The social forces are the leading factors in our life. Sometimes we are carried away by the societal norms and expectations that lead us to lose our sense of identity. We act based upon the ethics and morals forged by our nation, community, family, and friends. Day after day we try to look as similar to each other as possible in order not to be left out. This way, we not only miss out on our own life and live someone else’s, but we lie to ourselves. How come we lie to ourselves? Losing connection with our individual consciousness is the worst thing that can happen to us. We are raised in a world that does not encourage love and affection for oneself. Praising yourself and your lifestyle is considered a selfish and egoistic act, while in reality, self-love can heal and be the best cure for everything.
Two years ago, going through puberty, I started gaining weight. My clothes didn’t fit anymore, which initially didn’t bother me because I knew I was growing up and my body was changing. However, an older friend whom I looked up to for beauty advice and considered a mentor warned me to be careful not to gain weight, as “fat girls were not attractive.” That hit me hard and my obsessive periods of dieting and exercising started. Eventually, this compulsion affected my health, and I developed an eating disorder that restricted me both physically and mentally. I was in a state that I could not have a healthy conversion with my own thoughts as the eating disorder hid my talents, passions, and life motivations from me. My true-self was locked up inside me in a metal cage. I held myself back from thinking about food for I was afraid it would trigger my appetite. I started avoiding the social gatherings and stayed at home crying and being depressed. This lasted till I started the extensive period of reading and educating myself about my problem. The philosophy of Walt Whitman was a part of my discovery.
The 19-century American poet, Whitman wrote a poem called “The Song of Myself” (Leaves of Grass), where he celebrates his body as a part of nature. Whitman refers to himself as different “I”s, and different shades of self-emerge in different sections of the poem. In the poem, one finds that the “self is conceived as a spiritual entity, which remains relatively permanent in and through the changing flux of ideas and experiences, which constitute its conscious life. The self that emerges, then, comprises ideas, experiences, psychological states and spiritual insights.”[i] Containing different people within it, the poem creates a transcendental version of self that moves beyond the restricting social and cultural forces. When I hated my body, I was treating it as an object that needed to be fixed and corrected. I bullied and abused myself. I felt that there was no hope and that I would struggle that way all my life. As I was too remote from Whitman’s “Me, Myself” and the transcendental “Soul,” the self-love did not occur to me immediately. Gradually, as the density of my ego decreased and the transcendental collective “self” increased, I started to reconnect to people and to nature. It was then that I realized the power of self-love. I started meditating and practicing mindfulness in nature. I did not go into a journey of discovering myself; I went to a journey of creating myself based on my individual values, which were flowing from nature only. Whitman praises the nature and recognises himself as a part of it rather than a separate entity. Similarly, I felt happier and more content when I was in nature. I started to notice that the disorder was gradually fading away. I cried, I cried a lot…
All beauty comes from beautiful blood and a beautiful brain… read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body (Whitman).[ii]
Everyone needs an individual approach to life as everything we need is already within us. “A man should detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within” (Emerson).[iii] Dive deep into your soul. There is so much that we keep from ourselves. When you go into a journey of questioning and discovering your soul you come across so many ideas, creations, thoughts, and dreams that you wouldn’t have ever imagined. By tapping into the unconscious mind you will be able to detect the troubles and borders that secretly limit and hold you back from achieving your true universal self you are born to be.
Another philosophy I acquired in the period of my great struggles was that one should live in the moment rather than in the future or in the past.
There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now;
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now(Whitman).[iv]
For Whitman, there is no past or future. While taking a bath in a river he tells himself that every inch of his body is beautiful and instead of looking into the future he enjoys his existence in the moment. In the daily life, we are not aware of our senses and emotions, and how we feel in general. It is easy to pass the day without even noticing our own breath rhythm. Whitman encourages us to come closer to our “self,” which can lead us to “the peace and joy and knowledge that pass all the art and argument of the earth” (Whitman).
My journey was not one specific path of learning how to love myself as it has created many others paths, and I learned I have a lot more to accomplish and understand. Some might feel sorry for what I have gone through but I am grateful for every second of it. If I didn’t go through that experience, I wouldn’t have learned about the body image and raising awareness regarding it. I simply would not be me. Now that I am aware of this, it is hard for me to see other girls go through the same period of trying to pursue the “perfect” body and the “flawless” appearance, wasting their time trying to please everyone. I hope one day just like Whitman, I will be able to inspire others to love themselves without wanting to fix anything.
Whitman, Walt. “Song of Myself.” Leaves of Grass. New York, Oxford University Press, 2005.
[i] Manjari Johri, Expression of Self in Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself
[ii] Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass.
[iii] Ralph Waldo Emersonm Self-Reliance
[iv] Walt Whitmanm Leaves of Grass.