Recently, I did a talk for a group of mental health clinicians on eating disorders. The talk went great, and I was feeling really pleased with myself for being able to help other therapists learn more about a topic that I am so passionate about.
As I was packing up my stuff to head out, one of the therapists stopped and asked me a question.
“So, you talk about all this stuff, but you aren’t in a large body. Do your clients ever ask you how you can talk about struggling with your body when they don’t look like you do?”
I answered her as honestly as I could, telling her that you can’t look at someone’s body and know what their own struggle is, as the relationship we have with food is truly internal, and doesn’t really have to do with how the body looks anyway. I left and didn’t really give her question much thought, but later that day, her question came back to me & started to morph into self-doubt.
I have been at peace with my body for a long time, but how would I feel if my body changed drastically?
Would I still love myself the way I do now if something external shifted?
Does the peace I feel about my body come from within, or is it more related to a judgment that things on the outside are “okay”? Could I practice what I preach if I lost this sense of peace?
One thing I know deeply is that every part of me is devoted to the idea of self-love and body acceptance. I have a deep knowing that to help women learn to find acceptance is my passion. So to be in this space of questioning was extremely unnerving, and I’ll admit that it hit me right between the eyes.
As I started to think about how I relate to my own body, it dawned on me that I don’t actually think everything about my body is okay. In fact, I still judge plenty of things that I see in my body as “wrong” or “not good enough.”
My body has been a variety of shapes in this lifetime so far. At times, my body shape has fit into societies idea of good and at times my body shape has been that which society deemed as bad or “unhealthy” (the latter being a more “socially acceptable” way of judging a body shape as wrong). I have, like many of you, experienced pain and joy both because of the shape of my body. We have a very complex history, she and I.
No matter what shape my body is, there is always something that can be judged. I break out. I have awful hair days that even a hat can’t fix. I am aging, and I am starting to see the laws of gravity demonstrating themselves. I have potential judgements that extend the entire length of my body, and if I’m looking for it, I can usually find something that is “out of place.”
At first these thoughts jumped out at me as evidence that I must be an imposter. “Oh crap!” I thought. “How can I think those things and have the nerve to write blog articles about loving your body?”
And then I remembered a concept that I have been following for some time. It’s the basis of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which basically espouses the following: We are culturally indoctrinated with certain thoughts. To try and change those thoughts is nearly impossible. It is much kinder, loving, and quite frankly, easier, to accept those thoughts as what they are – old cultural ideas that have just gotten into your head. Then you move on to commitment to change. Commitment to living from a kinder, gentler thought that is more aligned with what you want to believe.
When I realized this, it gave me a sense of peace. Quite the contrary to feeling like an impostor, it made me realize that of course I still have the judgments about my body that are less than loving. I am human.
I am also, however, fortunate enough to realize that my judgment about my body is the cultural lie, social conditioning left over from being raised in a society that taught me that there is a boilerplate standard for what it means to be “good enough” as a woman in this world. I also realized that the deepest part of me absolutely knows that this is a pile of B.S.
I can be committed to loving my body and have wonderful, blissful days where I am one-hundred percent full of gratitude for everything about it.
I can still be committed to loving my body and have days when I feel awkward and uncomfortable in it and think thoughts that are less than ideal.
Body love, like everything else in life, isn’t all unicorns and rainbows.
I remind people all the time that they should avoid black and white thinking, and search for the middle ground. I came out of this realizing that I needed a dose of my own medicine.
The lesson I took away was that trying to be “perfect” at love, be it self-love or body-love, is as unrealistic and as stressful as trying to be “perfect” in our bodies themselves. I choose to ignore the thoughts that I know aren’t kind, and align with the thoughts that are kind and quite frankly, feel better. That is my daily commitment. And the biggest lesson of all is that that is enough.