Do you love your body? But. . . do you really love your body? At first glance, a lot of people might claim to or appear to have found what so many of us are striving for -- body acceptance. You've probably heard of these people, like a mystical creature we've heard about but don't really believe in, or seen their posts on Instagram. You may even know someone who would make this claim.
Let's focus on those shout-it-from-the-rooftop people whose posts we scroll by on Instagram who claim to love their bodies or who use popular hashtags like #bodypositive and #beyoutiful. Have you ever taken a few extra moments to examine these posts? I have, and I've done this with teens that are part of REbeL to teach them to be critical consumers of media and to better understand where we are in our culture when it comes to body image & self-love. When we zoom in further, what we often notice is what I like to call conditional body acceptance. Conditional body acceptance is a term describing acceptance of one's body that is not unconditional, meaning acceptance with certain conditions, meaning it's not true body acceptance. Are you with me?
Let's think of an example: Full make-up (fictional) fitbabe_521 snaps a mirror selfie at her gym striking a sexy pose in her patterned yoga pants & matching sports bra. The caption below the photo reads: "Progress, not perfection. Set goals & crush them. Love your body the way it is RIGHT NOW because it is amazing & strong & beautiful." What follows are 30 hashtags ranging from #bodyacceptance and #selflove to #fitmama and #transformationtuesday. We might scroll by this post and think, She really loves her body. I wish I could get there. [Side note: We might also have a fleeting thought that we need to look like fitbabe_521 to love our body. Not true.] But here's my question to you: Does this woman truly accept her body? We don't know, of course, unless we ask her. And even then, we might still not really know the full truth. But if I had to venture a guess, I'd say 'no.' Why? Well, I ask myself the following types of questions: Does fitbabe_521 really embrace her body just the way it is? Or is she ultimately striving to reshape her body? Do I believe she would post similarly after 3 weeks of skipping the gym & eating Cheetos for breakfast every day? And would she be as accepting of her body if she weighed 30 more pounds? fitbabe_521 may love her body or she may think she does or she may just want her followers to think she does. We really don't know. But from what I can tell, @fitbabe_521 appears to love her body only under certain conditions, so what we're looking at here is not true, unconditional acceptance.
So is fitbabe_521 a big ol' phony? I don't think of it in that way. What I do think to myself as I scroll by these types of posts on Instagram is this: Keep going. Your journey isn't over. I silently wish for these individuals who are outspokenly body-positive but not quite there to keep taking steps along the path to true body acceptance. Because fitbabe_521, this isn't it. There's MORE. There's more self-compassion, more freedom, and fewer boxes that have to be checked to truly love your body unconditionally.
So what is unconditional body acceptance? Unconditional body acceptance doesn't feel like a check list or a goal that always seems just out of our reach. Those who unconditionally love their bodies love them even on days they skip the gym, on days where the number on the scale goes up, on "bleh" days that they opt for loose-fitting clothes. They accept that their body is ever-evolving, and they embrace their bodies through those changes. They don't look at their bodies as objects to be viewed, rather as vehicles that take them through life's many adventures. They listen to the wisdom of their bodies and honor them not with rules & restrictions but by nourishing them. They view food as fuel & nutrients rather than "good" or "bad." They move their bodies when and because it feels good, not according to a schedule or to burn calories or to achieve a goal in the form of a particular type of body. Their bodies are part of who they are, but not a major aspect of their identity & self-worth.
It's hard to find those who love their body all of the time. For most, body image exists on a spectrum, and it's fluid, meaning it's ever-evolving, just as our bodies are. Accepting our bodies unconditionally is possible. I promise. And the work required to get there is so worth it. Is your journey over or is it just beginning?
by Jessica L. Betts, MS, RD, LD