Around 1767, the Burmese army attacked a monastery in Bangkok. They slaughtered all the monks and broke every relic, leaving intact only a single clay statue of Buddha that was too tall and heavy to topple.
Fast forward to 1955, when a new group of Thai monks were tasked with relocating the clay Buddha to make room for highway construction. As the monks attempted to lift the statue off its pedestal, the ropes broke and the Buddha tumbled over, clay visibly crumbling as it crashed down. The monks were heartbroken until one monk saw something glimmering beneath the rubble. As the dust cleared, the monks could see veins of gold shining through the newly formed cracks in the clay. The monks carefully chipped off the rest of the clay, revealing a solid gold Buddha ten feet tall and weighing over 5 tons.
Why had this priceless relic been covered in clay? To fool the Burmese army into thinking it was worthless during that 1767 siege. The ruse worked and now the precious Buddha is one of Thailand’s most beloved treasures.
I’ve been thinking about the golden Buddha all week. My online feed is a seemingly endless body-shaming parade of the diets, detoxes and exercise regimens that go hand-in-hand with New Year’s resolutions. But the post that made me grit my teeth in frustration was one from a well-known fitness and weight loss company describing how to take the perfect Before photo.
The most important selfie you’ll ever take!
Snug-fitting workout clothes are fine, but a swimsuit is best.
Make sure to leave your face neutral; save the giant smile for your After photo!
When you see your After, you’ll be glad you did!
This from a company that practically guarantees weight loss to clients who follow their program faithfully (side-note because it bears repeating, though it’s an unpopular and inconvenient truth; all the research studies on keto and carb-cycling diets were conducted on rodents. Humans and mice are not the same species. In fact, science is discovering more genetic differences between mice and humans every year. It’s unethical for a company to claim that their program will work for all humans because it worked on a small number of rodents. Proper nutrition does not require complicated math. But I digress).
We are fundamentally confused about what we truly want. This “Before and After mentality” asks us to treat our body in a certain way so that it will look good, when we should treat our body in ways that help it feel good.
Any program that asks us to take – and post – these photos is subliminally promising us that happiness lie on the other side of the After shot. This is an empty promise; these photos only perpetuate a culture of comparison, insecurity, body shame, and seeking validation outside of ourselves. They point us in the wrong direction energetically, because nothing outside of us lasts in a meaningful way. The inside matters more. The inside matters most.
In the relentless hustle to trim down and tone up, we’ve forgotten that underneath all the limiting beliefs, insecurities, and body dismorphia, we are golden gods. Our Before photos are no less golden than our Afters. Maybe it’s no coincidence that gold and God are only a single letter apart.
We’re called to love our bodies. Loving your body only when it’s toned and thin is like loving your children only when they are well behaved. We’re supposed to move because we love our bodies, not because we hate them. We’re supposed to nourish our bodies because we remember that we are priceless treasures, not because we are dissatisfied with our shape or size.
If we relentlessly chase looks over feelings, no amount of weight loss will leave us whole. Chasing appearance instead of emotion disconnects us from our divine nature. When we’re disconnected from the divine, we cannot help but feel lost, sad, scared, or worthless. We’ll never see our bodies as more than incomplete projects requiring deprivation – with food – and punishment – with exercise. Exercise and nutrition matter of course, but good choices – if they are to become habits -should arise from a place of self-compassion.
When we make choices from a place of self-love rather than self-loathing, we will find the feeling of wholeness we seek.
Still struggling to own your worth? How about this? Billions of years ago, two neutron stars collided and sprinkled our infant planet with precious metals, ensuring that every future being would contain silver, platinum, and – you guessed it – gold. It might also interest you to know that the highest concentration of gold in the human body occurs around the heart. Those side-by-side photos? If you look closely, all you’ll see is two people equally worthy of love, as priceless as that golden Buddha.