The notion of loving your body can be challenging when you’re far from feeling it. Start with smaller gestures, and appreciate what you have in the now.
I remember flipping through the pages of magazines when I was younger, and then scrolling through social media as I grew older.
Picture after picture showed thin women in glamourous advertisements alongside stories highlighting how I could learn to love myself and why it was so important.
Cosmopolitan shares, “10 Steps Toward Body Love and Why It’s Possible For You.”
Vogue tells me, “Why Loving Her Body Led to Business Growth and How You Can Cultivate Body Love For Success.”
An Instagram ads says, “She learned to love her body, so she went to this workout class and it changed her life. It can change your life too.”
It was, and is, a relentless message: “Love your body, but only if you look like this thin, white, able-bodied woman.”
The ads and articles were only trying to show me how my life would change and catapult me into body-love land if I just learned how to love my body, once I had achieved a desired look. I didn’t know this at the time, but I knew I always felt worse and could never understand why.
If they were teaching me to love…well, me, why did I always come out of the experience feeling like something wasn’t quite right?
I was convinced that it meant that I just wasn’t motivated enough, or I wasn’t doing it right. “There must be something I am missing here”, I would say to myself.
So, I would leave, feeling like I wasn’t good enough and thin enough, and that body love was just another thing that I was failing at. If I couldn’t shrink myself to look like “her”, then I couldn’t possibly be successful, give my body love, and be happy.
Sound familiar? If so, take a deep breath and let’s hear some hard truths.
In order to live a happy, fulfilled life you do not need to love your body.
Yep, that’s right. The expectation that you love your body, especially given the climate and culture we live in, is a tall feat. In fact, it often becomes another way that you feel as if you’re not “doing it right” and still not measuring up.
What I am advocating for instead is for you to cultivate body appreciation.
Body appreciation does not necessarily equate to body love, although it’s a common misconception. To appreciate your body means to grasp the nature, worth, quality, or significance of it. It means that you recognize it with gratitude, validate it with understanding, and be fully aware of it.
Sounds a bit different than loving your body, right?
Body appreciation allows you to honor, practice and recognize the purpose your body serves in helping you to exist and move through the world. It doesn’t require you like those parts, or love them, in order to cultivate appreciation.
And if you have spent most of your life hating your body, degrading it, wanting it to be different, working hard to shrink it, and punishing it, it may feel challenging at first to begin even thinking about what body appreciation might look like in practice.
Remember that body appreciation is a skill that is developed over time, not something that you acquire or purchase. It takes practicing patience and compassion toward yourself along the way.
So, if you are feeling ready to try it, and are open to the idea of working toward body appreciation, here are three ways that you can start practicing it.
1. Choose a body part each week, and make a list of 3-5 things you appreciate about it.
Write them down on a sticky note, on your phone, or on a piece of paper. Post it somewhere you can see in your house. This can be the bathroom mirror, on your phone’s home screen, in your office.
Start with a body part that feels less challenging, then with time, move to parts that feel harder. For example, you may choose to start with your arms and not your belly because the latter feels harder.
Write: “I appreciate that my arms help me to hug people I love, allow me to pick up heavy things, help to hold me up when I am laying down, enable my hands to have mobility, and allow me to play sports.”
Repeat these things to yourself every day, then move on to a different body part the next week.
2. Wear comfortable clothes.
If you are working toward appreciating what your body does, it’s important to choose not to squeeze yourself into a pair of pants that affect your digestion and ability to breathe fully.
And if buying new clothes feels like a challenge for you right now, or you’re financially strapped, take yourself to Goodwill or find a store that carries inexpensive clothing. Buy clothes that feel comfortable and have elastic waistbands, and know that you can donate them again should you not need them.
3. Take time for rest.
Appreciating your body means honoring when it needs breaks and rest. This can look like taking naps, laying down, turning off your phone, or saying no to a social gathering to lounge on your couch.
You may have to fight with the voice that tells you that you are being “unproductive”, but remind it that you are working to honor your body, not what the culture has taught you about your value being based on your output.
Adapted from the original article.
Katherine Metzelaar, MSN, RDN, CD is the owner of Bravespace Nutrition, a private Nutrition practice in Seattle, WA. She specializes in disordered eating, eating disorders, and body image healing. She is passionate about size diversity and equality, and helps women to find food freedom free from perfectionism.