Suzanne Manser, PhD

Licensed Psychologist

Be the Change

Too often, I have caught myself sitting in my comfy therapist chair sucking in my stomach, or resting my arm in front of it. It is a subconscious habit, born from decades of subconscious societal training. I am sure I have done it while encouraging someone to let go of judgment about their body. As a responsible human, I had to look at that behavior and what message it sends the person sitting across from me. The message might be that I am not comfortable with my belly. Worse, it might be that I have judgment of others’ bellies and bodies.

If I am walking my talk, the way I sit would be based on comfort and professionalism, not whether my belly is hanging over the waist of my pants. So I have challenged myself to sit without hiding my stomach. That can feel incredibly, uncomfortably vulnerable. Simply sitting in my chair, looking “imperfect.” But every time I do it, I reinforce to myself that the size of my belly has nothing to do with my worth as a therapist, or as a human. Just as importantly, it sends a message to whomever is sitting across from me that so-called “perfect” bodies are irrelevant in this room.

There is no question that the large majority of us judge how we are doing as humans based on how others seem to be doing. This includes comparing bodies. And as Theodore Roosevelt so aptly put it, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” No one wins in the comparison game. How many times have you felt worse about yourself after seeing someone, in person or in the media, who you judge as more attractive/thin than you? If you do happen to be the victor, it only lasts until the next person you see.

When we see others with what society deems an “ideal” body, we feel bad about our own. We start focusing on our imperfections and stop enjoying ourselves. It’s the shift in focus that’s the problem, not the “imperfect” bodies.

When we see others with what society deems a “non-ideal” body who is not trying to hide their “imperfections,” we learn something. We learn that there is an option. We learn that you can be at the beach in whatever bathing suit you want and sit comfortably. We learn that you can wear yoga clothes and enjoy a yoga class without changing your body first. We learn that you don’t have to put your arm in front of your belly when you sit. We learn that we don’t have to pay that much attention to our bodies. That frees us up to pay attention to whatever we find more meaningful and fulfilling.

For the large majority of us, whether we focus on how close we are to society’s “ideal” is our choice. It is possible to not focus on it. We can each live an authentic, meaningful, enjoyable life with loving people around us regardless of what body we are in. People out there are doing it. And the more who are brave enough to do it in public, the more who will learn that it is an option.

So, I am trying to be the change I wish to see in the world. Ego and insecurity get in the way at times, but I do not want anyone, myself included, to believe body size is relevant to self-worth. I will continue to remind myself to move my arm away from my belly.

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