I’m an avid supporter of all fat acceptance, body love, size diversity (and any other way you want to combine those words) movements. I believe that everyone deserves to feel that their body is not only adequate and acceptable, but also worthy of love and appreciation.
I believe this apart from any ideas I have about health and/or eating. However, I also believe that body acceptance is essential to intuitive eating and health. How can you properly take care of a body you don’t even like? How can you learn to tune in to your body’s food needs if you believe that your body isn’t trustworthy?
Nevertheless, I know that “body love” can be a tough sell. “Body respect” sounds more realistic, and reluctant acceptance more likely.
Even while encouraging my clients to love and appreciate their bodies, I have come to a sort of uncomfortable compromise in my own process of cultivating body love.
Don’t get me wrong. I regularly take time to marvel at my body, and all the things it is capable of. It’s awe inspiring to consider the complexity and relentlessness of its detailed functioning. I am completely dedicated to caring for my body to the best of my ability, and I trust the input I get from my body implicitly.
Yet, when I look in the mirror or put on clothes, I am often less than satisfied.
I think I am a bit of an anomaly within the intuitive eating/HAES community (and developed nations, really) in that I’ve never really struggled with my weight. I’ve never tried to diet to lose weight. I’ve only dieted to improve my health and the way I feel (which also doesn’t work, incidentally).
Growing up, my mom frequently told me how lucky I was to be the size and weight I was. In high school my friends would tell me how lucky I was that I could eat whatever I wanted and not worry about gaining weight (even friends who were skinnier than me). Truly, I realize that I am beyond privileged to have never worried about my weight. I can’t say that I’ve never suffered discrimination based on my size, but I’ve never experienced the pervasive oppression experienced by people deemed to be too large.
Even so, I’ve never really loved my body. As a teenager, I had a sadly typical laundry list of things I didn’t like about my body. My nose was too big and too crooked. One of my eyes was a bit lazy. I had acne. My eyes and hair were too dark. I had too many moles and freckles. My breasts were too small. My belly stuck out too much, especially after eating. I was bowlegged. I wasn’t tall enough. The bottom of my butt was too saggy. The list went on and on…
I don’t even want to get into the saga of all the things I tried to do to fix or hide my body over the years, and all the angst and hand wringing I endured. I’ll just say that it happened.
Gradually, over the course of my teens and twenties, I realized two things: 1) Nobody cared about or judged my body as much as I did. 2) Whether people were drawn to or repelled by me had mostly to do with my mood and attitude, and little to do with my body. Of course, mood and attitude do affect appearance–everything from your posture and facial expression to general attractiveness. But nobody was saying, “I don’t want to talk to that lady because her belly sticks out more than her chest.”
So, by the time I slid into my thirties, I had made a sort of peace with my body. I appreciated the incredible privilege of living in a well-functioning body. I stopped worrying that others would reject me based on the unchosen aspects of my appearance (hi, privilege!). Still, I hold beliefs that have me standing in front of a dressing room mirror, deciding not to purchase an outfit only because it emphasizes the “bad” parts of my body. Still, I look at other bodies with envy.
I’ve been limiting my exposure to popular media for decades. I’ve been critiquing the media I am inadvertently exposed to and rejecting messages that tell me to judge and/or hate my body, whenever possible. Still, I am battling these internalized ideals and judgments that tell me my body is not worthy of love.
This is why, contrary to popular marketing advice, I don’t promise instantaneous miraculous transformation to my clients. Becoming an intuitive eater takes time. Tuning into your internal signals takes experience. Loving your body takes unending dedication, in a culture that is inviting you to reject your body at every turn.
This is why we need the support of our community, and organizations like The Body Positive and The Body is Not an Apology. This is why I’m into fat politics and why I admire body love gurus like Golda Poretsky and Dr. Deah.
I hope that someday I will be able to confidently say that I love my body. Until then, I’ll keep working to create a world in which it’s easier to do so.