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Body Hate, Body Love, and Everything In Between
I lead the body image group at Opal, which often leads to the assumption that my own body image is flawless. And some days it is. But, my experience as an embodied woman is constantly shifting and changing. Just when I get used to the curve of my belly, I have a terrible hair day, or my shorts ride up while I’m walking around Greenlake—and I feel disgust, frustration, and annoyance. On those days my critical mind whines, “Why can’t you just do what I want you to do and be how I want you to be?!” Some days it is difficult to look at my body because it makes me feel uncomfortable and angry. Other days I stand in front of the mirror and think, “Wow, I look delicious!”, and some days I feel all of those things at once. It is very confusing, this being-a-human business.
Body acceptance is about expecting and allowing for a wide array of emotional experiences towards your body, but choosing to take care of it regardless of how you are feeling on any given day. Whether I feel awe, frustration, disgust, or delight in my body, I choose to drink enough water, do yoga, go on walks, allow myself delicious food, pursue connection and care, and offer myself compassion. There was a time in my life when I thought that I needed to wait until my body was perfect before I could take care of myself in this way. I remember after gaining a few pounds in my first year of college I was embarrassed and uncomfortable. Without the knowledge of how to take care of my body, I avoided it like the plague. I would avert my gaze from the mirror when I undressed in the bathroom, and refused to put moisturizer over my stomach because I hated touching it so much. I still have those days, when I have contempt for the soft curve of my belly, but now I never miss a day to rub coconut oil all over it. As my friend, and bad-ass therapist, Sara Dale puts it, “one needn’t wait until they feel a certain way to begin practicing body acceptance, as the practice comes from the allowing, the observing, and the care-taking of one’s body.” This means I don’t allow my emotions to decide if my body does or does not deserve care. My body deserves care always, regardless of how I am feeling towards it.
Body acceptance is something that happens in stages, and is so much more connected to our relationship to our inner world than most people realize. If we are constantly critiquing and judging ourselves internally, then of course that critique will spill out onto our bodies as well. Shifting to a softer, gentler, more compassionate way of talking to ourselves makes space to offer that kindness to our bodies. When my clients who struggle with eating disorders begin this movement towards self-acceptance, they are often terrified that offering themselves kindness will tear apart the structure that criticism offers to keep them functioning in their lives. They are scared that kindness is the same as permissiveness, and that they will no longer be able to function in work and in life. In reality, kindness often has the opposite effect. Kindness softens us. It opens us up to considering that maybe we are worthy and valuable. It even changes our physiology; it calms our breathing and slows down our heart rate. It is kindness that cracks open the door to change.
Loving yourself is not as easy as choosing to love yourself. For me it was an arduous, twisty, non-linear journey of pulling up all of the parts of myself that I was ashamed of, and watching my therapist’s eyes take me in with concern and love. All of the times I revealed a part of me that I thought would make her draw away in disgust and she instead leaned forward with genuine warmth-those are the moments that changed me and that led me to wonder if I wasn’t as terrible and awful as I thought I was. Once someone else, over and over, reflected that all those dark and stormy parts are in fact not evil, just human, something began to shift; I was able to begin offering care to myself and my body. As I slowly allowed myself and others to see and embrace my inner imperfections, I became capable of embracing my external imperfections as well.
These days, I am still acquainted with the voice that tells me that my body is not good enough. The difference now is that it is just one of many ways that I think about myself. Now, when I hear that pesky voice telling me that I really should do something about my thighs, I have an older, wiser, and kinder voice inside of me that reminds me that I am enough. Now, amazingly, when I hear that kind voice I believe it. And on the days I don’t, I have my family, my therapist, my husband, my colleagues, and my friends to remind me of the truth I have forgotten.
– Jenny Wade, MA, LMHC, RYT