The Body Mantra – A Love Letter to My Body
A guest post by Erin Nichole Boyt, Artistic Director of Version Excursion Dance
Last week, a dear friend of mine and I were painting each other’s toenails after patching up a big fight. (It’s how we fix things. Don’t judge. It works for us.) As we sat on her bathroom floor in front of a rainbow assortment of nail polish, we found ourselves doing what every self-respecting thirty-something woman in America would do in this situation: talk about our bodies.
“I love my body. There’s nothing about it I’d change,” I said.
“Isn’t it interesting,” my friend responded, “that it’s so culturally acceptable to talk about all the things we don’t like about our bodies, but it’s uncomfortable to talk about what we do like?”
The thing is, I didn’t always love my body. In fact, I spent the first thirty years of my life engaging in the same body-shaming self-talk as most American women. It took years of hard work confronting my body image before I finally came to what I now consider to be a healthy relationship with my own flesh and bones. And because relationships take work, I continue to cultivate it every day- just like my closest friendships.
Dancers are by far among the most prone to going down this path. Eating disorders, body dysmorphia, compulsive over-exercising (also known as hypergymnasia). . . you name the self-destructive behavior, you probably know a dancer who engages in it. The high expectations and physical demands of the job can be a lot of pressure. Historically, we’ve been expected to be thin yet strong. Dainty yet powerful. Expressive yet conforming. And if you don’t bring the perfect balance of all those things to the studio every day- you’re out of the job. Not to mention,
the correlation between hypermobility and anxiety can leave our nervous systems pretty vulnerable, to begin with.
It’s easy to get angry with your body for not doing everything you want it to, especially when your job is on the line. But what about everything it does do for you? Our bodies work so hard for us. They keep us safe. They move us through the world. They breathe for us and pump blood constantly, and we don’t even notice. Like a program running in the background, our nervous systems allow us to hear and see and smell and feel things and experience the world. Yet when we get sick or injured, we shame ourselves for needing a rest.
My friend’s comment called to mind a significant moment I’d had a few weeks prior. I was having a bad day and compensated in some pretty unhealthy ways. I over exercised, drank too much wine, and completely forgot about food and water – the combination of which resulted in a very poor night of sleep, leaving me exhausted and dehydrated the next day. It wasn’t the first time I had done that, and my body had enough. As I lay in bed mustering the energy to get up and get dressed for work, something that felt very much like an external force pulled me back under the covers and spoke to me in a voice that wasn’t scornful but very sad and clear as day: “I do so much for you. I let you lift weights and dance, run and eat delicious food. . . please take better care of me.”
Ok, Body. Message received. You got it.
I grabbed a pen and wrote down the words as they came to me like someone was literally standing next to me speaking them. In that moment, I made the decision to treat my body as I would a dear friend. It’s not something to take my anger out on or shame for not doing something or looking a certain way. It has worked very, very hard for me and deserves respect.
Now I make a habit of thanking it for all of its hard work by writing letters back to it. No, I’m not kidding. I actually write physical letters to and from my body. So, I thought I’d share by making this into a game for anyone who wants to play along at home. Think of it as Mad Libs in the form of a love letter to your body that you can keep as a mantra anytime you find yourself teetering on the precipice of the Infinite Abyss of Shame.
Set. . .
Thank you so much for everything you’ve done for me. Today we (verb)ed and (verb)ed, and your ability to do those things continue to amaze me. Because of you, I get to see (noun) and taste (food noun). I love the way you (verb) and your (favorite body part.) When you send me signals of fatigue or pain, I promise to care for you in return by (verb)ing because I know that when I need to (verb) again, I can call upon you, and you’ll be there for me.
(proper noun, preferably your name)