We express thanks for the people we love and for the blessings in our lives, but there is one other kind of gratitude that you might have overlooked — one that can have a lasting impact on your relationship with yourself — the gratitude for your body and spirit, loving yourself just as you are.
With a fine line between self-appreciation and narcissism, we often shy away from saying “thanks” to ourselves. After years of self-criticism and lack of appreciation, I decided to try a gratitude exercise.
Before the age of 10, I began to highly dislike my body. It felt like a liability to drag around — never good enough, never like the ideal image in my mind. My legs were just not long enough, waist too big, arms too crooked, eyes not the right color, nose too big . . . and the list went on and on. And why? Who was to blame for this negative thinking? The culprit was my own mind. My own thoughts were telling me that my body was not good enough.
It was only over a decade later that I realized this thinking pattern needed to change.
Thoughts of negative body image are binding. They kept me from feeling at ease, from doing things that I loved, and from being able to relax and have fun with friends. One memory from 6th grade gym class: Everyone had changed and gone to the gym, but instead of enjoying the time with friends, I stayed in a bathroom stall for the whole class period, hiding — all because I was embarrassed and unhappy with my body.
Then there was a close brush with anorexia. I considered it quite fine to avoid food for a while. Having no energy and becoming sick seemed normal to me because I did not care for my body at all. (Very quickly, my mother noticed and snatched me out of the habit.) Why was I treating my body this way? For the simple reason that I was not fitting into the ideal body image in my mind.
Teenage years aside, the body hatred followed into my twenties. I grew out of clothing, and jobs, and friendships, and habits — but still for some reason, I could not grow out of the negative body image thoughts.
The thoughts were impacting my relationships, my health, and were hindering my ability to pursue goals. It was time to change that.
The change in my thought pattern did not happen in one instant. It took diligent work and dedication, but little by little, the thoughts changed.
A few years ago, I decided to start a gratitude journal — specifically, a journal about gratitude for my own body.
I began to write, a little bit each day, about every feature, every limb, every organ. I expressed gratitude for my eyes, because no matter what color they are, they allow me to see. I wrote “thank you” for my legs, because even though I would have preferred longer ones, these actually allow me to walk. And run. And dance. And I felt grateful for my nose, ears, mouth, skin, etc. After writing about features, I wrote about organs. I felt grateful for my heart and lungs, which tirelessly work while I think about other things. And I was grateful for my brain, controlling everything like clockwork. Grateful for my spinal cord and nerves. Grateful for my stomach, intestines, kidneys, liver, bones, muscles. The list goes on, all the way down to the tissues and cells. I am grateful for all those cells — doing all that they do, and knowing exactly what to do and when.
The gratitude entries helped me step back and see the bigger picture. Our bodies are an amazing creation, a wondrous mechanism that we do not even fully understand yet. The gratitude opened my eyes to this wonder, and humbled me before whoever or whatever created us in the first place.
And I finally felt happy with the way I looked, because there was so much more to be grateful for. I was able to feel at ease, to focus on more important things, to pursue goals, to kindle relationships.
These days, I am enjoying this new attitude. I can finally focus on my health rather than worry about my appearance. After all, true beauty is the radiance of wellness shining from within. I no longer hold my breath to appear thinner. I don’t mind if my belly inflates as I breathe in deeply. I can finally allow my body to relax, to feel comfortable, to truly breathe, to be.
Gratitude does not mean “complacency.”
Feeling gratitude for my body does not mean that now I am complacent. It does not mean that I will not exercise or eat well because now “anything goes.” Instead, the mental change that took place was a change from doing actions out of fear and hatred to doing actions out of love. I used to exercise and diet out of fear of gaining weight, and out of hatred for my appearance. Now, I exercise, eat well, and take care of myself out of love — the love and gratitude for this body, and for everything that it allows me to do.
I encourage you to take a journal, or just a piece of paper, and start a gratitude list. Write about all parts of your body, especially the ones you don’t like right now. It might seem silly at first, but if you just stick with it and give it some time, you will notice a true difference in your thought patterns.
This gratitude-life-changing experience inspired me to create the children’s book Thank You, Me. The book expresses gratitude for all the things our features and senses allow us to do.
Although a “children’s” book, I hope that it might appeal to readers of all ages. And although the target age group of this book might not be struggling with body image issues just yet, it is never too early to learn about expressing gratitude and becoming mindful of how wonderful our bodies and senses are.
Ready to try some gratitude?