The tagline “love your body” is everywhere these days. And while I appreciate the intent behind it to help women feel better about themselves, I think the “love your body” mentality can create some obstacles for people. For one thing, it’s hard to imagine loving your body when you’ve spent such a long time hating it. So it might not even feel possible. And we usually don’t work very hard—if we try all—for things that we believe are impossible anyway.
Plus, if you do work hard to love your body but don’t get there by the time you think you should, it can bring up a new sense of shame (on top of the body shame you already have—yikes!). I’ve heard people express feeling like a fraud in preaching body love when they haven’t been able to love their own bodies. It makes them feel like a failure and a hypocrite. If there’s one thing we don’t need more of in our lives, it’s shame!
Another problem with the “love your body” philosophy is that it still puts a lot of emphasis on your body. It continues to elevate your appearance as an important part of your identity, and puts a lot of pressure on being able to love your body to feel good. No one loves their body all the time. We all have bad body image days, even the most body-liberated women. Moreover, what happens if your body changes after you learn to love it? If you gain more weight? If it gets ill or injured or in some other way doesn’t live up to your expectations?
A Different Approach to Body Image
What if, instead of working on loving your body, you worked on simply accepting it? Acceptance is not the same as approval. Acceptance can be described as assenting to the reality of a situation, often a negative or uncomfortable situation, without attempting to change it or protest it. Which is why this is easier than body love. It’s not as big of a step to go from body hate to body acceptance.
In other words, you might still dislike things about your body, but you can make peace with it. You can decide to treat your body with compassion and basic respect, even while there are aspects of it you find undesirable.
The best part of body acceptance is that you don’t tie your self-worth to your body anymore, because liking it is not necessary for feeling good about yourself.
How to Learn Body Acceptance
First, understand that un-learning anything and re-learning something new takes time and practice. Both of those elements are necessary. Usually, when clients get frustrated about not achieving body acceptance yet, it’s because one of two is missing in the equation. Our brains are amazing and totally capable of re-wiring (hooray for neuroplasticity!), but it can’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen by simply wanting to change. We have to actually practice new ways of thinking about and relating to our bodies consistently for a period of time before it becomes our new norm.
Second, take small steps at first. In our culture, people tend to try going all out right away, which is maybe fine for some people. But for most of us, small changes that lead to bigger changes is a more successful strategy. Let me give you an example of how this operates in body acceptance.
Right now, you probably think thoughts like “I hate my belly” or “I’m so gross” when you look at your stomach. Instead of trying to convince yourself “I love my stomach!”, aim for more neutral statements like, “I have a stomach” or “I have a stomach that looks like a lot of women’s stomachs.”
The key is to not attach a judgment to the statement. “I have a stomach”—period. None of the “and it’s gross, I hate it, it’s too big, etc.” Repeat your neutral statements often, especially when you’re noticing negative body thoughts. Once you have mastered neutral statements, take a step towards acceptance statements. They might sound something like:
- “I might not like the way my stomach looks, but I can accept it.”
- “Some women like themselves even when they don’t like their bodies—I can too.”
- “My body doesn’t have to look good for me to feel good.”
Once you’ve mastered acceptance, if you want to move on to trying for body love, then go for it! Tell yourself your stomach is actually pretty awesome and that you’re gorgeous. I’m not against body love… just against the idea that we should all be working towards it or that it’s necessary for feeling good about yourself. For some, body acceptance is more accessible and the ultimate goal. That’s fantastic! Don’t let any “love your body” campaigns convince you otherwise.
Intuitive Bites, Episode 23 (You Don’t Need to Find Your Body Beautiful to Accept it with Jessica Rothley)
Fearless Rebelle Radio, Episode 96 (How to Work Through Body Shame)
Food Psych, Episode 250 (Body Image Healing and Body Grief with Brianna Campos)
The Body Image Podcast, Episode 23 (Haley Goodrich on Intuitive Eating & Body Image Healing)
Body Positive Power: Because Life Is Already Happening and You Don’t Need Flat Abs to Live It by Megan Jayne Crabbe
Body Image Remix: Embrace Your Body and Unleash the Fierce, Confident Woman Within by Summer Innanen
I’m Cherie Miller, MS, LPC-S, founder of Nourished Soul Center for Healing and @foodfreedomtherapist on Instagram. We offer therapy and nutrition counseling for chronic dieting as well eating disorders like Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder, Orthorexia, ARFID, and other food issues. As anti-diet professionals, we are passionate about intuitive eating and Health at Every Size philosophies. Contact us here to schedule a therapy or nutrition appointment.