It’s time to tackle the BIG question that surrounds the body positive community. A question that has evolved from the current stigma that discourages people away from self-love and self-acceptance, in favor of self-help and self-discipline. It is a widespread and culturally reinforced ideal that we should all live in constant dissatisfaction with our bodies. As a result, more and more people are rebelling against this shame cycle and becoming a part of the body positive revolution!
But a poignant question always seems to come up when people first learn about the body positive lifestyle. They ask, “Can I be body positive if I still really want to lose weight?”
A completely fair question and I totally understand where they are coming from. Let’s be honest, almost all of us have ideals and goals when it comes to the future of our bodies. When the foundation of body positivity is the idea of loving your current body and everything that it IS, does it go against the very essence of the practice to try to change your current body into something that it is NOT?
So in a broader sense this question becomes, “Is it possible to live a body positive lifestyle and still want to change my body?”
There is a lot of controversy over this issue. The gravity of this dilemma is not lost on me, especially since a lot of body image or weight loss goals can be deeply rooted in serious health needs. Problematically, people begin to polarize this question to present the two opposing sides as “healthy people vs. unhealthy people.”
I do not believe that this is always the reality of the situation. I would answer this question with another question. Do you believe that it is possible to change your body without loving it?
For those who may be thinking, “Hold on! Is this curvy blonde woman saying that we should all run around doing and eating whatever we want, as long as we love ourselves!?”
Let me stop you right there and clarify.
Health is my number one priority. If your general practitioner would not advise it, neither would I. I am interested in a more holistic idea of health, one that extends farther than a slender exterior and rock hard abs. I am talking about total health of body, mind and soul. “Unhealthy” can come in different disguises and healthy can come in many shapes and sizes. What I want to know is whether the changes that you want to make to your body are rooted in self-heath or self-loathing?
Self-health and self-loathing are opposites. They have opposite priorities even if on the outside they seem to produce a similar result. This may come as a surprise but I actually believe that self-love is the shortest distance between self-loathing and self-health. It is the access road between these two parallel highways that run in opposite directions and seem to never end.
Consider the following. True or False?
- You are more likely to consistently show up to something that you enjoy.
- You are willing to do things, even things that might be intimidating, with people that you love.
- The food that you love is most often the food that you choose to eat.
- You are more likely to listen to someone who makes you feel loved and supported than you are to listen to someone who is threatening you.
If these questions are true for you, why would they not be true for your body?
Asking your body to make changes that stem from a place of self-loathing is sort of like asking someone to do something at gunpoint. It’s definitely a shocking analogy, but roll with me for a minute. If you are trying to coerce someone into doing what you want, of course they will do whatever you ask them to in that moment. But only because they are terrified, not because you have convinced them and certainly not because you have changed their minds. It’s because you are holding a “gun,” and the minute you put it down those results will go away. So you will be forced to pick up the metaphorical gun over and over again, thus creating a pattern that will dictate the rest of your life.
I personally have fought many rounds with my body in this similar fashion. I can attest to the fact that this emotional war is damaging, not to mention that it doesn’t work. Self-loathing is unhealthy and therefore it cannot in any way lead to total self-health, even if it may help you lose a few pounds every couple of years. But by trading one unhealthy behavior for another we have to ask, “Is it worth it?” and “What are my other options?” Self-love is an avenue that I would love to suggest and express the powerful, lasting effects that it can have on our body and our soul.
So, is it possible to live a body positive lifestyle, and still acknowledge that our body might need to change?
The answer to this profound question is YES, absolutely yes!
Body positivity does not in any way negate change. It can absolutely affirm change! However, it is completely mandatory that this motivation for change be rooted in a desire for total health and not in self-loathing. And guess what? Body Positivity can help you on your way if you want to make necessary health changes but without the cocktail of self-loathing!
So let’s swear off the self-loathing and try a double dose of self-love instead. What ways can we use body positivity to make joyful and healthy lifestyle changes in our lives TODAY? When you make changes from a place of self-love it will feel less like a punishment and more like a gift.
Let’s pretend that you are someone who absolutely HATES to exercise. You try to force yourself to go to the gym and get on the treadmill because you know that you should exercise for your health, but you fall off the wagon after a few short days because you totally HATE it.
Problem: You are trying to force yourself to do something that you hate because you fear the result if you don’t.
Your body is technically a machine, a machine with one primary function which is to move. Movement can be a source of joy and a reward for your hardworking body, especially if you can find a movement that you love. I personally have a lot of trouble forcing myself to do the mindless cardio that others seem to enjoy, but I absolutely love kickboxing. The hour long class (and the cardio!) seems to fly by because I am doing something that I love. So whether it is yoga, salsa, cardio funk, weight lifting, rock climbing or just dancing in your room – find a way to move for the pleasure of your body.
Let’s now imagine that you are trying to FORCE yourself to eat better and learn portion control but you HATE being hungry and denying yourself the food that you love.
Problem: You are denying and restricting your body access to food that it has become accustomed to eating. You are forcing your body to quit cold turkey and expecting it to perform for you, while you deny it the food you have taught it to crave.
Your body becomes addicted to things very easily such as sugar, caffeine and nicotine. Why will coming from a place of self-love make this transition any easier? As we said our body is a machine and it runs on very specific fuel. The food that we eat dictates how our body runs and feels, and we deserve to feel good all the time. Feeling good means fueling our body with nourishment that it requires before we feed our taste buds with the goodies that we love. This requires some changes in our diet and some skillful self-control. It does NOT mean serving every bite that we take a hefty side of guilt and shame. It is easy to stay on the right track when you have momentum. Momentum means seeing results. The result that we crave is self-love. Body positivity can be just the momentum you need because it allows you to feel the result that we desire, starting on day one. Self-love is like a door once you open it up and decide to walk through.
Finally, let’s imagine that you are standing in front of a mirror. You examine your body and discover that it has changed. You do not like this new change and you feel overwhelmed, defeated and lost about what to do next.
This mirror example is a vulnerable image to call upon because it is more than just a common story. It is my story.
When I was young someone once said that one day I would look in the mirror and HATE what I saw so much that I would finally decide to DO something about it.
I promise they meant well. I can thankfully say that this phenomenon did not happen to me, but their words have stuck with me all these years.
If I had gone down that road I would have joined the ranks of so many incredible people now trapped in the vicious cycle of self-loathing that can last a lifetime. A lifetime sentence of fighting and hating my body.
So I ask, what kind of relationship do you want to have with your body as your travel through this beautiful life together?
Do you want to say to, “I am going to hate you and punish you so that eventually one day might I love you?”
This is not the only option and I know that because I chose love. You can choose to be body positive and that is someone who can look in the mirror and honestly say, “I love you, you’re perfect, now let’s make a change.”