Body Acceptance is NOT the Goal

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?
  • August 1, 2016

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