Bodies come in all shapes and sizes and each and every one of those bodies is deserving of love and respect.
For many many years, society has ingrained us with an idea of what the perfect body is supposed to look like.
And this isn't just for young adults and robust women.
The 'thin ideal' infiltrates our brains (and self-esteem) as young as at preschool age.
It only gets worse from there: about 97 percent of women think "I hate my body" at least once per day.
The worst part? If we don't learn how to establish a healthy body image, then we are taught to build up a negative body image.
Body acceptance isn't always something that is taught. Instead, it is something we have to learn by shifting our beliefs and taking a step away from the idea of unrealistic beauty standards.
By moving out of a place of perfectionism and into a space of acceptance, we can heal those rifts we have with our body and ultimately, we could find ourselves in a softer place.
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Body acceptance is about making the effort to move away from body shame and into a place of body love.
That doesn't mean that body love is waking up feeling amazing or throwing a full-blown celebration of self-love every day. (Though it can!) For many, that is simply unrealistic.
It also doesn't mean that someone who struggles with their body image can take some magical shortcut to becoming someone who revels in a positive body image, either.
The only way to get there is by doing the work, putting the time in, and being honest and accepting with ourselves. Acceptance is about accepting the good and the bad, whether in a bigger body or a super thin one, and not piling on the pressure in any way. It means getting rid of negative body image and instead simply accepting that our bodies are, well, just bodies.
Body Acceptance vs Body Positivity
Body acceptance and body positivity may come from the same root but they are two different branches. Body positivity can be a mountain to climb and body acceptance is the shoes and the steps that take you out on that journey.
Even if you don't reach the precipice of body positivity, you will be in a much sounder flow of self-care if you start learning to gently accept your body no matter the size or shape. Once we start on the journey to body acceptance, this paves the way for stronger self-confidence and hopefully a healthy body image that slows down our own negative body thoughts.
With the rise of social media and a much-needed shift towards the body positive movement, the good intentions are definitely there.
However, what can happen when something goes from personal mantra to global brand movement is that the term quickly becomes commoditized.
This may have already happened with the term body positivity as many brands leap to get on board. It becomes a billboard, a slogan, a hashtag (#bopo) rather than a nuanced and complex work in process that our journey to self-esteem can actually look like.
The body positivity movement also has some way to go. Brands and companies need to put in the work to embrace the marginalized body more, to represent the fat body and not just the thin body, to show the black woman and not just the white woman, and to embrace disabled bodies alongside able bodies.
We need to recognize that body positivity is a term that has been hyperfocused on white and thin cisgender acceptance of the body, which is the same structure that got us to the place of needing terms like body positivity in the first place.
Women are having to undo decades upon decades of diet culture (that looks eerily similar to an eating disorder, btw) that pushed us into believing that weight loss and the singular body type was the goal. So we may need a minute to sit with that and figure it out rather than diving headfirst into the yang-like push of body positivity...
...and feeling like a failure if we don't immediately shift to roaring self-acceptance and a damn-anyone-that-says-otherwise attitude.
It may only make us feel inferior or worse if we try to emulate a body positive activist, especially when we are still digesting all this information.
It's important to map out the differences between body positivity and body acceptance so that we can figure out where we sit on the spectrum and take steps that benefit our well-being without turning up the pressure gauge.
The body positivity movement tends to talk about how society can shift its representation of body shape and beauty ideals to make it a more inclusive environment for all. Body acceptance is what we can do on a personal level to heal our relationship with our body and to make space for this to be a work in progress. It means small steps, self-care, and actively practising body appreciation.
Weight stigma in society, such as normalizing the belief that we need to diet, shaming larger bodies, and pushing this idea of one certain body type, can all lead to poor mental health, low self-esteem and disordered eating habits.
When we work on body acceptance, acknowledge the negative thought patterns, and dig a little deeper to uncover our own bias, we have a better chance of creeping towards body confidence naturally.
At the very least, we develop a culture of acknowledging what our body does for us rather than get stuck in a cycle of self-loathing and despair.
For anyone who has struggled with body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, shame, and other trauma relating to the body, learning to move into acceptance can be a much more realistic goal than going straight to positivity.
1. Start with Body Neutrality
Leaping from one place to another isn't an easy thing and understanding and adopting body neutrality can be a way of shifting your mindset. This term means that we don't work to form one opinion or another about our body because it is a neutral element and not something that is good or bad.
When we feel neutral about our bodies we have zero expectations and instead, we can use our energy for maintaining the health of our body rather than channeling a lot of emotional things into it. Ultimately body neutrality can serve as a gateway to body positivity, but both take breaking down what life in this society has taught us as part of the journey to get there.
2. Watch Your Social Media Feeds
We all know that Instagram and other social media sites can have a knock-on effect when it comes to our health and wellbeing. This can be true if your feeds are full of white thin cis bodies, yoga bunnies, and those motivational quotes that preach acceptance and inclusivity without straying from the 'norm'. This is your feed and you can take an active role in picking what content you want to see.
Look for leading accounts in fat activism and people of different body types and body-positive accounts that are truly diverse. Keep your social media news feeds as nourishing, rich, and diverse as possible and hopefully, some of that visual content will start to sink in and become the new norm.
3. Connect With The Present Moment
Unraveling those messages the world has force-fed us for years means getting present and noticing what we actually think and feel about our body so we are equipped with all the knowledge we need to make changes. Self-care isn't a hot bath once in a while it's a constant commitment to gift yourself the basics.
This means that we need to know where we are on the scale right now. To ask ourselves on a daily basis, what do we need.
- What are we feeding ourselves?
- What does our inner dialogue sound like?
- What lifts me up and what brings me down?
It's about understanding that we need to rely on ourselves first and foremost to care for ourselves and to get into the daily practice of checking in on how we feel and engaging with who we truly are so we know what habits help us and what makes us feel good.
4. Trust Your Body
Our body is a highly sophisticated machine that tirelessly works to keep us alive and when we are able to connect with it, we can learn to trust it. So many of us are at a point where we don't trust our body. We ignore our intuition, we fight off those hunger pangs because of society's lack of fat acceptance, and we push through exercise regimes without listening when our body tells us it is tired or needs a rest.
Learning to tune in and trust the body is about deepening intuition, practising embodiment so we can actually feel what is happening beneath the neck, and getting into a habit of being able to eat when hungry and sleep when tired rather than following a fierce protocol of depriving our body of the things it wants and needs.
5. Notice What You're Grateful For
While we totally accept that there are going to be days where we all face challenges in loving or even liking our body, these can be the times where gratitude practice can be where we put our energy. Finding something to be grateful about doesn't need to focus on the external, but also the internal. So much of our attention goes to the visualization of the body rather than what's going on inside.
On those days where we don't like how our clothes fit or we are struggling to feel inspired by our community, this can be the time when we say OK, our heart rate is steady and there is no major health problem getting in the way. Even just shining a light on those areas of our body that are working - all this can lead to a more multi-dimensional relationship with the body which is all part of the journey to body liberation and acceptance.
6. Put the Body Feels First
Moving towards body acceptance can be about learning to connect with what our body feels instead of what we feel about our bodies. Working with what feels good instead of preconceived ideas about our body shape can help us to move from a place of function instead of form, of acceptance instead of aesthetics.
When we focus on what feels good - stretching in the morning, the sensation of touch, sitting out in nature, and dancing to music, we learn to grow this space rather than doing things that feel bad for the body - holding in our stomach, scrolling social media, withholding food, etc.
7. Keep Your Gaze Outward Too
While body neutrality and body acceptance are hugely useful personal tools in the journey of self-healing, it's also worth remembering that these tools don't always dig out the roots of our own personal bias.
While working on our own bodily relationships, we should also keep exploring and stay mindful of how we view other bodies in the world. Addressing our own bias to others is invaluable as if each and every person committed to doing this work, we could see big societal shifts to true body diversity.
Question which bodies make you feel uncomfortable, who you are judging, and how you use language and personal bias when addressing our actions to others.
It's important to remember that we still live in a society that has a long way to go when it comes to switching the dialogue of different bodies being the norm.
When it comes to representing gender, ethnicity, shape, size, and disability, there is so much work to be done. Rather than waiting for society to catch up, we can all start this work at home in our own bodies.
Share your stories and thoughts in the comments, we would love to hear them and if anyone has a list of fat activists and other body mentors to follow - please share.
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