Our relationship with our physicality can be positive, ambivalent, injured, bitter, and hostile, sometimes by the season or the day. Your body takes you everywhere, but have you considered the place your body occupies in your mind? Have you ever taken the time to define what type of experience you want to have with your body beyond looking a certain way?
A Forbes Health/OnePoll of this year’s New Year’s Resolutions of U.S. adults offers a cultural lens, as 39% of those surveyed wanted improved fitness, 37% wished for weight loss, and 33% looked to improve their eating habits. Resolutions centered around hobbies, new skills, and travel, which would likely involve using one’s body, were afterthoughts. When we place our focus on the aesthetic experience only, forgoing the functional experience we have with our bodies, we are likely setting ourselves up for unsustainable pursuits. The consequences of that focus may not serve us very well later in life.
When defining the values by which you want to experience your physical self, it is important to think beyond just how you want your body to look. Consider what you want to be able to do with your body. Think of more than how you want to feel emotionally when you look in a mirror. Think of how you want to feel physically getting out of bed each morning. How do you want to feel climbing multiple flights of stairs? How do you want to feel playing with your children or grandchildren? Our values in the physical domain have much more to do with the quality of our experiences throughout life, than what size we fit into today. Another way of thinking about the values you hold for your physical domain is to ask yourself, “What physical consequences do I want future versions of myself to experience?” If you value freedom from the distractions of pain and lethargy later in life, you will need to establish behavioral investments now toward that value.
The physical domain is one in which our values easily become misaligned with our behaviors. Beauty standards based on sociocultural constructs can pull our attention from all our body is designed to accomplish into dissatisfaction and negativity. In contemporary media, the average female model has a body mass index (BMI) far below the normal range. Photoshop and filters are used to further modify the look into one that is impossible to achieve for most women. The male ideal has evolved to become similarly harsh, with action figures becoming more muscular and “V-shaped” with defined abdominals over time.
These external constructs can cause us to evaluate ourselves based on manufactured standards. Self-surveillance tells us how close we are to the ideal. From there, we internalize those social “norms” and modify our thoughts regarding our bodies. Shame and anxiety can follow, as well as more harmful mental health issues. Teddy Roosevelt was right: “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
So, if cultural body standards have steadily changed to become more and more unrealistic, should they be the basis of your value? Mark Manson gives three characteristics of a good value:
(1) It is reality-based, meaning you can attain it.
(2) It is socially constructive. It has benefits for you and those around you.
(3) It is immediate and controllable. You have total control over the value’s attainment.
Pinning your body’s worth on out-of-reach and guilt-inducing societal norms fails all three of these criteria. One might argue that criterion three applies, but genes, age, and socioeconomic factors are just some of the elements that can bar you from reaching the cultural ideal (which may shift as soon as you get there).
Under The Eight Domains, Benjamin Holmes stresses that our values guide our actions based on how we want to show up in our lives. Our values frame how we experience ourselves in the physical domain. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) has some ideas to build values on, including the following:
· “Appreciate all that your body can do.” As Don Miguel Ruiz writes, “Your body works hard to stay healthy and to make your world easier to tolerate.” Even if you cannot do everything you would like, thank your body for breathing, laughing, and helping you care for the ones you love.
· “Remind yourself that ‘true beauty’ is not simply skin-deep.” Your physicality is part of your whole self. Acceptance of your body’s uniqueness is powerful and recognizes the journey you have been on together.
· “Do something nice for yourself.” Thank your body for all it does with a nap, a peaceful stroll outside, or your favorite lotion or cologne. Show your body you appreciate its vigilance and perseverance.
NEDA also notes that becoming critical of messages in the dominant cultural media can help you cultivate a more positive body image. The beauty industry generates over $100 billion in global revenue annually and is set to expand with increased interest in self-care and wellness. That is the motivation behind its messaging, and it is worth considering as you craft your message about your body.
There is nothing inherently unhealthy about cosmetics, extreme athletics, or amazing clothes. Showing up for yourself in the physical domain is an exercise that is unique to you and one that can produce dividends in other domains of your life.
However, each domain is subject to cultural struggles. Those industries and persons influencing the physical domain know their “why,” and you must find yours, too. The professionals at Benjamin Holmes Counseling can help you build a sustaining, meaningful relationship with your body. Reach out if you are ready for change.
Stephanie Barca and Benjamin Holmes help clients take stock of their values at Benjamin Holmes Counseling.
 Davis, S. (2023). New Year’s Resolutions Statistics 2023. Forbes Health. www.forbes.com/health/mind/new-years-resolutions-statistics/  Id.  Wenzel, A. (2017). Social Standards of Beauty, Body Image and Eating Disorders. In The sage encyclopedia of abnormal and clinical psychology. Online ISBN: 9781483365817 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781483365817.n1289. Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet created the Body Mass Index in the 1830s; he was an astronomer, mathematician, statistician, and sociologist. Brazier, Y. (2023). How useful is body mass index (BMI)? Medical News Today. Body mass index (BMI): Is the formula flawed? (medicalnewstoday.com).  Wenzel, A. (2017). Social Standards of Beauty, Body Image and Eating Disorders. In The sage encyclopedia of abnormal and clinical psychology. Online ISBN: 9781483365817 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781483365817.n1289.  This is also key to a SMART goal.  Wu, E. (2020). My Takeaways from The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Medium. My Takeaways from The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck | by Eason Wu | Medium  National Association of Eating Disorders, 10 Steps to Positive Body Image. 10 Steps to Positive Body Image | National Eating Disorders Association, Retrieved July 7, 2023.  Ruiz, M. (2018). The Three Questions. HarperOne.  Petruzzi, D. (2023). Cosmetics industry – statistics and facts. Statista (2023). Cosmetics industry - statistics & facts | Statista