Yesterday, I posted a link to this blog post, in which Sarah asked the question: Is it possible to accept your body and still want to change it?
The ideas seem to conflict, but I bet there are plenty of people (myself included) who can relate to both at the same time.
I feel like I’m 100% accepting of my body, exactly as it is, but that doesn’t mean I love every inch of it, all the time. I’m ok with the stretch marks on my stomach—they’re there for a very good reason—but that doesn’t mean I’m rejoicing over them. I’m ok with my curvy shape, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t spring for a more narrow frame if I got to choose.
But those are the things I can’t change. As for the things I can: I’m ok with my thick arms and legs, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to see them more toned.
A healthy desire to improve the things we have control of—in every area of our lives, not just physical appearance—is a positive thing and a powerful motivator. It doesn’t mean we’re failing in the self love department.
The reason we struggle to connect these two ideas in our brains, I think, is that we have a definition problem.
What does it mean to accept your body? Clearly, it’s not the same as love, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you wouldn’t change a thing abut yourself.
Here are some ideas I came up with:
If you accept your body, it means you…
Accept your shape.
I’ll never look like a super model because I just don’t have that body type. Regardless of how hard I work, it just won’t happen.
I used to envy girls with boyish body types—straight and narrow—because I felt like they could wear anything and look good in it. Meanwhile, I had all these rules in my head about things that I couldn’t pull off (like those knee-length shorts that look so cute on some girls…yeah, not me).
(not how I’d look)
Now, I’m all, “Wait, why did I want to look like a boy again?”
I’ve accepted my shape. Whether I love it is irrelevant (although I do, now)—it’s that I’ve embraced the fact that this is the one I’ve got and it’ll never change.
It’s this realization that’s helped me finally, truly, understand how pointless comparisons are. Super models are not just thinner than me, they have completely different body shapes than I have. It’s like a polar bear wanting to be a koala because it thinks koalas are just smaller polar bears.
Accept your quirks (aka the things you can’t change).
We all have them, and chances are nobody really cares about yours but you.
I’m thinking of that scene in Mean Girls where the girls gather around the mirror and start listing off things they hate about themselves—random, completely insignificant things like “my hairline is so weird” and “my nail beds suck.” (I know it’s supposed to be funny, but it still makes a good point.)
A major step in body acceptance is separating the things you can change from the things you can’t (well, short of plastic surgery, I guess) and letting go of the things you can’t. All any of us can do is the best we can with what we’ve got, right?
Focus on what your body can do rather than what it looks like.
Women who go through childbirth often have a massive body image shift because suddenly they’re like, “Holy crap, look what my body just did! This thing is AWESOME!” (Ironically, this happens while we’re in our mushiest, puffiest, most vulnerable postpartum states.)
This kind of thing happens to athletes, too, and anyone who pays attention to how perfectly, miraculously constructed our bodies are. There are heavy women who run marathons, don’t lose a pound in the process, and still come out of it with a completely different body image because they’re like, “Daaang, I’m strong.” And suddenly, the number on the tags of their clothes just isn’t that important anymore.
Respect your body’s natural comfort zone.
Every body has a general weight range it’s most comfortable in. People who fight and fight to lose those last 5 pounds might keep fighting forever because their bodies just don’t want it.
People who truly accept their bodies listen to them. They respect their bodies’ preferred weight ranges, rather than holding themselves to some arbitrary, self-appointed number. (Reminds me of another Mean Girls reference: “I really want to lose 3 pounds.”)
Have to ability to appreciate other bodies without feeling bad about your own.
I can have candid conversations with my husband about which female celebrities are hotter (is that weird?) and not feel insecure or slighted in the least. Not because I’ve been married long enough to not care what my husband thinks of me anymore (umm—I don’t think, anyway…haha), but because I’m comfortable enough in my own body to appreciate other bodies without bringing myself into it.
Don’t let your physical appearance get in the way of your life.
People who accept their bodies don’t let the way they look—or the way they think they look—prevent them from participating in any and all aspects of life. They don’t sit on the side of the pool in a cover-up, even though they’re dying to swim. They don’t hide behind other people when pictures are taken. They don’t avoid certain places or situations, or feel uncomfortable in certain groups of people, because of their body image.
Don’t take every opportunity to bad mouth your body.
When we feel bad about ourselves, we feel like we have to acknowledge to other people that we know what we look like. That we have to apologize.
Sometimes, it’s modesty, which is generally harmless. (As in, “Oh, don’t worry, I still have about 15 pounds to go,” when someone compliments a new mom on postpartum weight loss.) Or you’re trying to make someone feel better after she bad mouths her body.
But sometimes, the words are coming from a darker place. When you can’t take a compliment, not because you’re being modest, but because you don’t believe it. When someone says, “Wow, you look great!” and your first thought is, “Did I look like crap before?”
Recognize how your mood impacts the image in the mirror.
Everyone has “bad body image days.” For whatever reason, we just feel gross now and then. (I usually blame hormones.)
This isn’t a self love fail—it’s the reality of life.
People who accept their bodies recognize this feeling and remind themselves that it’s temporary, rather than letting it sabotage them. When they look in the mirror, they take into account what their internal dialogue is that day, and recognize how that dialogue can color what they’re seeing in their own reflection.
Your turn. What do you think it means to “accept” your body?
Something to think about…
I found this article by wellness counselor Golda Poretsky totally fascinating. A line that stood out to me—and that I’m still pondering—is this one:
“Most people think acceptance is the first step, but I think if you’re trying for acceptance, you’ll land somewhere between acceptance and dissatisfaction. You have to go all the way to love and then maybe you’ll settle into acceptance, or maybe you’ll really go for broke and experience true love for your body.”
How does that perspective fit into this conversation?