“Accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally futile (and uncomfortable) to have a similar expectation about body size. But mostly, respect your body so you can feel better about who you are. It’s hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical of your body size or shape. All bodies deserve dignity.” -Evelyn Tribole, Intuitive Eating
Accepting genetic blueprints? Having realistic and kind expectations? YES- these are possible and attainable mindset goals when we shift toward the idea of BODY RESPECT.
I had an experience this morning with my middle school daughters. Imagine them, 13 and 15, half asleep while I do my best to instill some religion into them before sending them off to the junior high school trenches. We were reading the creation story from the book of Genesis in the Bible- “and God saw that it was good” is a phrase used over and over again as God looked over His creations. I pointed this out to my half asleep teenaged girls- and asked them, “So if God calls the things that He makes ‘good’, what does this suggest about the way we should view God’s creations? Including… ourselves?” I honestly wasn’t expecting much beyond the typical half asleep nods I usually get- but suddenly, my 13 year old perked up, having made a personal connection to what we had been reading.
“MOM!” she began, “like all my friends need to hear this. THEY ALL talk about how they think their bodies are so gross and they compare bodies all the time. Like can’t we all just look around and say, ‘IT WAS GOOD’!”
I was kind of surprised at her passion. This really struck a nerve with her- all creations, all bodies- are good. All are worthy of care, respect, and dignity.
How comfortable are you with acknowledging body diversity- and calling it good?
I believe that all bodies are good bodies. None of our bodies look the same- just like the earth, there is beautiful diversity. I can admire a sweeping mountain vista and not shame it for not being a serene tropical beach. They are both “good”.
How to practice body respect
This may be a radical thought to some- but shaming your body isn’t getting you very far. It’s not making you fit differently into your clothes, be more productive, or feel any happier. In fact, body shaming is probably doing the exact opposite: making you feel exhaustingly sluggish and miserable as you go about your everyday tasks.
In therapy, I like to illustrate this principle by having clients imagine a sweet little baby girl, just learning to walk. Now, as that tiny child embarks on learning this novel skill of walking, imagine standing beside her. What words naturally come to mind when you think of speaking to her?
“You dumb baby, you still can’t walk? Gosh, all the other babies are figuring this out so much faster than you. Some are even RUNNING, and you can’t figure out a few steps? What is wrong with you? Oh, there you go again. Falling over on yourself. Tripping over your own feet. You are never going to get this right. There is something seriously wrong with you.”
Did that just make you feel a little sick to your stomach to read? Could you ever picture yourself saying that to a sweet little baby?
If you were to speak to a baby like that, how far do you imagine she gets in life, how many new things is she willing to try (and sometimes fail at!)? When you stand next to her, constantly critical and harsh, does it set her up for success or failure? This illustration works so well because most of us could never imagine being that awful to a small, innocent child- yet we have no problem being that awful to ourselves. Part of learning to respect your body is taking the time to relearn ways of approaching and speaking to yourself. This isn’t about “letting yourself off the hook”- it’s about learning a new way to interact with yourself, a respectful one. Just like that baby, you will be far more set up for success in life when you shed the constant critical voice inside of you pointing out and emphasizing every misstep.
Love VS Respect
You don’t have to LOVE your body. But can you imagine getting to a place where you aren’t beating yourself up constantly? When you put the goal at “LOVE your body!” you are setting yourself up for failure with an unrealistic expectation. Can you set the dial to a more realistic setting of ‘RESPECT your body’?
Let’s think about that word- respect- and why it may be the right foundation for a healthy relationship with your body. Dictionary.com tells us the definition of respect is:
“esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability”
A sense of worth, a sense of excellence, a quality or ability- when applied to your body, do you see how this translates to a heck of a lot more than size or appearance? It encompasses being able to comfort a friend with a hug, wrap your arms around your grandmother in greeting and shared affection, appreciating your body for getting you through another long shift at work, and acknowledging her ability to renew and heal after a sickness. There is so much more to the idea of respecting your body than just loving the size or appearance of it!
As you continue on in the work of healing your relationship with your body, I want you to envision what a respectful relationship with her would look like. Examine your expectations of yourself with fresh eyes. And more than anything, give yourself permission to start seeing yourself as “good”. Because you are- you are SO good.