Somewhere between Instagram and real life, you may have noticed “body positivity” (celebrating all bodies, no matter the size) is a great idea in practice, but for the average person, it can be tough to accomplish. While body positivity is obviously positive, if it doesn’t ring true for you, you might do better with a different term. For me (and possibly many others), that term is “body acceptance,” meaning you recognize and accept the things you like and don’t like about your body.
With body acceptance, you can forget about “fitfluencers” who spend a lot of time in bikinis and compel you to love “your flaws” while bending over to show you how their tummy forms a tiny roll or that their cellulite shows when unflattering light hits the back of their thighs.
On social media, #BoPo is meant to celebrate diverse body sizes and appearances. However, a recent study in Body Image found several posts from the broader Instagram community that claimed to support body positivity actually promoted extreme thinness or unhealthy weight loss. That’s where the broader use of body positivity has veered off course.
Let’s back up with a few different definitions. Body image is a broader term encompassing your total self-conception that you then project into the world. “These are all the pieces of how you think about yourself and your body,” says Erica Mather, a body image expert, yoga professional and author of “Your Body, Your Best Friend.” Body confidence, on the other hand, is more about how the world perceives you. For instance, people can think you’re generally confident, but it doesn’t reveal how you actually feel on the inside.
For me, body acceptance means coming to terms with the parts of myself I’m not that into — without shame or embarrassment. Not being in love with every inch of myself doesn’t mean I’m ‘doing it wrong’ or have some sort of unhealthy mindset. At the same time, it recognizes my body plays an important role for me in the world: It’s what allows me to play with my kids, walk in my neighborhood or feel the sun on an amazing summer day.
Focusing on the experiences and pleasures my body lets me partake in has become a comfortable spot. And that comfort has helped my weight stabilize, too. It helps me put less focus on exercising to “tone my trouble zones” and more on the satisfying boost in endorphins from a good weight workout in the morning, which is a natural motivator. It’s helped me be less punishing with said workouts and listen to my body when it says it needs rest (there’s no fear in missing a workout). I’m going to eat dessert if I like because, honestly, I’ll never have a six-pack unless I practice severe dietary restriction. Moreover, that restriction will likely backfire and lead to overeating.
For you, acceptance might not be the answer. Your safe space might be in body positivity or you might prefer body neutrality, which says your body is a non-issue to you.
What’s a healthy vantage point? “It depends on the person, their experience, what type of [inner] work they’ve already done, and how their body presents,” says Mather.
However you choose to look at your body is up to you, but release the idea you have to do an automatic flip and start loving things about your body that irked you in the past. “Not loving certain parts of yourself is OK, you’re a human being. The most important thing is you don’t judge yourself,” says Mather. Instead, if you really want to love yourself but there’s this thing you just can’t get over, let those thoughts and experiences be without trying to push them away, she says.
A positive focus to embrace body acceptance begins with moving toward pleasure in your body. “Start finding out what your body enjoys,” says Mather. That might be wearing comfortable clothes, doing movement that feels good, seeking kind and compassionate touch, or simply being in spaces you enjoy, she says. “Find where your joy is,” she says, and meeting your goals inherently becomes easier.
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