I recently found out that 91 percent of women are dissatisfied with their bodies.
That means that just about every woman you know wishes her body was different.
While body positivity is slowly taking hold, diet culture is still going strong.
For most of us, going from body negative to body positive doesn’t happen in one fell swoop. So how do we bridge the gap?
In my experience, it starts with body acceptance.
Before I elaborate, I want to say a few things about acceptance, because it’s one of the most widely misunderstood concepts in recovery.
Body acceptance doesn’t mean liking our bodies. It doesn’t mean that we want our bodies to look the same forever. It also doesn’t mean that we’re “letting ourselves go” (I hear that one a lot).
Body acceptance simply means acknowledging that our bodies are the way they are and look the way they look—right now.
This acknowledgment is helpful because, when we’re resisting the way our bodies look, we are at odds with reality. Our bodies cannot be any other way than the way they are right now. Of course, they can change moving forward, but if we don’t first accept what exists in this present moment, we have no foundation of reality to move forward with.
It is extremely difficult—if not impossible—to make consistent progress in recovery without a baseline acceptance of reality.
The most common question I get when I explain this to clients is, “How can I accept my body if I want to change it?”
First of all, change is inevitable. Our bodies are changing every moment of every day. Cells are dying and new cells are forming. Our weight and body composition are continuously in flux (even if only a little).
Our bodies will change. Period.
Second, change is a future-oriented concept, while acceptance is a now phenomenon. Our bodies will be different in the future—in ways we like or in ways we don’t like—but the only time we have to accept them is right now.
If we fantasize that one day our bodies will change and then we will be able to accept them, we are living in an illusion. Today’s “one day” becomes tomorrow’s “now.” If we haven’t developed the practice of accepting the present moment, the here and now will be just as hard to accept “one day” as it is today.
Lastly, just as we can only accept our bodies right now, new action can only take place right now. The idea of taking a new action in the future is just that—an idea. Change is merely the result of multiple new actions taken in multiple present moments.
On a personal note, the more I tried to “fix” or “change” my body, and the more I resisted it as it was, the less I was able to change it. That mind-set kept me locked in a pattern of binging and purging and swinging back and forth between feeling hopeful (but still not satisfied) and hopeless.
As I’ve learned to accept my body—whether I like it in any given moment or not—I have a greatly expanded my capacity to experience gratitude for my body.
Again, gratitude is distinct from liking.
I don’t have to like my tummy to be grateful that it is housing my vital organs and keeping them safe. I don’t have to love the way my butt looks to be thankful that it provides a comfy place to sit and helps power my daily movement.
I do find that the more I accept and feel grateful for the body that I have, the less I find fault with what I see in the mirror.
After nearly two decades of body hatred and bulimia, I feel pretty okay about my body. And I’d say that’s a great place to start.