How do you respond to the following statement:
Body image healing requires radical acceptance of your body as it is now.
The most typical reaction is disbelief, incredulity and fear.
Because we have a skewed understanding about acceptance! If you fall into the camp of disbelievers, you probably think that if you accept your body as it is now, it means that:
- You’re stuck with the body you have (which you’re unhappy with)
- And if you can’t change how it looks, there’s no point in making any changes at all
It probably makes you feel deflated and hopeless.
There’s a lot of fake news about acceptance!
Let’s think about a completely different scenario. Say you are in a job you hate.
If I told you that to feel better immediately, you need to accept the situation as it is, what would go through your mind?
‘Then I have to put up with all the crap I get from my boss/ co-workers… forever.’
‘I have to stay in this job till I die.’
‘I can’t stand up for myself.’
‘I have to be bored for the rest of my life.’
Is any of this true? Does acceptance equal disempowerment? Does acceptance mean you have to be passive? Does acceptance rob you of your ability act?
No, it does not. All it means is that you stop fighting with reality.
The reason why you will feel less terrible about the situation as soon as you accept it is exactly for that reason – that you’re not fighting with reality. Simply accepting that it is as it is, means you let go of a whole lot of stress. It’s stressful to fight with reality. It’s stressful to focus on what you don’t have or on what you are not. Accepting things as they are does not mean that you are stuck with them forever because a) acceptance does not mean you’re passive and have no agency or power and b) everything changes. Everything.
So let’s talk about your power and agency.
The AA serenity prayer suggests that we:
Accept the things we cannot change
have the courage to change the things we can (like find another job/ advocate for ourselves), and
to have the wisdom to know the difference.
So what about your body then? Can you change it?
Maybe. And maybe not.
Just to be clear, we’re not talking about things like grooming. Obviously that’s not too hard to do, it usually doesn’t involve permanent change, and probably isn’t the kind of change you’re thinking about anyway.
If you’re reading this, my guess is you’re interested in the kind of change that means permanent shrinkage of your body. You’ve likely tried over and over to do this – and maybe sometimes you’ve managed it – but not for long, right? Eventually, you have gone back to your previous size. For some of you, you’ve regained to an even higher weight. THIS IS TO BE EXPECTED. It is a normal and expected consequence of weight loss attempts and has nothing to do with your willpower, personality or worthiness. Not accepting this does not change the reality. Not accepting this DOES cause you stress.
And chronic stress is BAD for your health!
Look, the honest truth is that you don’t have a choice about the body you have. This body is the one that was given to you via genetics plus life. It is your one and only. It has been with you since day 0, supporting you as best as it can.
Carl Rogers famously said:
The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change…I’m not perfect, but I’m enough.
This doesn’t mean your BODY will change when you accept it, but YOU will!
You will stop fighting with yourself.
You will start to be kinder to yourself.
You will get off the dieting rollercoaster and treat yourself well.
You will start to take better care of your body and yourself, not because you think you should, but because you feel naturally inclined to do so. Why? Well, who takes care of things they hate or resent?
How does this enable body image healing? Well, healing cannot happen in the face of non-acceptance. Acceptance is the starting point for healing. Add in compassion and you’re on your way ;).