What I've Discovered It Really Takes To Practice Body Acceptance
I remember the first time I noticed my body.
I was six, and I had just been discharged from the hospital after contracting a virus that my body just couldn’t fight on its own. As a result of not being able to digest food for over a week, my first-grade frame dropped weight like it was nothing. Not that I noticed — to me, the only abnormal thing was that I had very little energy to make mud pies out of the red clay that made up my southern backyard. I was tired because my small body had been fighting for its life, but my parents and doctors had reassured me that I was going to get better. I was six, that’s all that mattered.
“Sarah, you’ve lost weight, looking good, girl.”
I can still remember the environment of the room, the dim golden light and the plush tan carpet beneath my socks. My hair was damp from my first bath after returning from the hospital, and I was so happy to have my coziest pajamas in exchange for the sterile feel of a hospital gown. So this comment made by a close relative seemed incredibly out of place in my comfortable world.
“Hello?” I wanted to say, “I nearly died back there, this isn’t positive weight loss? And above all, who asked you?”
But again, I was six. And I’ve rarely met a six-year-old who would respond to such an unnecessary comment in this manner. Therefore, I simply smiled as I’d been taught to, and the words sunk in. A seed had been planted, and it wasn’t long before the thorny vines routinely pricked my flesh.
From then on, there wasn’t a summer where all I worried about was how late my parents would let me stay out or who was going to be around to run through the sprinklers with me. From that moment on, I paid attention. I saw my body not for what it could do, but for what it wasn’t and what I thought it should be.
I’d like to tell you that one day I came to this moment of body positivity and self-love. I’d like to tell you that one day I read an article or a book or saw a tv special that radicalized my thought process. But the truth is, I’m still learning. I’m still slowly learning to love that six-year old who should have had a fighting chance at self-acceptance.
Honor who you are in the moment.
A powerful lesson came out of a moment where I actually felt incredibly weak. I have Celiac disease, and though I’m fairly good at handling flare-ups through avoiding gluten, there’s a .1% chance that I’ll mess up. And that .1% moment really, really sucks, for lack of a better term. It’s taken some time, but learning to accept and essentially forgive my body for something utterly out of my hands was an incredibly freeing moment for me. Most days I’m fired up and ready to take on the world, and others I simply need curl up under my covers and nurse myself back to health. Some days I’m incredibly strong and can bust through a cardio workout class like a beast. And others leave me feeling like joints are on fire and my stomach is made of jello. No matter what, both versions of me, and every one in between, are worthy of my love and acceptance.
Love yourself before others.
I know this sounds incredibly selfish, but hear me out?
By practicing self-love in whatever way benefits you personally (and trust me, there are so many ways!) you are preparing yourself to flow that love back into the world around you. You can’t take from a depleted source, and you are just as worthy of your own love as those that are already receiving it. Pour into the source so that it can overflow.
Love your body not for what it is but for what it can do.
This isn’t just limited to the physical things your body can accomplish, because at times even that can box you in. No, I’m talking about your incredible body that has held space for people, that works to further your dreams, that radiates love and shakes with laughter when you stop caring about how much space it takes up. Exuding emotion, forging uplifting relationships and chasing your dreams should not require a specific look.
Love your body by respecting its limits.
Of all the times I’ve apologized and made peace with my body, there is one that sticks out like an ever-fixed mark on my life. I was a junior in college, and as I sat there in her office my doctor looked me dead in the eye and said, “you’re killing yourself.” And the badass in me wanted to laugh, but I knew she was right. My body was shutting down. I had come to her frightened and instead of a terminal illness, she told me that I was the villain.
I’d been running on fumes, lacking the ability to say no, wanting to please everyone around me and forgetting to take care of my most valuable belonging, myself. But it took that moment of fear and humility to set me straight. So I began to pare down, I painfully learned to say no. And has it stuck? Not as well as I would have hoped, but I know my limits. The warning signs are there and now when I see them pop up on my radar I don’t swipe up. I pay attention. I’ve learned to love my body by realizing that even something so incredible has its limits.
Dress the part.
I have this theory that I feel is well founded by others who will encourage you to dress for the part you want, not the part you have. I know that on a really bad body image day, I have my reserves in place to stand in the gap for my emotional and spiritual state. I know that even if I’m really not feeling myself, and I start to beat myself for missing a workout or eating a PB&J instead of a sensible meal (hey don’t judge, we all have our “PB&Js”), I have an arsenal at my disposal to combat the dark thoughts. For me, that means a cute bra and matching panties.
Now, I’m not saying that distorted body image or mental health issues can be solved by a pretty set of underwear or any other product for that matter. Because, believe me, they can’t. In fact, nothing that I have mentioned is ever going to be a cure-all for something that I, myself, prepare to battle every single day. However, I have found, that by dressing the part, and adorning whatever body I happen to wake up with that morning with something that makes me feel like a million bucks, goes a long way.
Do you have any tips for practicing body acceptance? Share with us in the comments below!