This is a limited weekly series about “soul stealers”. A soul stealer is something that zaps your energy and dulls your vital spark. It goes against your personal values and does not serve or nurture you. Our week six soul stealer is allowing the common culture to influence how you perceive your body.
Every single person was born into a unique body. The chance of a sperm and egg meeting up and conceiving is one in four quadrillion. The chances of a person being born in the flesh is almost zero. You in your entirety are special and a divine miracle. Each of us has genetic characteristics and lived experiences that make us uniquely us. Everything about each of us is authentically marvellous from our head down to our toes.
How incorporating common cultural messages about our body hinders us.
The media encourages how people should look and dress. These images may become the desired norm (but not normal). It promotes unrealistic messages about bodies by excluding certain physical traits, styles, body types, races, sexual orientations, ages and those with visible scars or disabilities. People may incorporate unrealistic messages about their bodies into their psyche. These messages create unnecessary dissatisfaction with oneself, lower self-esteem, and body image distortions. These messages can keep playing in one’s own mind through their inner critic.
Unhealthy messages can perpetuate unhealthy behaviours like plastic surgery, spending on clothes to conform, over-exercising, binging, purging, and anorexia. It can drive one to seek out plastic surgeries, hair straightening, perms, skin lightening, and tanning. If these things are not part of one’s authentic expression of self, it can lead to feelings of helplessness, unworthiness, self-esteem issues, depression, and anxiety. It can cause a loss of one’s individuality, culture, and natural looks.
How art therapy can help us through
K. (pseudonym) and I worked together using art therapy, a form of psychotherapy that uses creative artmaking as a means for expression. She sought help for depression. She claimed lost interest in doing things that she used to love, like swimming and kayaking. She gave up eating well and exercising. In our work together, K discovered that her inner critic was strong. Her negative self-talk was on high volume and it was sabotaging her self-esteem.
During one of our sessions, K. wept when she repeated the horrible words a critical family member said to her. She stated that this person was harsh about people’s appearance, their weight, how they dressed, wore their hair etc. K. recognized that she internalized these messages and was harsh on herself. Through art therapy, over time, I taught K how to recognize the negative self-talk and challenge it. She was able to turn down its volume.
How can we step away from negative societal norms?
Conforming to the overculture may turn us away from our natural gifts and innate beauty. We must challenge our own inner critic and those who criticize others based on appearances. It is a very shallow way to assess a person’s worth. When we conform and turn away from our uniqueness and to become someone we are not meant to be, it hurts us.
Choosing how we look, and dress can be an artful expression of one’s authenticity. How well do we feel when we wear our favourite colour, put on accessories that mean something to us or have a hairstyle that suits us? It is a confident person who exudes a devil may care attitude and can rock their own style.
We must embrace the wisdom of our body and accept how glorious it is. It may be a miracle we are still here after a life-threatening illness, stroke, or injury. Wrinkles and scars are the writing on our body's that tell stories of our lives. Treat yourself as if you are someone that you cherish, patient loving and kind. A scar, wrinkle, dimple, or fat cell does not limit the depth and breadth that you can live your life. Being something you are not, takes away from your authenticity and your higher purpose. We are meant to stand in our full and unique power. Be you, everyone else taken!
Heather Caruso is the art therapist of Art Therapy Guelph. To book a get an acquainted chat contact us today. Click here.
 What Are the Odds of You Existing at All? (lifehack.org)
 Comparing to perfection: How cultural norms for appearance affect social comparisons and self-image - ScienceDirect