One of the most common questions that I get is “I want to love my body/myself, but how do I do it?” I’m going to give some ideas but I’m really hoping that people reading this will leave their own ideas in the comments.
There are some things I want to acknowledge before I get too far into this. First, it’s totally cool if people aren’t interested in the concept of loving their body. As always my goal is to provide options, not obligations. I also want to be clear that we live in an environment that is absolutely toxic when it comes to loving our bodies – convincing us to hate ourselves has become incredibly profitable for industries including the diet industry, the beauty industry, plastic surgery etc. so people who are gifted at crafting persuasive messages get paid tons of money to convince us to see ourselves as flawed. Because we are constantly bombarded with this messaging, at least from my perspective, loving ourselves is an ongoing process.
Finally, with any of these ideas your mileage may vary. I can only speak to my own experience which includes a lot of privileges – white, currently able-bodied and neurotypical, queer with passing privilege, cisgendered, and good fatty privilege because of the activities that I enjoy, and I’m sure I’m forgetting some. Each of us comes to this with our own areas of privilege and oppression, and our own histories so I think it’s about trying different stuff and seeing what works.
My own process started with four realizations.
The first was that I had no problem with the bodies of other fat women – in fact I could find beauty in every body but mine – and that was my first inkling that, if I didn’t hate their bodies, maybe I didn’t have to hate my body either.
The second realization was that I was the only person who could decide how I felt about my body (this also ties into the privilege of neurotypicality). That was a powerful realization for me because it meant that I could change the way that I felt about myself. Again, I didn’t have a plan, but I did have a strong believe that it was possible.
The third realization was that I treated my friends way better than I treated myself. This led me to shift my perspective to thinking of my body as somewhat separate – as a friend and partner. It was easy for me to make good decisions for my body when I thought of it as a friend
The fourth realization was that I had spent so many years hating my body for not looking like a stereotype of beauty that I hadn’t had even a minute’s worth of appreciation for everything that my body did for me. That was the realization that shocked me into action. I went home and took out a notebook and started writing down everything that I could think of that my body did for me and that I liked about my body (I got granular – breathing, blinking, heartbeat, my curly hair, my eyes that change color) it was a pretty long list. Then I worked to notice negative thoughts I had about my body and when I noticed them I would interrupt them and replace them with gratitude for something (anything!) on the list. It took about three months but at the end fo that time I had profoundly changed my relationship with 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.
I went on the only successful “diet” of my life – I went on a strict “no negative body talk” diet. I stopped engaging in body snarking of any kind, and I either interrupted it or walked away when other people did it around me. I stopped clicking on “best and worst bodies” and “who wore it better” articles, I stopped looking at magazines that had content or advertising that was likely to be body negative. I created a nifty mantra to think immediately when I saw a commercial or ad or billboard or anything that had negative body talk – the mantra was “That’s Bullshit!” I know, it’s really subtle – you may want to choose something more direct!
I realized how completely bombarded I had been with pictures of a single type of body and I actively sought out pictures of diverse bodies. Some places I can recommend for this are:
Know others? Put ’em in the comments!
And I had a lot of compassion for myself. Changing thoughts and patterns that are ingrained and reinforced by the culture is really hard work. It took time, there were often backslides and mistakes, and I found that the best ways to NOT succeed was not having compassion for myself in the learning process, not having patience, and trying to rush it along. Patience, persistence, and belief that I would get there were the keys to my success.
As an epilogue, after I learned to love my body I faced challenges when I had injuries or illnesses so I’ll add a fifth realization – that in my experience the best way to handle this is to see it as me and my body against a problem rather than me against my body.
The bottom line for me is that my body is amazing, it does so many things for me and I believe that my body deserves nothing less than my full-throated support – whether it’s asking for an armless chair so that my butt can be comfortable, demanding good evidence-based healthcare, or standing up to societal stigma and bullying. To me a big part of loving my body is making sure that I give my body the treatment it deserves.
So that’s me, I absolutely encourage other ideas in the comments – again, there is no “right” or “wrong” and this isn’t about convincing people that there is, it’s all about giving each other ideas and options!
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