Is this me accepting my body?-6

Body Acceptance is NOT the Goal

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If I hear one more time that the solution to hating your body is to love it I think I might explode!

This is something I have literally done a 180 on, since I used to completely preach that we have to embrace ourselves, flaws and all! But you can’t force yourself to feel something you don’t yet agree with in your heart.

And before you ask if I still think body acceptance is good, yes I do, but there’s a problem with how we (people for which this has been a true difficulty) are trying to get there. Body love has become the goal, when I think it is a byproduct of something else. So for now I am going to say that seeking to accept your body by focusing on your body is a dead-end.

Bear with me here.

Have you ever met someone you weren’t physically attracted to? Maybe you just don’t see physical beauty in their face or their body… until what?

Until you get to *know* them, right?

When we spend time getting to know and connect with people, we perceive their beauty at a far deeper level than their physical appearance. But even more amazingly, we start to see them as more physically beautiful, too.

So when you look at yourself, and feel horror or you cringe, are you so convinced that *body* love is what you need?

Could it be that we just haven’t gotten to know ourselves very well? Do you know what’s really important to you? Do you know your core values and character strengths?

Do you appreciate them, value them; value yourself?

Could it all be about a search for fulfillment and meaning; about belonging and connection; about seeking love and feeling complete? Maybe not all of it, but probably a good bit of it.

I have been derailed many times thinking that I just need to show my body at different body fats, difference abilities and somehow normalised not being super lean or attempt to establish a badassery around looking just the way I do. That by doing that I will feel better. But it always feels forced and it never lasts. That’s because no matter whether I am hating my body or loving it, it’s still NOT about my body!

I believe that body shaming and body acceptance are two sides of the same coin. They are symptomatic of a culture that for years has linked success with appearances, and appearances with self-worth. If we want to say that appearances don’t determine your worth, then we have to stop focusing on appearances, acceptance or not. 

Here’s the truth: when I’m not fulfilled in my life or I have pain that for some reason can’t see yet or can’t deal with yet, I try to fill that gap or fix it with other things. I go straight to my coping mechanisms which have always been about seeking some kind of approval, when I just want connection and validation. So all my masks go up: look how sexy I am, look how fun and amazing my life is, look how funny I am, look how I no longer care about my body fat … whatever it is to cover my vulnerability.

We are all masters of disguise. And you know what? It’s a response to social (or other) fear, which is normal in small doses, but not when it becomes chronic.

What are we habitually doing that’s actually increasing the frequency of these social pressures and fears?

Social Media for one! (for all the good, it also does a lot of harm to some people).

When you’re reading something on Social media, does it really help you? Or does it lead you back down the very same rabbit hole you’ve been trying to escape for years? This doesn’t just apply to social media and it doesn’t just apply to body image.

It’s rarely about what someone [on social media] says or does, but the awareness you have of yourself in response. What you think and feel about yourself (or that other person) as you read it and afterward (because what you do afterward matters! <- does any “inspiration” actually stick?) . Are you genuinely cheering them, or do you love/hate them because you want to be at peace with yourself but you just can’t seem to do it? Does your response sit well with you and is it in line with your values?

Start asking yourself why it is you even follow half the people you do online. Chances are they seem to have something you want. Are you growing, though? If not, why? Does it start as inspiring but then turn to jealousy? Are you stuck feeling empty about your own life?

You have a choice. But it’s not a one-time-forever choice. It takes work, time, self-awareness, preparation, persistence and a lot of grace (expect to fail sometimes, it’s ok!).

When I am faced with a feeling that makes me want to run to my coping strategies, I have to try and slow down. I must not go with the fear. It’s there and I am aware of it, but my choices must be seen clearly. I am not a slave to this fear. Instead, I review my options: over judgement, I choose grace; over expectation, I choose appreciation; over self-hate, I choose compassion and better questions.

Always question! Looking for better questions is a far more rewarding pursuit than only seeking answers.

You can establish what your choices are by delving deeper into what makes you tick and discovering your values and strengths. You can’t love yourself (or your body) until you accept that you have value to offer the world, just like everybody else. Trying to love your body before that is pointless.

You can’t make yourself love someone you don’t value.

Homework:

Write down what this post stirs up in you. Then ask yourself what that means to you. Ask if you want to continue holding on to that and then take note of how this feels. How are these feelings serving you? Slow it down and catch that little tempting thought the next time it appears and just let it go by. Or, grab it if it’s something important to you. Put it in a powerful belief statement about yourself and say it out loud.

Put it to the test and try this again when you visit someone’s page on Social Media and it triggers self-doubt, envy, or that “I need to be doing that too!” panic that we all get.

Here are two examples from my own life to help you get started:

Negative thought that I now let pass by (as much as I can):

“I’ve missed my chance to be successful”

Well, that’s not true but when I let that thought grow (often it pops up when I see other successful people online doing things I wish I’d done) it makes me hate myself for not doing more. How these people appear is so dangerous, but completely in my control. “Appear” is subjective and informed by how I feel and what I believe!

What have I done to help myself become less attached to this negative belief? I unfollow triggering people (to temporarily lessen the emotional burden while I practice this), and those that remain, I recognise that there is plenty of business to go around, that they have their strengths and I have mine (I have done work on finding what they are). Then I think about what strengths I discovered and I see that where I am going is far more in line with my core values than if I had done something similar. Then I feel glad that the thought helped direct me back on track because I have the power to decide.

Positive thought that I hold on to tightly:

“I am grateful that I am perceptive”

Then I affirm it and link it to something bigger:

“I have been given the gift of wisdom and perspective, so these are strengths that I use in coaching to help draw out the strengths and growth in others, which also fulfils me.”

I took a quiet thought one day and it became a core vision of my life and my business.

Oh, and I when I am fulfilled and doing meaningful work, I don’t fixate on either hating or loving my body. I just LIVE.

So the next time you see someone frame body image issues as being about the fat or what the fat means, ask yourself “what if it’s not the fat”, “what if body acceptance is a false-goal”?

Now I’d love to hear from you. Tell me if you have done something similar in your own life that has transformed your thinking in a particular area?
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4 Responses

  1. As always, your words resonate with me on so many levels. I have struggled with this myself, trying to be happy with wherever I’m at body appearance wise and never making it there. And too often it’s been about proving myself to somebody else or favorably comparing myself to somebody else or feeling like I have control over something or showing that I don’t need to be in control at all and not at all about whether I love or hate my body, as you mentioned.

    When I was a firefighter I prided myself in being a badass. I was strong, fit, lean, cut. I intimidated people, I’d like to say unintentionally but I know that I also loved that I was physically intimidating, especially if it was a dude that I could outlift.

    And then all of a sudden I couldn’t run, couldn’t life, couldn’t even tolerate daily walks very well. I was off duty as a firefighter, stuck in a stressful and uncertain work comp system. I lost my identity, not only as a firefighter but as a lifter, a runner, an athlete. A badass. I was terrified of becoming fat, or so I thought, but what I really was was terrified because I felt like I had no control over anything – my pain, my career – but I could control what I ate, I could stay lean.

    So I did, trying to hold on to my career, my identity, my imagined future, and as I tried so desperately to hold on to those things I lost more and more muscle, getting down to a weight I hadn’t been since the 4th grade. And I was super lean, but no longer strong. No longer a badass. I was miserable. But women would tell me I looked great, and I kind of liked being able to wear a size 0. We get so messed up about such things! It was the smallest I’ve ever been and the unhappiest. I was off work, I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life, I didn’t know if I could live with the unbearable pain I was in.

    That’s what was going on, it wasn’t about whether or not I loved or hated my body, it was whether or not I loved or hated myself. And I sure didn’t love myself then. I didn’t even know who I was then.

    At some point I said f it and let all control go, priding myself in that. I drank beer, ate bread and pizza, had dessert. And I put on weight. And I told myself I was happy. I tried to love the new, heavier, softer body I was in. But I still longed for my lean and fit days, my badass days. But I don’t know that it is the body I was yearning for so much as for the career that I lost. The gym rat days, the competition, the friends.

    It’s a lot to think about and I don’t know that I have before reading your post. I feel like I’ve finally come around to figuring out what my purpose is in the last year or so and, perhaps unsurprisingly, I don’t think about my appearance so much because I’m focused on other things. I don’t know that I’m happy with my body’s appearance but I don’t know that I have to be. I’m happy with what I can do and with what I am doing, I no longer feel broken, like damaged goods, unable. And I’m looking forward to what I’ll be able to do in the future. I can still serve, still contribute, still love and be loved, and I don’t need a particular body fat percentage or jean size to accomplish those things.

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us, for sharing of yourself. It’s appreciated beyond measure.

    • Marianne says:

      Joletta, as always, I can relate so much to your story; thank you for sharing it here for everyone else <3

      There was one thing in particular that resonated with me and it was this:

      "I don’t know that I’m happy with my body’s appearance but I don’t know that I have to be."

      This is such a freeing sentence and you hit the nail on the head. Do we have to? And if we can't, what does it really mean to us? Certainly pretending to love your body doesn't work, but what you have done is embrace the rest of your life, not just how your body appears. You have worked on deepening your understanding of yourself and your circumstances and it has given you a richer perspective that you can draw on in time of insecurity about stuff.

      Thank you!!

  2. Robyn says:

    This is a really good blog and very apt in my life right now. Thank you! I am struggling with identity, self acceptance and inner strength. As you say Marianne, the physical appearance is not the only form of beauty. It is just superficial and it changes as you embrace others wholly.
    I would like to be slim and toned and eat whatever I like. But this is only the case for a small minority of people who sometimes actually end up with bowel diseases. I would also like to be happy and successful with everything I do. But as it appears, there has to be downs, for the ups to be sweet.
    It is hard to watch social media when there is an almost constant drama or success of an individuals life or just hate. I debate leaving facebook quite often. But I talk myself round and come to see that they are just stories about someone else. I have the choice to take it or leave it.

    Currently I am trying to find balance in my life and practice self-acceptance. The ying and the yang!
    I exercerise well but sometimes I go too hard. I am learning that I cannot exersice because I hate my body. I cannot punish myself because I dont look like what social media indicates what I should look like. It also runs deeper than that. I am not happy with the way I look because I remind my self of my mother who I do not have a good relationship with. Since I was a little girl I have tried to do everything in my power to be opposite to her. Genetics are proving to be stronger than the power I have. The power driven by hurt feelings and anger towards a horrible relationship from my past. As time has gone on I have had to soften the anger towards her and allow myself to see her qualities and understad her misfortunes in order to accept my anger and even the way I look.
    Exercise currently is to keep my mind sharp and my body active. It brings peace to my mind. And I am learning how to give up being harsh on myself if I dont feel like workingout or if I have not made time. I am learning to slow down and take each day as it comes.

    I work as a nurse in an emergency department which is filled with drama and lots of people in a demanding evvironment. I love my job, nursing people at some of their most vulnerable and dysfunctional times in their lives. I empathise, I dont judge and I care for them. It is so rewarding. There are some pateints who live in my soul forever as their story has affected me somehow.
    The issue is that I dont seem to be able to “fit in” with the nursing team. I am contstanlty putting pressure on myself that I am not liked by my collegues. But I am just beginning to realise that it is probably my lack of self-accptance that is preventing me from fitting in. I am too scared of being my-self with my collegues. For fear of being judged. But I am making quick judgments about them in my head. Too slow, too fat, too loud etc.
    My deeper personal values though, are not whether they are too anything. They are simply about the complex beauty of humans. They can be whoever they want to be and I accept them as they are. And if I can accept them then I can accpet me and therefore have the strength to be myself, flaws and all!

    I love food and I would love to be body beautiful – the two just dont work well together. So I have to manage it. I cook good food with lots of variety, flavours and colours and I work out. I love to be active and feel healthy so I do weights, yoga and walk. The hardest part has been accepting that I will never be tall with an iron board stomach. Something my mother and social media made me beleive was important for success and happy relationships. But when I let go of that, I’m happy and stress free.

    Thank you for inviting us to share.

    • Marianne says:

      So many hearts for this, Robyn! Thank you so much for sharing this. You made great observations about yourself and about how you respond to others in your head. How can we ever accept/embrace ourselves (including our bodies) if we don’t really do the same for others; and vice versa.

      But what you have opened up in this conversation is the walls we put up around us to protect us from past hurts. These are the reason that connections with others don’t grow; we are afraid to be our weak, ordinary, yet beautiful selves. We see fronts everywhere we look and that is what we do too.

      You are a wonderfully insightful woman, Robyn. And I know you must be an amazing nurse, reaching people in their most vulnerable times <3

      Thank you for sharing this!

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