Do you love your body?

Do you love your body?

Some things don't need to be said; everyone just knows them. Far-from-flat abs and unsightly stretch marks, for instance, are meant to be ashamed of. You don't just bare your midriff and sway to vivacious tunes. Unless, of course, you are a Shakira or a Katrina Kaif. Because form defines function.

Yet, on a recent Sunday morning, I walked into a belly dance class, tucked my t-shirt up under my bra, and gracefully moved my hips - or at least I tried. At first, the full-length mirrors on the opposite wall were too distracting, highlighting the countless flaws of my body, mocking every move I make. It was mortifying, until I lost myself in the music, learning to isolate seldom-used muscles. By the end of the two-hour class, there was a smile and song on my lips. I was in love…with my hips!

Conditions apply

The most sought-after adjective when it comes to love is, perhaps, unconditional. We crave for the love that just is, that doesn't set preconditions, that doesn't change with changing situations. However, look at our ironic relationship with our bodies. It is for life, but is there love? Is it unconditional?

It's easy to blame the social media for body shaming, but let's be honest: long before the advent of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, all was not hunky-dory. Women were still reminded that their waist was too big or breasts too small; men were mocked for not being tall or muscular enough by society standards. It has never been easy to live up to the 'ideal body' image. While what people think of the way we look can be hugely influential, it doesn't have to be synonymous with what we feel about our bodies.

Ask Poonam Gulati, who has never felt the need for breast reconstruction after her mastectomy a few years ago, despite many well-wishers' wise counsel. "I, honestly, didn't feel incomplete or lacking. I am comfortable in my skin," says the mother of a young Bengaluru-based entrepreneur. It's for the same reason that she didn't think much of going grey. "I don't want to use dyes and chemicals on my hair. It's fine if I don't look younger than my age. People are judgemental, you don't have to be!" she reasons.

Now, that's a liberating idea that took Tushar Desai more than two decades to decode. As a scrawny teenager, he was always told to eat more, get more strength, and become more masculine. "By the time I was in college, I had a gym membership, personal trainer and lots of protein shakes. But it only led to health complications and monumental disappointments," recalls the Mumbai-based investment banker. "I hated my body. I wished I could swap it with my best friend's. He was tall, well-built, popular with the girls…everything I was not," he confides.

It was only after Tushar took up badminton last year that he started tuning in to his body. "For the first time in my life, I was not really concerned about how I looked. I was beginning to understand my body's strengths, listen to what it was telling me," says the new dad, who hopes to inculcate positive self-image and self-love in his son.

Let the reason be…

Body image dissatisfaction and unhealthy obsession with "the perfect body" are so endemic in our society that recent studies are raising concerns about how children - as young as four or five - are anxious about becoming too fat. When kids constantly hear adults discuss fad diets and weight-loss tricks as well as judge others (and themselves) on the basis of their looks, young minds tend to get affected. And the consequences can last a lifetime.

Contrary to what many people may think, those who don't care about their bodies are not any better than those who are obsessed with it. Pastor Steven Reynolds from Washington DC, recently wrote a book titled Bod4God after being diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. He revisited the Bible - "the greatest health book in the world" - to draw inspiration for his fight against the chronic diseases. The belief that the body is the temple of God and should be respected helped Rev. Steve shed 130 pounds and start a programme at his church to encourage "body stewardship," the idea that the moral life requires care of the physical body.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that when it comes to losing weight, we're more likely to succeed if we believe that our efforts serve a greater purpose. Studies also show a strong correlation between improvements in body image - especially in reducing anxiety about other peoples' opinions - and positive changes in eating behaviour. By learning to relate to our bodies in healthier ways, we can embrace a positive body image, whereby we feel comfortable and confident in our physical abilities.

The mind-body connection is not psychobabble. Modern science has proved time and again that body image influences behaviour and self-esteem. According to yogic science, our bodies are rare gifts that enable us to perceive, understand, as well as create our world. "The human body, at peace with itself, is more precious than the rarest gem. Cherish your body, it is yours this one time only. The human form is won with difficulty, it is easy to lose," wrote Tsongkhapa, the renowned teacher of Tibetan Buddhism.

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