This is a repost because one of the most common questions I get from readers is how to go from being able to appreciate everyone else’s body to being able to appreciate their own body as well. I have been there, so I’ll just speak from my experience. I’m betting my commenters will have other awesome ideas, because that’s just how we do it here.
I will also say that I know that there are people who prefer to opt out of the concept of beauty altogether and I completely understand and support that for them. I prefer to think of the ability to perceive beauty as a skill set – so if I can’t see the beauty in someone, I understand that it’s not a reflection of their beauty, but on my ability to perceive it – it means that I haven’t properly developed that skill set.
For me, the thing that triggered the idea that I could ever be happy with my fat body was the realization that I didn’t feel about other fat bodies the way that I felt about my body at the time. I still believed in the efficacy of dieting and was trying to quit a ridiculous diet program that had me eating less than I had with an eating disorder and wouldn’t allow me to exercise, and I was still gaining weight. When I told them I was quitting, they made me go into a little room with a little poster about not quitting (literally, a kitten on a rope) and a woman brought in a binder with pictures of fat women, and she started flipping through it silently. She said “You might not know it, but this is what you look like and these women will die alone eating bon bons in front of the television and is that what you want for yourself? And aren’t you tired of hating your body?”
What I realized in that moment was that I didn’t find anything wrong with those women’s bodies, in fact I thought that they were beautiful. I didn’t expect that they would never find love (and I didn’t know what bon bons were but that’s another thing.) So it occurred to me: if I thought that their bodies were beautiful… and if I looked like them…then maybe it was possible to think that my body was beautiful.
Of course that was the beginning of a long process. I started that process by focusing on what my body does instead of how it looks. I made a massive list of all the things that my body does for me– I included things like blinking and breathing, I included standing, walking, reaching, hugging and any other action I could think of. I included that I love my curly hair and my eyes that change color. I wrote down anything that I could think of that I liked about my body, or that my body did.
Then I committed to really paying attention to my thoughts and every time I had a negative thought about my body I would replace it with a positive thought from the list. Every time it crossed my mind I would thank my body for doing anything that I could think of – hey, thanks for breathing! I appreciate you reaching for that! Whatever I could think of. Let me also be clear that I was coming at this with all of the privilege of someone who is temporarily able bodied and neurotypical, as always your mileage may vary and if you are someone living with disabilities, chronic health issues, mobility limitations etc. this process may be quite different for you. My understanding from speaking with people in that situation is that the key for many of them was learning to look at it as them and their body against issues rather than them against their body and if you have insights that you would like to share I would absolutely love for you to leave them in the comments.
Of all the work I have ever done around this, the process of replacing negative thoughts with positive ones cause the most significant shift and improvement in the way I view my body.
At the same time I made a point of noticing something beautiful about every body that I saw. When something about someone caught my eye because it was outside the stereotype of beauty, I focused on what was amazing about it. When I had negative thoughts I reminded myself that I had been spoon-fed these ideas by industries that profit from my thinking them; and that if they didn’t serve me or didn’t feel authentic, then I was free to replace those thoughts with thoughts that I came up with on my own that did serve me and felt authentic.
And I had a lot of compassion for myself. Changing thoughts and patterns that are ingrained, and often reinforced by the culture around us is really hard work. It takes time, there will often be backslides and mistakes, and for me the best ways to NOT succeed are not having compassion for the learning process, not having patience, and trying to rush it along. I know for me I decided that I was going to get there, and then I held that thought all the way through, even when I was really struggling. Patience, persistence, and belief that I would get there were the keys to my success.
So now I’m at a place where I am truly happy with my body and easily able to see my own beauty. It took a lot of work to get here, and it takes work to stay here, but it’s been worth it. I was going through dance footage for a reporter and I found this routine that inspired this post today – my coach Rowdy Dufrene and I, in our second year of dancing together, performing to I’m Beautiful (Damn It) by the incomparable Bette Midler. Enjoy!
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