Feeling bad about your body is the problem, but changing your body is not the answer.
Changing your perception of your body, however, could be. The promise of feeling amazing or of a new-and-improved version of yourself because you’ve “fixed your flaws” is an illusion that the diet industry has been selling you. There is nothing wrong with the way you are and you can most definitely learn how to love your body better, by loving yourself better.
“Body image issues” are rampant.
Studies show that 90% of people in Western countries despise their bodies, which often leads to depression and low self-esteem. WTF is this? How did we get here? Why did this happen to us? Why can’t we all just exist, look differently, know that we are valuable, and take care of ourselves as such?
Well, we live in a society that artificially places some bodies as more culturally valuable than others. And that sucks… so we feel stuck trying to climb the ladder — but there is a cost.
In the process we devalue ourselves even if we are, at times, acting out of self-protection.
Body image research shows that the closer we get to achieving our “goal body”, the more we view our self-worth as conditional. The problem is, our conditions are constantly changing as we age and experience, um… life. Plus the “in body type” of the moment changes with whatever celebrity we are currently obsessing over. barf.
I gotta ask, have our cultural power structures actually made being thin more important than loving ourselves?
It’s also worth noting that there are loads of people living happy, healthy, fat lives. I know lots of them. They’ve rejected the bs notion that we all should look the same and that their “imperfections” are their fault and a result of some moral failing. They are living their lives. These people are POWERFUL.
And if you’re thinking, yeah but shouldn’t they lose weight for their health? You need to take a beat. I’ve got more to say on this, and will be writing more on this in an upcoming L&L. Stay tuned. 😉
So how do change our perception of our bodies? How do we feel amazing, even though we currently think we’ll be happier if we were smaller (thinner, more toned, have more curves, lose x lbs, etc). The answer to these questions is quite complicated. And obviously, I do not have all the answers.
But my opinion – I believe that feeling amazing comes from living your life the way you want, having experiences that affirm who you are, protecting your boundaries, experiencing connection and reciprocity from the community you’re in, and your ability to love and care for yourself. Not from trying to adhere to a social construct.
This is certainly a privileged list, and I’m sure plenty would argue it. A younger or older version of me may as well. Letting go of the pursuit of the fittest body ever (or a smaller, more palatable version of yourself) may enable you to find sustainable, luscious ways of taking care of yourself, enable you to know and love yourself better, and live a full and abundant life.
On self-love and loving yourself better…
I’ll let bell hooks speak:
In her essential book, All About Love, she devotes a chapter to self-love and has, perhaps, the most useful advice I’ve ever read on the topic.
“When we can see ourselves as we truly are and accept ourselves, we build the necessary foundation for self-love. The more we accept ourselves, the better prepared we are to take responsibility in all areas of our lives. Taking responsibility means that in the face of barriers we still have the capacity to invent our lives, to shape our destinies in ways that maximize our well-being. Every day we practice this shape-shifting to cope with realities we cannot easily change”.
I find this a bit of a harsh truth, but also quite freeing: Accept yourself now. There is no easier road.
Self-acceptance as the way toward positive momentum in your life is literally the opposite of what mainstream fear-mongering health tyrants believe. They think that shame is the pathway to change.
This is oppressive, anti-feminist, hateful bullshit.
I think they WANT folks who aren’t thin to hate themselves. They believe (maybe because they were shamed as children instead of lovingly taught) that shaming folks for not being thin is a way to “help”, but what this really is, is exercising power and privilege. But I digress.
Back to bell.
December 16, 1996, Karjean Levine/Getty Images
“Self-acceptance is hard for many of us. There is a voice inside that is constantly judging, first ourselves and then others. That voice enjoys the indulgence of an endless negative critique. Because we have learned to believe negativity is more realistic, it appears more real that any positive voice… but negative thinking is absolutely disenabling.”
Why is it so hard to talk nicely to ourselves? She notices how many of us equate self-love with selfishness and narcissism. She demands we cut this shit out if we want to be free to love ourselves and others, better.
How to love your body – say “I love the way my body feels”
I love watching the way my hands and fingers move as I write or type or chop an onion. They just know how to do these things so eloquently that my brain wants them to, it’s instantaneous, smoothe.
I love the way my hips swizzle in the pool or when I dance. I love the way my skin feels when it’s gotten a bit too much sun and then right after I deeply moisturize it. I love the way my toenails look without polish on them.
I love the way my body feels when I’m turned on. This is totally an inside job and does not require another person to accomplish it.
I love the way my body tells me when it’s time to eat, time to sleep, time to move, time to socialize.
I love the way my energy feels when I’m huffing and puffing on a run or a hike. Yes, there is also usually a feeling of ‘damn, this is hard, maybe I should stop’. But then, on a day when I have the energy, a desire to feel that intensity a little more. I know this breathing is shaking something out.
(This whole exercise bit is something I’m still working out. I work toward exercise NOT being about changing the way my body looks for others and more about how it feels to me. It’s working, but is still a work in progress.)
All of this feels like loving myself. The way noticing these little things makes me feel is not entirely different from the way love makes me feel.
I’m not going to lie to you and tell you I never have bad body image days, I definitely do. I notice when I’ve gained or lost weight with seasons of life and emotional phases. I notice my hair greying, my wrinkles multiplying. But I know, even in my discomfort, that this is normal and wonderful and nothing to hide.
Now, when my pants feel too tight, I take them off and put on something else. I remind myself that I have immense body privilege, which I did not earn, but inherited, and that this says nothing about me as a person, my worth, or ability to love or be loved.
What I’m eating in the name of self-love
I just got back from a long road trip, working in between outdoor adventures. Being resourceful and making do with what I have lights me up. I also love good food. These two things feel like a contradiction at times. Like what? I’ll pay $15 for a glass of wine one night and then eat packaged chili and save the leftovers for lunch the next day. How does this make sense?
It’s hard to explain. I love flavor and get off on being prepared for anything. I live out of a cooler on most days during trips like this, but I refuse to not eat well and am committed to consistent, good digestion. This is a go-to camping / on-the-road meal that I would totally make at home. It’s nothing special, and maybe doesn’t even need a recipe, but here it is:
- One package of fully-cooked chicken sausage links (I like Italian flavor the best, but this time bought Aidells chicken & apple)
- One or two vegetables (I think zucchini and cherry tomatoes are a great easy/yummy combo, but other things that keep well for days, don’t have a lot of unusable bits, and don’t take much fuss…. bagged kale, green beans, broccoli/cauliflower (obviously whole are fine, but we’re talking about me on the road here and that is just too much fuss), or just onion. Yes, onion is a vegetable.
- Pasta – could be plain and I’ll add a sauce or could be Annie’s mac. If not using mac n cheese, but using plain pasta, I’ll do one of these things:
- Jarred pesto (found a damn good jarred sun-dried tomato pesto this week), OR Minced garlic, lemon juice, olive oil. Yes, you could do tomato sauce but I just think that’s not as good in this context. If you’re interested in tomato sauce ideas, check out L&L volume 2
Slice sausage into little rounds and cut up veggies into desired shape and size. I cut cherry tomatoes in half and slice zucchini into rounds or sometimes those rounds get cut into quarters.
- Cook sausage until it’s a little browned on both sides, remove into a bowl.
- Cook pasta.
- While pasta is cooking, cook veg in some olive oil or other cooking oil (I’m an avocado oil fan if I’m feeling flush, but canola oil works too). The timing will depend on what vegetable you’re using. I prefer a bit of bite to my zucchini, so I’d say this takes about 7-8 minutes. I put the tomatoes in raw at the end.
- Drain pasta of all but about ¼ cup of pasta water.
- Return sausage to veggie pan, swirl some, then add pasta, pasta water, and your sauce.
- Cook for a minute or two, until everything is combined and just right.
This would be a totally normal, healthy, and easy way to make a weeknight pasta dinner into something much more delicious, nutritious, and filling. And I’m guessing some kids may like it too.
How you can change the perception of your body
Stop comparing yourself to an unrealistic body standard. This habit dies hard, as we are taught to do it from a very young age. But what we didn’t realize when this habit was formed at 11 years old, is that the comparison was meaningless.
It was a construct made up of capitalist, patriarchal marketing messages. Meaning – the people who originally created these messages were men trying to sell you beauty products, to keep you small, and busy hustling. Thank you, Naomi Wolf for thoroughly detailing this in The Beauty Myth.
- Be more critical of the bodies you see in your media. Curate your social feed – here’s something I posted about this. Become actively aware of your thoughts and feelings when you see only thin, white, cis, able bodies in media.
- Notice how ads to sell you products subtly imply you shouldn’t be happy as you are. Notice how destructive they are. Ask yourself if you agree or disagree with this.
- Notice when the fat character doesn’t have a main or “normal” role, or their character plotline revolves around them hating themselves.
- Challenge appearance ideals with your friends, your family, your colleagues.
Our bodies change. It’s a well-known, but under-appreciated fact of life, especially for women. Flowing with this will feel much better than fighting it.
And imagine the disruption to the patriarchy!! What if all women, all at once, stopped buying in. I’m not suggesting this is realistic or even necessary, but the disruption gives me chills to consider.
Bodies are meant to be different sizes and shapes.
No matter what you think is “wrong” with your body, is not wrong. It is right. Your body is uniquely yours and was never, ever, ever meant to look like a model.
And if your body does happen to look like a model, you have some serious body privilege. That doesn’t discount the fact that you were taught your body is your worth, and that if you “let yourself go” or gained weight, that your worth would be diminished.
I believe that if we work on disengaging from the thin ideal, living our lives the way that makes us feel authentically who we are, and loving ourselves more, we’d be a lot less dissatisfied with our bodies.
Take this journal prompt (as I did above): how does it feel to be in my body?
Free write on this. Take a note from Lexie and Lindsay Kite from Beauty Redefined, and be wise not to answer the question… ‘what do you fear someone will see when they look at you?’ That is not the question. The question is: how does it feel to be in my body? Write a couple of pages.
If you’re thinking yeah right that won’t work, give it a chance. Do it for a week and see how you feel.
This is an archived newsletter. To subscribe to this newsletter, click here.
tldr: Our mainstream media conglomerate is a ploy set up to make you feel bad about how far your body is from the “ideal”. This is not the way to self-love. Self-acceptance is. Read bell hooks. Disengage from the thin ideal and love your body more.
I offer individual and group nutrition counseling to help people with all sorts of bodies, abilities, and interests heal their relationship with food, their body, and themselves. You can check out my current offerings here.
Emily Van Eck, MS, RDN specializes in intuitive eating, mindfulness-based eating practices, embodiment with food and movement, and healing from years of weight-bias and disordered eating. She helps womxn find balance, consistency, and peace with their eating habits so they can feel confident to get outta their heads and into their bodies. Emily is a registered dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor with a master’s degree in nutrition science. Read more about her here.