“Love your body” seems to be the new “strong is the new skinny.” While this is absolutely a shift in the right direction as it relates to promoting body acceptance, I think it is missing a huge piece of the puzzle on our journey for cultivating self-love. In order for women (and men) to embrace their bodies, we need to look beyond accepting our physical appearance.
How Do You See Your Body?
We have been conditioned from a young age to believe that if our body is attractive, we’ll be able to meet a better partner, obtain a better job, and have more fun and friends. It’s pretty clear when you look around (especially in the media) that there is a correlation between appearance and popularity or fulfillment in life. This is one of the main drivers behind why people want to change their appearance.
When I ask my clients why they want to change their bodies, they always say, “to be more confident,” “to feel sexier,” or “to be able to wear a bikini.” The reality is that you can have those things now. In the body you have today. But, you need to do more than try to “love your body” or come to terms with your ‘flaws’ to do that.
The body acceptance movement does a great job of showing women of all different shapes and sizes being confident. However, it can be impossible to embrace and force this upon yourself if you really don’t like your body. That is because you can’t love your body if you only see your body as the limiting factor.
It’s Actually Not About Your Body
Our culture has melded together our body-esteem and our self-esteem, when in fact they are two distinct things. Your body-esteem only represents a small percentage of your self-esteem, however we seem to have wrapped them up into one. The way we feel about ourselves is tied to the way we feel about our body.
But, more often than not, when we are feeling dislike for a particular area of our body, we are actually experiencing some other kind of issue that we are channeling onto our body. Things such as stress, shame, guilt, fear, anger, insecurity and any other emotion or self-deprecating thought all manifest into us hating our bodies, when in fact they have nothing to do with our body.
When you feel bad about your body, this is a side effect of something else going on. It’s actually not about your body. This is why focusing on “loving your body” in the absence of seeing the bigger picture is not effective.
Look For the Core Issues
We deflect other issues onto our body because it’s an easy target on which to place blame. It is something that we can fix. It’s much easier to cut back on carbs and calories or get your hair done than address self-esteem issues, relationship or career troubles, and generally difficult emotions. However, if you neglect to see this distinction and ignore the core issues, you will never be able to truly love your body. You will be treating the symptom and not the root cause.
This is why it is so common for people to lose weight or change the way their body looks, but still end up hating it. Even though their body gets to where they want it to be, they still don’t like themselves because they neglected to put any effort into fostering self-compassion and esteem.
I tell women that having a fat day is a gift because it’s your own internal signal that something else needs to be addressed that goes beyond your body. If we keep telling women to simply love their body, we are keeping the focus on the body as opposed to seeing the broader issues at hand. Part of making this distinction is tagging and decoding the moments when you feel bad about your appearance, so you can start to see where the real feelings are coming from.
As soon as I was able to make this distinction, I was able to see that the negative feelings I had about my body were rooted in other issues. My own drive for perfection and fear of judgment lead me to feel shame or guilt. I also put pressures on myself that made my life feel chaotic. This manifested in negative feelings for my body because this was something I could actually control and solve. However, my attempts to love my body were always met with more dislike.
When I finally saw my bad body days for what they were, I stopped caring about whether I had a muffin top or not and recognized the real issues at hand. This was when I could finally break free of my negative body talk. That is integral to actually loving your body.
Push Out of Your Comfort Zone
If you are struggling to love your body, then look beyond coming to terms with your cellulite and work on the bigger picture. The first step is awareness of the separation between body-esteem and self-esteem and making an effort to decode your feelings about your body. Use these feelings as an opportunity to investigate what other areas of your life need attention. Take a look at what events have happened recently or are about to happen. When you can see the true source of your negative body feelings, then you can begin to foster compassion, forgiveness, and change in these areas of your life.
It’s important to note that the goal is not to fix the source of your negativity. Rather, it’s about bringing attention to it, letting go of perfection in all aspects of your life, and having empathy for yourself.
On top of that, you can work on improving your confidence by letting go of any limitations you have set for yourself because of your body. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone and do the things you have been putting off because you don’t feel good in your body.
What have you been avoiding? Having sex with the lights on? Setting up your yoga mat at the front of the class? Speaking up at a meeting? I challenge you do these things now. This builds confidence and helps you to see that the feelings you have for your body are not a limitation.
Once you start to work on feeling confident and building self-esteem in the body you have now, while having compassion and empathy for the things that you cannot control, positive feelings for your body will come much more easily. Then you will truly be able to love your body.