self-love meditation

Breaking free from body shame: The path to self-love with meditation

Before I began teaching meditation, I worked in the fashion industry as a teenager and young adult. The environment was rife with body shaming and pressure to fit into sizes well below a healthy BMI range. 

I, too, struggled with feeling insecure about my body. And I saw beautiful individuals hating themselves and their bodies, constantly feeling inadequate. 

Over the years, I’ve realized that very few people truly and wholly accept and love themselves and their bodies. Body shaming and self-criticism seem to affect nearly everyone to some degree, regardless of shape, size, skin color, or age.

The impact of body shaming on our lives

Our society glorifies youth, pushing adult women to strive for a teen or 20-something appearance. The prevalence of aesthetic procedures, including injectables, has skyrocketed globally—and the vast majority are done on women. Social media and the unrealistic beauty standards set by face filters and photo-editing apps vastly contribute to this trend

Children and teens are especially vulnerable to body dysmorphia and body shaming due to social media and face filters. In fact, research shows that 40% of teens say social media images make them worry about their body image, and nearly half of young people are dissatisfied with their appearance. Furthermore, 70% of young people today are teased about their appearance, leading to plummeting mental health and self-esteem.

Finding the right motivation for self-improvement 

While aiming to improve ourselves is important, we must ask ourselves: What’s my motivation? Is it truly for health and self-expression, or is it rooted in self-hatred or nonacceptance? The latter can severely harm our mental health and self-esteem. 

Loving ourselves is a twofold path: first, accepting ourselves as we are, and second, taking a stand for our health by saying, “This unhealthy pattern or behavior is no longer acceptable.” 

Loving ourselves also means asking, “Am I healthy and thriving?” If the answer is no, it takes courage to step out of our comfort zone and take action toward improving our mind, body, and spirit. 

So, how can we strive to improve our well-being while reframing how we perceive and accept ourselves?

The power of self-love meditation

One of the most effective tools I’ve encountered is a form of self-love meditation called loving-kindness meditation. This meditation involves wishing for happiness and reducing suffering. Studies show this practice lowers our stress response, reduces self-criticism and depression, and significantly increases our self-compassion and positive emotions.

Loving, accepting, and having compassion for ourselves doesn’t make us complacent—it has the opposite effect. When we cultivate the self-love to care for ourselves, we’re more likely to eat healthier, exercise, and overcome harmful behaviors.

Cultivating self-compassion through self-love meditation

Feeling kindness toward ourselves can be challenging, especially if we’ve experienced hurt and rejection. So begin slowly by cultivating loving-kindness toward someone or something that spontaneously evokes feelings of kindness within you. Picture this being in a pleasant setting, smiling at you. Feel your heart’s connection and let the warm, loving feeling arise within you. Send them kind wishes such as “May you be happy” from your heart.

Once you’ve connected with the feeling of loving-kindness, imagine yourself as a small child—innocent, smiling, curious, and playful. Feel that same acceptance, love, and compassion toward yourself as a child. Sense how this child is lovable and enough, even with imperfections.

Finally, imagine yourself now and feel your body in this moment. Send this same feeling of acceptance and loving-kindness to yourself. Move your attention through each body part you’ve struggled to accept, appreciating what each part has done for you, like how your thighs have allowed you to walk and participate in activities you love.

When you practice loving-kindness towards yourself and your body, you connect to your heart's qualities: love, joy, acceptance, and compassion. Truly feel these qualities before sending your loving wishes, expanding your capacity for compassion and kindness towards yourself. This is the essence of transforming shame into self-love.

Be patient and seek support on your self-love journey

A transformation like this takes time and consistent practice. For most of us, the journey of self-love is lifelong, requiring daily maintenance to combat societal pressures. I still sometimes feel dissatisfied with my appearance, but I now have tools to catch and turn around those shaming thoughts.

Looking at past photos of myself from that time when I was obsessively dissatisfied with my appearance, I now realize I looked great. I remind myself of this when I catch critical thoughts arising. I ask myself, “Am I healthy and thriving?” If I answer no, I follow a plan to improve my health. If I answer yes, I say to myself, “These shaming thoughts may not be real.” I follow that statement with a few moments of loving-kindness towards myself. 

Be patient with yourself—this journey of transforming shame into self-love takes time and consistent practice. You could also limit your exposure to people, environments, media platforms, or photo filters that trigger negative self-comparison or make you feel worse about yourself. Surround yourself with positive and supportive individuals who uplift and encourage you to be the best and healthiest version of yourself. 

And if you struggle with an eating disorder, body dysmorphia, addiction, or severe mental health struggles, please don't feel shame in reaching out to a licensed therapist who can help guide you through these challenges toward loving and taking care of yourself.

Remember, self-love is a journey, not a destination. Take each baby step with compassion and patience. Know that you can change your patterns and are worthy of love and acceptance just as you are. 

For more self-love support, including a guided loving-kindness meditation, download the Balance app. Your entire first year is free, and I encourage you to give it a try.

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