Body Acceptance Is Your Journey, And It Can Be Tough
Body acceptance has to be genuine, and it might mean changing your body before accepting it
Body positivity is one of the greatest terms out there, yet it makes me cringe every time I hear or read about it. It is surely coming from the right place, rooted in the idea that loving yourself is important regardless of the body you live in. Having a healthy relationship with yourself where you don’t equate your worth with the size of your clothes, a number on a scale or other arbitrary figure is something we should be teaching in kindergarten already.
For some, it works really well. I applaud and celebrate people who feel good in their skin, who embrace who they are, showing off their bodies without shame.
I am not this people. No matter how much I try, body acceptance doesn’t come naturally to me.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
My breakthrough moment came during a therapy session. I was explaining to my therapist that I cannot and will not accept my fatness and I was shaming myself for the inability of it — and the underlying self-loathing that has been putting extra pressure on me, providing an extra source of frustration. My therapist, a soft-spoken, eloquent woman with amazingly attentive eyes that always made me feel heard and understood, gave the simplest advice: you don’t have to accept it, you can also change it.
She told me that she appreciates a lot the body acceptance movement and that it is crucial to be at peace with ourselves on multiple levels. But she also added that we don’t need to put up with every card we are dealt, there is a long list of things that we can change — our body included.
It was a duh moment. Of course, I knew this — but I didn’t know it. Not entirely. A lifetime of dieting became a bad habit, reaching for quick solutions and getting fleeting results only to get back to where I was before.
My dieting has never been about self-love or accepting myself — at any weight. It was more about trying to fit in, about punishing myself for not being the person who I wanted to be — the healthy, skinny, fit person who is disciplined and persistent.
Beauty bias and societal expectations
If you think about the human race, and not just about the past few centuries but look at it as evolutionary progress, there are very good reasons for appreciating beauty and being biased towards it.
Beauty used to mean symmetric faces, able bodies, expressive traits. Strong legs, healthy hair, healthy teeth, broad shoulders for men and wide hips for women suggested health, fertility and thus survival. The survival of the race depended on finding the best possible mate, and visual cues were helping our ancestors in this.
For thousands of years, we have been conditioned to look for the cues and as we evolved we strengthened the meaning of them. The beauty bias is nothing new, but we completely distorted it by now. We started to assign disproportionately high significance to some traits and we commercialized beauty. We let go of related concepts — health, fertility, attitude — and started to focus on superficial looks.
Sadly, this bias seeped into every other area of life, from wages to business opportunities, from expectations to the notion of success. And while the bias in itself is completely normal, its applications are creating and perpetuating inequality.
Body positivity and body acceptance
There is a difference between accepting your body and promoting body positivity. I applaud body positivity — if it’s genuine — and I honestly believe that our bodies and visual appearance have less importance than our attitude, personality and values.
You can be body positive without accepting your own body. You can celebrate bodies in their glory without being happy in your skin. Both concepts need to be genuine, but they are not correlated — as the underlying values are vastly different.
But while body positivity is a general attitude on life, values as equal rights for all shapes and sizes, body acceptance is an inside job and it is a tough journey towards self-awareness and self-love.
When we are born we have no concept of beauty — we learn it much later in life. We learn it from our parents, siblings, peers, teachers and partners. We learn through being praised and admired or bullied and mocked. We learn through comparison, we learn by expectations.
As our immediate environment shows us our worth and as society comes into play, we start to see where we are on the beauty scale. We learn to manage our own expectations, we learn to compensate for our shortcomings. And we also learn how much our looks are linked to external validation.
Growing up with toxic parents, being bullied in school, being mocked for our evolving style choices as teenagers are all experiences that shape the notion of our self.
We learn to love ourselves by how other people love us. We learn to expect from ourselves what other people encourage us to.
We don’t choose our families, we don’t choose our experiences, we don’t choose our traumas — yet they shape us immensely in our formative years.
We learn self-loathing, we learn to hide, we learn to fit in even if it means suppressing our very needs. Self-love is the biggest gift a parent can help their children develop, but not all of us is lucky enough to come out of childhood unscathed.
Body acceptance is a valid journey
I couldn’t accept being fat anymore, so I decided to change it. The weight loss journey took a long time and it was really tough at times, but it is nothing compared to the body acceptance and self-love journey that I am currently doing.
Shredding the fat identity. My body is different, but my mentality is different too. I am thinking differently about my daily choices, I have different habits and I am building a different identity. I am no longer that person who chooses Netflix over a run, or who considers ordering pasta late in the night. I am becoming someone else. But parts of me are difficult to shred. I still don’T see myself skinny when I look in the mirror. I still hesitate when it comes to a physical challenge — with a knee-jerk reaction of “no way, I can’t do this” even when I have already proven that I indeed can do a lot more than I give myself credit for. I still do negative self-talk, remnants of my previous conditioning. My fat identity consisted of habits, thoughts and feelings — and deep-rooted habits are difficult to get rid of.
Loving myself retroactively. When it comes to self-love, I am aiming for unconditional love towards myself, and that kind of gentle treatment that I would have deserved always. This means that I have to relearn to love myself retroactively. Not just this body, not just this identity, but also the one I had in the past decades. It’s easier to accept my skinny body — with all its strength, fitness and visually more attractive features — but I also want to have an appreciation for my previous self. And this is not easy. It’s unlearning decades-long conditioning and negative self-talk.
The ambiguity of positive feedback. I worked so hard for this body. I worked so hard on my new habits. I worked hard on being persistent and disciplined. I feel accomplished just by knowing that I was able to lose the weight I wanted to. And I feel proud when someone notices it and mentions it. But I feel terrible for the previous version of me. I feel awful that I am now allowed to take up space. I feel sorry for her who had to hide and move out of the way of others. It’s hard to see the difference it makes, it’s hard to accept that we indeed live in a superficial world where looks matter more than personality or talent. I hate that the positive feedback I receive is retroactively confirming my previous inhibitions. It’s tough to deal with it, and cherish the accomplishment, when at the same time it is an insult to a previous self.
If the whole world was blind, how many would you impress?
I am on this journey of body acceptance, and it’s not easy. It’s a lot like healing, an upward spiral where the progress feels like sometimes as standing still or even going backwards.
But this is my journey. My internal struggle. My healing process — of unlearning the negativity of long years. And it is valid, regardless of what anyone else thinks about it.
Accepting my body is a move towards accepting myself as a whole. Not just the body, but also the mind, the soul and the heart that inhabit it. Because it is about me being happy with who I am, accomplishments and flaws, attractive parts and shortcomings — and if it required a change instead of acceptance, then I did the best to change.
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