I define body acceptance as: treating my body with respect, dignity, and love no matter what it looks like or it’s current size. There may be things I want to work on, or struggle with, but my body always deserves to be treated with dignity – because it’s my only vessel in this life. It deserves to be treated with respect – because no matter it’s current struggles, my body is my vehicle and I’m blessed to have it. It deserves to be treated with love even if I can’t always say I love every part of it – because I am more then my body, and part of loving myself is also loving the package that I live in.
I define self-acceptance similarly: treating myself with kindness, love, and empathy as I am today. Self-acceptance is recognizing that I am a work in progress, without expecting myself to change in order to be worthy of love. It’s letting go of perfectionism, so I can celebrate my strengths even while acknowledging my weaknesses. It’s realizing that knowing and loving myself right now are all key parts to becoming my best self.
So how do body acceptance and self-acceptance intersect? Body acceptance isn’t synonymous with self-acceptance, but I don’t think you can truly have one without the other. For me, I found self-acceptance through body acceptance – more accurately, I started working on my self-acceptance when I realized that being thin didn’t automatically make me love myself more. I thought I would be my most confident self and love my body the most when I lost some weight. Instead, being thin (for thinness sake) was what made me realize how deep my body image issues, food issues, and self-worth issues truly were. I didn’t have body acceptance, and I didn’t have true self-acceptance either.
To illustrate this in a real-life way, let’s look at this Instagram caption I wrote 2 years ago – at my thinnest:
“Truth Time. Today I felt FAT. F.A.T. fat. Sometimes that happens, and I go into this rabbit hole of numbers and calories and craziness. But then (usually) I reach out to my husband or a friend, and they remind me that I am more then my measurements. I used to be terrified of the store ‘Garage’. I never once shopped there in high school, and as an adult I still felt too intimidated to go into a story with such teeny, tiny, small clothing. But this afternoon I bought this shirt, which is secondhand from ‘Garage’, and I feel fantastic wearing it. It’s like that small action makes me remember who I really am, and what really matters. Because my value is not a number, measurements, or size. I’m beautiful. And I rock.”
This post illustrates 3 key ways that body image issues can keep us from over all self-acceptance:
- “I felt FAT.” Fat is not a feeling. A person can have fat, a person can feel bloated or heavy or insecure – but you don’t feel fat. Why does this distinction matter? Because talking about fatness like this makes fatness a negative, something to be avoided – which is fat phobia. This language reveals what I was believing about my body at the time – being fat means being unlovable. If avoiding fatness is the key to your body acceptance, you’re putting a condition on when YOU and your body will be lovable.
- “I am more then my measurements” – this sounds like body positivity at first, but even as I was saying “I’m not just a number!” I was also saying “I bought this shirt from a store that I used to not fit into and now I feel fantastic”. Obviously I was letting my size affect how I viewed myself : I felt fantastic only because I was smaller and this shirt proves that – that was my mindset. To truly believe you are more then your measurements takes a deep shift in perspective and learning to be neutral about numbers and clothing sizes – your body is not the problem, the clothes that don’t fit in the dressing room are. Going up a size in your favorite brand of jeans doesn’t make you a failure – I didn’t somehow become a more valuable person because I finally fit into a Garage size small t-shirt.
- “It’s like that small action [fitting into this shirt] reminds me who I really am, and what really matters.” YIKES. This is really problematic. Who I really am is someone who fits into a size small at Garage??? That’s who I really am????? NOOOOO. And what’s really important? Being smaller, apparently. I was so clearly equating my overall self-worth with being smaller. This is a huge issue for most women, not just post-weight loss Brittany. Women are told in so many ways every single day that their value comes from taking up less space, being more frail and dependable, and having less power. (To learn more about how the media is teaching this to girls and women, check out the documentary MissRepresentation on Netflix.) What post-weight loss Brittany hadn’t realized yet was that to be who she really was required the brave action of saying “I don’t need anyone’s permission take up space” – not buying a smaller t-shirt to validate her worth. It’s been said in many ways and I’ll echo it here: being thin and pretty is not your purpose in life.
I don’t share this Instagram caption to shame myself for where I was on my journey. Now that I know better, I can do better. And that post will remain where it is, in cyberspace, as a reminder to me of what it looks like to have my self-worth depend on changing my body – it looks like letting a t-shirt size determine my value as a human being.
When we put conditions on when we will accept our bodies, we are putting conditions on when we will accept ourselves as a whole. Body acceptance is key to self-acceptance – because if you’re hung up on hating your body, you’re not living as your best, most authentic self. If you can’t be happy with yourself in the body you currently have, nothing will change once you lose 5, 10, 100 pounds. NOTHING. You’ll just be a thinner version of exactly who you are inside, right now. The real work is inside; learning to accept yourself and your body as it is right now. Y
That might look like understanding where your fat phobia comes from. It might look like digging into the political movement of body positivity. It might look like taking back your power and saying NO to the diet industry. It might look like going to therapy to find out why you’re afraid of success. It might look like working on your self talk and being kind to yourself. It might look like reading one of Brene Brown’s life changing books and learning how to ‘own your story’. It might look like doing all of these things! But I can tell you one thing – the key to your body acceptance is not found in hating your body, or trying to shame yourself into being smaller/toner/leaner. The key to your body acceptance is realizing that there are much more important things about you then your body – and that is absolutely key to finding self-acceptance.
This Lena Dunham quote really puts things into perspective:
“I think about my body as a tool to do the stuff I need to do, but not the be-all-end-all of my existence.” Lena Dunham
Working towards body acceptance is a major part of living your best life. How are you going to change the world, be the best mom you can be, be a rockstar at your job, show people the love of God, be generally awesome if you’re so busy hating your thighs? Your thighs are perfect, and accepting them is a step towards being your best self. I think this Adele quote shows how accepting our bodies and accepting ourselves is so deeply intertwined:
“I feel so comfortable in my own skin. I really like how I look, I like who I am, I like everyone I surround myself with. Obviously I have insecurities, but they don’t hold me back.” Adele
Adele, you are a queen. And girl, so are you.
Be bodacious, be you.