Do We Have to Love Our Bodies?
Want the short answer to the question I ask in the title of this blog post?
If so, it’s:
But if you had asked me this at the onset of my career, I would have probably said yes. There was a time when I thought that if I was going to help people heal their relationships to food and their bodies, then I must preach body love. I also thought that I also had to love my body everyday or that I was some kind of fraud.
So, why the change?
First, I am a human, and also a realist through and through. To expect anyone (myself included), regardless of body size, to LOVE his/her body every moment of every day just isn’t realistic, or helpful. I realized this sitting in sessions with clients who felt an enormous amount of pressure to love their bodies, and thought that if they didn’t, their healing wouldn’t happen.
Once I started saying “Guess what? You don’t have to love your body,” they would breathe huge sighs of relief because they had been harboring shame around their lack of love for their bodies and felt like failures because of it. Shame and pressure (both of which diet culture operate on) are not motivating and are not going to help anyone get to a truly healthier place -mentally or physically. This is why I am now more on board with the term “Body Neutrality” than “Body Positivity.”
What we DO need is body acceptance & respect.
While body love isn’t a necessity, I believe body acceptance is — a general acceptance of our unique genetic blueprints. If we are going to take care of ourselves, we do need to be in or work towards being in a neutral place. Think about it — things we hate or do not respect are very hard to care for — bodies included.
If someone is in a place of body hatred, I like to describe their healing work as baby steps away from hatred towards neutrality. If we have a 1-10 scale and 5 is neutral, 1 is hatred and 10 is love, and he/she are at a 1, can we start moving towards a 2, to eventually get to a 5? If he/she does make it to 10 (body love) one day, great, but if not, that’s okay too. Also, it can be fluid and changing — just like the rest of life.
How do we get there?
Working toward body neutrality or perhaps body love (if that is your intention) is certainly a process, and can take great effort and often professional help. But I am excited to share a few things to help you get started, or to share with someone you know might be struggling in their relationship to their bodies right now:
Acknowledge the functions of various parts of the body. Take an inventory of your body and your thoughts around it, then write down any part/s you feel hatred towards or don’t particularly like. Next to those part/s, write down what it does for you. For example, if your arms are often something you feel hatred towards or have body-bashing thoughts about, write down what your arms allow you to do. For example, “My arms enable me to hug people I love” or “My arms allow me to work in my garden.”
Talk back to the body-bashing thoughts. If you have recurring negative thoughts about your body, you can choose a different tape. Our brains are malleable and we can work to re-wire them. For example, if you have the thought standing in the mirror, “There are my gross thighs,” pause and notice the thought (Try using the phrase, “I am having the thought that…” in front of the body-bashing thought), and then re-frame it with a neutral thought — “There are my thighs.” You can stop there or you can go on to remind yourself what they do for you.
Write a letter to your body. This is a great one for people who enjoy journaling. It can be a letter of gratitude, thanking your body for everything it does for you, or it can be a letter of apology for taking it for granted or not treating it with care — maybe a combo.
Practice a Self-Compassion Body Scan. I love this, because it reminds us of all the amazing things our bodies do for us (ALL OF THE TIME!): pump blood, detoxify our blood, allow us to move around and use our senses, etc. Here is a sample of one I created – enjoy!
In short, we are a lot more than bodies, so let’s stop wasting energy and mental space worrying about whether we love them or not. Instead, let’s work on acceptance and remembering what they allow us to do in our lives — so we can live more fully and be the people we came here to be.
If you need help healing your relationship to food and/or your body, please visit my counseling page.
In true health,