Last year I put on a little weight. It was a modest gain — about one small cat’s worth of pounds, hardly enough for anyone to notice. If I told you how much I’ve worried about it, I’d have to kill you. It’s embarrassing. More frustratingly, it’s often in spite of my best efforts. The thing about body changes though, and I’ve talked about this before, is they put you in touch with your value system. They’re the proverbial action to your talk. Because body acceptance, as a principle fully employed, should extend to your own, right? As with most things, it’s easier to preach than to practice. In that sense, the inevitable ebb and flow of these flesh suits we call home presents an interesting opportunity to observe toxic thought patterns. Ideally, it also presents an opportunity to address them.
For me, that meant admitting to the, at times, grim inner-workings of my self-worth. Giving my relationship with my body – and the body — a good, hard look. It also meant learning and practicing behaviors that more honestly reinforced my belief system, which is that all bodies are worthy of reverence. Below are some of the things I’ve started doing in an effort to live out that endeavor. It’s still a work in progress, as am I, but each has proven helpful in chipping away at harmful thoughts.
Building a closet that fits me
It took me a long time to realize that squeezing into jeans that left an imprint on my skin was like walking around wearing a reminder that I didn’t fit. I didn’t fit; not the pants. As soon as I bought a pair of pants I could pull on with ease and wear comfortably, I felt better than I had in months. I remember thinking, What have I been so worried about? I’m totally fine! It was the most obvious of light-bulb moments. Having a few pairs of pants that fit my body at the bottom and top of its natural range has helped me come to terms with that fact that a range is, in fact, natural. I’ll be up, I’ll be down. I’m building a closet that supports, rather than laments, that.
Wearing forgiving silhouettes
Beyond size, I’ve been investing in shapes, silhouettes and fabrics that see my body through changes that happen over the course of the day (or over the course of my cycle). Buying clothes that only fit a very specific version of my body sets me up to feel consistently uncomfortable in my own skin. That means less high-waist skinny jeans (and vintage Levi’s that body shame me), and more high-waist, wide-leg pants. I like them more anyway.
Not judging other women’s bodies
Per my point about practicing what I preach, a critical mechanism of body shame is the idea that bodies are objects to be judged. It’s so built in that it’s startlingly difficult to stop. As long as I appraise other women’s bodies at all, I’ll continue appraising myself. By fending off criticism, I don’t mean loving a body in spite of its “flaws,” I mean dismantling the paradigm that even assigns such a value judgment. I’ve been practicing looking at a pair of legs and thinking: Those are legs, and ending the thought there. No comparisons. No nothing.
Feeding my body good stuff
This one may seem obvious, but I’ve noticed that when I feed my body nutritious food and get off the couch, I feel much more accepting of whatever state it’s in – even if it looks the exact same as it did when I was eating poorly or being sluggish. That’s because a huge part of accepting my body is respecting it as an instrument instead of an object. We’ve discussed the value of self-compassion over self-esteem plenty, and it’s rooted in this same idea. Treating my body with care in mind is an expression of that.
Forcing myself to think nice thoughts
This one isn’t rocket science, but for me, accepting myself can be practiced minute-to-minute. When I feel myself being critical about myself, some other part of my brain will cut in and think: Nope! Not happening. It works. Sometimes I follow it with the thoughts outlined here. Sometimes I have to be the angel on my own shoulder and stop the toxic thoughts before they bloom.
These are just little things; none particularly groundbreaking or novel. You’ve probably heard them before. My point is less about a radical new way of thinking and more about an equal and opposite message of acceptance to counteract the narrow standards we’re inundated with every day. I’ve had to learn these same lessons over and over for the last decade, and I’m learning to see that not as a failure, but as proof that my mind, and all of our minds, need constant nurturing.
Is body acceptance something you practice? Give me your tips!
Illustrations by Cynthia Merhej.