Body Acceptance: How to love your body when it causes you pain
The journey to accepting one’s body can be a bumpy ride. Every message outside you tells you that you are wrong and that loving your body requires the purchase of products and services. Buying this makeup will make you look like Emily Ratajkowski, or if you buy this underwear you will look like Cara Delevingne OR if you just got these butt implants and waist trainer you could get the body of Kim Kardashian.
Body acceptance doesn’t come from buying stuff. It comes from a feeling of appreciation of the skin, muscles, bones and organs that help you digest your food, hug your mother or transport you to the top of a mountain.
This appreciation for one’s body is even more difficult, however, when your body causes you pain, prevents you from socializing and makes you feel different from the rest of society.
The comparison of others is where we must focus our attention today. It is difficult being conscious of the proportion of the population who don’t live with a chronic illness. Who don’t have to think about pain or feeling crazy or not being able to trust the advice of doctors. But this way of thinking is not always helpful for our mental health.
In order to combat this tendency many people suggest the adoption of a ‘gratitude journal’. Journaling is not always everyone’s cup of tea- I get that, so taking 5 minutes a day to make mental notes works too. The important part is that you take note of the nice things your body has done each day:
· Appreciating the way your skin feels when the sun comes out from behind the clouds.
· Noticing the way your nose picks up the scent of freshly baked bread, and how it reminds you of your dad in the kitchen on a Sunday morning.
· Taking note of the way your body feels when it gives a friend a hug.
This way of thinking has been shown to reduce comparisons to others and the feelings of envy that aren’t helpful. It has also been linked to increased life satisfaction as your mind comes to actively search for positive things to draw your attention to.
Self-esteem and Self-compassion
Since the 90s, it has been drilled into us that we must also strive for having high self-esteem. It seems like a nice goal to have to like yourself and attribute value to your person. I personally always found it a bit arrogant to describe your own ‘value’ and what you ‘are worth’. It just seems like there is a flip side- that others don’t deserve certain things that you do. For this reason, I found this Ted Talk with Kristin Neff, (Associate Professor Human Development and Culture, Educational Psychology) really useful. It discusses her thought patterns behind her development of ‘Self Compassion.’ She mentions that in the pursuit of self-esteem, one must feel special or above average, which requires regular comparison to others. Self-compassion on the other hand suggests that “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?”
This is also an important practice as a part of body acceptance because it asks you to think about the way you talk to yourself in comparison to the way you talk to others. There are many things that you might say about your body that you would never say about a friend. It always feels as though you need to take note of what’s wrong with yourself in comparison to others so that you might be able to stay on track toward achieving one’s goals. Often, however, it can have the opposite effect.
The idea of reducing the amount of comparison we do on a day-to-day basis began to resonate more when I moved to a socialist country. Coming from Sydney, the culture is quite individualistic and image-based. You are acutely aware of how wealthy people are based on their clothing, their accent, the school they went to and the names of their children. What’s more, the proximity of the ocean to rich suburbs make the beach a perfect environment to flaunt one’s achievements. Selfies and ‘clean eating’ are huge. It is somewhat of an achievement to attend the beach without letting Instagram know you are sun-bathing whilst wearing a designer bikini, sipping on an iced-matcha-coconut-latte-with-a-shot-of-chlorophyll as a post-pilates treat. To give you an idea, here is a satire that is way too real:
Collectivism Vs. Individualism
It may be a bit of an old-fashioned concept, but the Law of Jante seems to be a contributing factor. The Law of Jante, a set of rules or social norms designed to encourage being ordinary.
They are often cited as being responsible for the happiness of Scandinavian countries. Many people seem to find the ideas behind it to be quite limiting when it comes to self-expression and identity. However, in my opinion, there is value in developing an awareness of the different ways that Individualist cultures breed competitiveness (be it over career success, financial gain or physical appearance) compared to Collectivist ones.
These kinds of mindset changes can be helpful in redirecting your attention away from the importance of having the perfect body, not necessarily in the pursuit of being- as Luna Lovegood would put it- exceptionally ordinary, but rather to reduce the occurrences of self-criticism that are brought on through unhealthy comparison to women on the street, models on the screens or celebrities on the stage.