I want to answer the question of “how can I love my body more?” — but to do that, I have to ask another question:
What does it mean to “love” your body?
Does it mean that you spend every second of every day thinking that your body is 100% awesome?
I know a lot of people who seem to think that this is how they should feel about their bodies.
And, well, they don’t. Not even close.
But I think that there is a fundamental misunderstanding when it comes to Body Love. In fact, I think that most people confuse Body Love and Body Infatuation.
Body Infatuation is like romantic infatuation — that head-over-heels, Tom-Cruise-on-the-couch, everything-is-so-wonderful feeling that you sometimes feel about another person, in the very early stages of love.
If you feel infatuated with your body, that’s awesome. But most of us probably won’t feel that way all the time, forever. Some of us will never feel that way, and that’s okay, too.
On the other hand, true Body Love is something that most people can cultivate.
To better understand true Body Love, it’s helpful to think of any other folks in your life who you truly love, in a long-term way: a partner, a family member, a friend, even a pet.
There are likely many things that you appreciate and adore about that person or animal. There are likely also many things that you don’t prefer, or that even drive you crazy.
You can tell the other person that you’d like to change something about them, and you’ll probably get a clear signal, pretty quickly, about whether you’re going to have any success with them making that change.
I know that’s true for my relationship with my wonderful fiancé. There are certain changes that he is more than willing to make out of love for me. And there are certain changes that…well, I just need to let be. I need to accept that he is his own person who is going to do his own thing.
Isn’t it true for your body, too? Your body is pretty willing to make some changes — like, if you get terrible heartburn after eating tomato products, your body might be mostly willing to tone it down on the marinara sauce.
And then there are other things that your body is just NOT GOING TO DO. Even if some other part of you thinks it’s a really good idea. If some part of you wants to try to lose weight, for example, your body might be willing to try eating less for a certain period of time…but then it might give you a pretty clear signal that THIS IS TERRIBLE AND IT DOESN’T LIKE DOING THIS. Most people I work with have gotten this signal many times over.
The key is that once you’ve gotten that clear signal, you need to let it go, or your relationship will suffer.
I think that true love in a long-term relationship requires the following:
- Appreciating what you genuinely appreciate
- Noticing what you’d like to change, and seeing if it is possible to change those things
- Accepting what you will fundamentally never change about the other person
And that last one is key. Because if you’ve gotten a clear “no” from the person you love about making a certain change, and yet you continue to remind them 18 times a day how much you wish they’d change — it might seriously harm your relationship. They will probably get hurt, angry, or resentful. It might even start to impact other parts of your relationship because they will stop feeling safe or appreciated by you.
And how many of us are guilty of that whole tell-the-other-person-18-times-a-day thing with our bodies? How many of us think, every time we put on a pair of pants or look in the mirror, I would love my body more if I just lost five pounds?
Let’s face it: You are definitely in a long-term relationship with your body. Sure, it might be one of those arranged-marriage situations — and not even the good kind of arranged marriage where your parents take your interests into account and you thought the guy was cool anyway.
You might not have chosen this particular body if you were given the option between yours and Jenna Dewan Tatum’s, for example. But it’s what you’ve got, divorce isn’t an option, and you’re going to have to make the best of it.
And if you want to be in a successful long-term relationship, you need to appreciate what it is possible for you to appreciate (and every body has many things worth appreciating), while laying off trying to change the things that you can’t change.
This philosophy — that you don’t necessarily need to be over-the-moon with Body Infatuation every second, but you DO have to lay off trying to change your body if you want to have a pleasant relationship with it, has many different names:
Or even Body Positivity or Body Love — though these two terms can sometimes point toward a form of “body infatuation” that isn’t super realistic, in my opinion.
You can call it any of those things. I particularly like “body neutrality,” myself. But I think the most helpful thing is to remember the following:
1. Love is not the same as infatuation, and
2. Love requires some level of letting go, even if some other part of you would prefer to lose those 3.5 pounds.
I’d love to hear from you: What would be an appropriate metaphor for your current relationship with your body? What would you like the metaphor to be?