The terms body acceptance and body love have been floating around a while. They pop up in hashtags, magazine covers, out of psychologist’s mouths. But what are they? And how do you attain them?
For decades I was haunted by poor body image. I’d spend hours picking apart every inch of my reflection in the mirror. Twisting and turning, I examined every angle. Like a detective searching for the tiniest piece of evidence that proved what I already knew. That my body was wrong. I zoned in on every single perceived flaw. And just when I thought I’d found them all, another would catch my eye. It fueled the compulsion to find every imperfection. As if fixing my body would somehow fix the sinking feeling deep in my soul.
Do you relate? If so, you already understand how obsessing over weight and body not only steals joy, but can take over your life. Learning to love and accept your body takes you from struggling through each day hating yourself to living free of shame and obsession. This work is tough- but I can promise you one thing. It’s worth the time, effort, and persistence. That’s why I’m sharing some things I’ve learned along the way.
5 Things You Should Know About Body Love and Acceptance
1. Body Acceptance and Body Love Are Not The Same Thing
Before even considering loving your body, you must start with acceptance. When you love someone or something, you’re drawn to it. Love radiates from your heart center. You have warm feelings towards it. And you want to care for and respect it. Body love is a wonderful goal. Hold the intention of one day loving your body. But remember, loving and accepting are two different things.
Acceptance is simply acknowledging something is the way it is. Without trying to change it or force it to be different. Accepting something doesn’t mean you have to love it. You don’t even have to like it. It simply means you accept it is the way it is. For body acceptance, this literally means I accept my body looks the way she looks.
Body acceptance didn’t come easy for me. I had to start simple. Every time I caught my reflection in the mirror and the sickening feeling grew in the pit of my stomach, I repeated in my head, “Yup, this is what my body looks like.” Or when I was overcome with shame seeing my protruding stomach in a photo I’d think, “Yup, that’s just what my stomach looks like in that picture.”
This was something I had to do over and over again. And initially this process caused extreme anxiety. I had to practice caring for myself in these moments. With deep breaths, grounding exercises, and mindful self compassion. Let me be clear- this is not an easy practice.
Accepting our bodies when we’ve been brainwashed all our lives to believe our bodies are bad or wrong if they don’t look like the unrealistic beauty standard can feel impossible. If you’re overwhelmed by the thought of accepting your body, consider this.
How do you practice acceptance in other situations you don’t like?
Maybe your parents have different political viewpoints than you. This can be painful and difficult, but it only takes so many arguments before acceptance becomes the obvious path. You may think, “Yup, we see the world differently.” It doesn’t mean you like it. You simply accept it to be true.
Or maybe you don’t get paid as much as you’re worth for your job. It doesn’t seem fair or right, but you accept your salary is what it is. Perhaps Monday mornings are the worst. You hate getting up when the alarm blares in your ear. But when it goes off, you know you have to get up if you want to keep your job. So you accept it. .
2. Body Acceptance and Body Love Are Practices, Not Destinations
What does this mean? That learning to accept and love your body at the size she is when you nurture and take care of her is not a task to accomplish. It’s not a place you can get it, a line you can cross, or a box you can check off on your to do list.
Some days are going to be easier to love and accept your body. You may notice when you’re feeling calm, grounded, and are with people you love, it’s slightly easier. Perhaps when you’re by yourself and connected to the divine, your body size doesn’t even affect you. Other times, when your nervous system is activated and you’re stressed, a glimpse in the mirror can cause complete panic.
When we stop thinking of our body as an inanimate objects we like or don’t like, then we can move towards having a relationship with her/him. Our feelings, thoughts, and actions towards our bodies will cycle and change. It’s dynamic, just like life. Some days body acceptance and body love are easier to practice. But it’s on those harder days that it is most important to practice.
Show yourself some compassion, stop trying to do this perfectly. Imagine working towards loving and accepting your body as a practice you come back to again and again. Sometimes you’ll forget the practice. Find yourself judging your reflection with the taste of shame on your tongue. When this happens, it’s ok. Have compassion. And remind yourself to come back to the practice of acceptance.
3. Accepting and Loving Your Body Is a Radical Act
Unfortunately we’re taught to hate our bodies. That they’re objects we should constantly be trying to “improve.” We learn our bodies represent who we are as a person, that they define us. And that anything less than a perfect body means we aren’t good enough. Between health and wellness culture, the medical establishment laden with fatphobia, and an impossibly ridiculous beauty standard to live up to, no wonder so many people hate their bodies.
It’s a way to stand up to the patriarchy. And to the lies that our body determines our value as human beings. Yes, this is a radical act. And it takes radical acts to change broken systems. Like the one that discriminates against folks in larger bodies. Thankfully though- you’re a radical person if you’re reading this article. You are ready and able to meet this challenge.
4. Body Acceptance and Love Are About So Much More Than Just Your body
When I began the recovery process, I thought my problem was I didn’t know how to eat. I had a food problem. As I learned more about this work, I realized my body wasn’t a problem to be fixed at all. And that I had a body image problem too. But I still thought once this was “fixed” I’d be good. Whatever that means.
But this work goes way deeper than just food and body. Feelings and emotions get stored in our bodies and we carry the results of trauma with us. Under my food and body shame was a person who didn’t know how to love, honor, care for, or respect herself as a person. I wasn’t capable of coping with uncomfortable feelings. Or of regulating my nervous system.
My body and eating were a jumping off point. Where I was called to go deeper and do some serious work. Along with this extra level of healing came profound growth and lessons I didn’t even know I needed to learn.
5. Practicing Body Acceptance and Love Will Help You In All Areas of Your Life
Doing this work has changed every single area of my life. Recovery is about coming back to the person I’ve always been. Reconnecting with my intuition and getting to know myself. It’s about identifying my core values and learning to live in alignment with them. Recovery has helped me reclaim my voice, set loving and firm boundaries, and pursue my passions and dreams. I’ve learned not only to be more flexible with food, but to be more flexible in life. Not only to enjoy my meals, but to enjoy my life.
Learning to let go, surrender, show myself compassion, and nurture and care for myself has helped me live a much richer, deeper life. And it’s taught me to manage the unpredictable and sometimes painful journey of life.