, we can’t stop encountering media images of the latest ideal of beauty. So my solution is not to avoid, but to be able to greet whatever image comes our way from a solid bedrock of self acceptance but more than that, acceptance of others.
How could we move this forward? Here are some ideas:
• Start with ourselves. And this means self love, self care, finding the good in ourselves so we have a real chance of being helpful towards someone else.
• Making ourselves our own role model and helping others to do the same. Setting our own standards but realizing that equally, everyone else will have their own and it’s not down to us to alter, change, abhor or condemn them.
• Using ourselves as a bench mark to how we are doing, not comparing ourselves to others and not comparing them to us.
• Taking a moment to figuratively walk in another person’s shoes
• Writing a checklist of all the good things you believe about yourself, even if at first, the list seems short. Equally, focusing on the good points of others (tougher to do when they’re pissing you off) but I specifically mean looking at someone and instead of mentally saying, ‘oh my god look at her thunder thighs’ you stop yourself and say, ‘wow, cool top!’ instead.
• Taking the time to restore a little faith in our ability to feel self love, compassion and respect for ourselves. And in turn, for people on the street, at work, in a bar, in a magazine, and even on TV (!)
• Surround yourself with people who uplift you, support you and love you as you are right now, not what you could be if you lost a few pounds and went to the gym more. This way you’ll be more likely to offer the same unconditional love to other people you meet.
• Genuinely compliment another person and truly mean it, this feels surprisingly amazing and spreads the chain of kindness.
• Give ourselves less of a hard time about all the things we think we should be doing (and eliminating the word “should” from our vocabulary!) Applying this to others by realizing our way isn’t the only way. So what if someone likes to eat 5 litres of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream? They don’t need your ‘Oh my god, that’s disgusting’ judgement, but they might need your real compassion.
We’ve all done it, we’ve all bitched, lectured and gossiped about another person’s body and they way they look and we’ve all compared ourselves unfavourably or superiorly to others. But now I truly believe we need to suspend judgement and criticism because as we all know, it gets us nowhere. So I am proposing a change in perspective. Where making peace with other people’s bodies actually extends beyond the superficial façade of shape and size that we see and where the lenses we choose to view life through are filtered with kindness, compassion, empathy, respect and love. Maybe then we will realize that we are all connected.