When it comes to body acceptance, it seems like there are two ways to feel: you either want to burn yourself in effigy for having the wrong kind of clavicle, or you're out on the corner handing out Up With People juice because you're so comfortable in your radiant form. But what if you're neither of those people, and are, in fact, just fine with whichever version of a body you inhabit? Even kind of whatever about it.
Body acceptance as a movement is something I totally get behind intellectually (don't hate yourself/shame others) but can't always apprehend emotionally, because the supposed end result — love your body no matter what! — feels extraordinarily oversimplified to me and also unrealistic. Bodies change, grow, expand, shrink, reward, betray — and come with a lifetime of feelings. What if you just like it sometimes and not all the time, but generally are OK with it, but wouldn't go so far as to say you're crazy in love with it, but don't exactly hate it either?
No, I will not post a picture expressing this sentiment alongside a challenge to all women: I'm JUST OK with my body — what's your excuse? But I will direct you to this lovely essay entitled "Why We Don't Believe Women Who Say They Like Their Bodies."
In her essay, Zaren Healey White examines the multi-faceted perspectives from which we examine women's statements about their own bodies, depending on where they are perceived to exist on the spectrum of desirability, and how that can ultimately make it hard to promote the very thing we are advocating for.
White's central point:
I've read about "larger" or "heavier" women owning their social status as such and celebrating their bodies, and I've read about "naturally" slim (or effort-fully slim) women proposing their validity as equally representing the so-called and greatly exalted Real Woman, and in the end this struggle just creates an impossible dichotomy between two, often subjective, extremes.
Another problem, as I see it, is that no matter how you socially and critically present your body to the world, others will judge and evaluate the sincerity of your position. In other words, the "fat" person who says "I love my body just the way it is," is often judged, by others, as having developed a positive attitude as a form of coping, as having accepted their lack of success in losing weight or obtaining a different shape, and thus their seemingly healthy body image is viewed as a form of posturing.
And less frequently, but still possibly, is the thin woman who we judge as celebrating her figure only because she has been divinely deprived of "curves" and has no choice but to accept her shape. Why is it so hard for a woman to convince other women that she actually likes her body as it is? Why are we—men and women—skeptical of other men and women's claims of satisfaction?
Damned if you do, damned if you don't. You can't accept yourself too much, you can't loathe yourself too much either. This is why as usual I have found my favorite thing, the Goldilocks of the issue: The Just OK Porridge of Body Self-Acceptance. Yes, it's gluten-free after 4 p.m.
White rightly goes on to note that we probably find it hard to believe in self-acceptance because we've mythologized and normalized self-loathing as part of what it means to be female. Of course you hate your body — goes with the territory. If you don't at least sorta hate it, you are highly suspect, a body (acceptance) snatcher. Liking it too much is, basically, Fit Mom.
And to be real hairsplitty and annoying, I'm going to say it: Like your body as it is doesn't even really appeal to me. Accept your body as it is does.
Because accepting means you can be OK with it or not, but you don't reject yourself fundamentally because of those shifts, which are super fluid day to day, even within a day sometimes. I think of everything as a work in progress and if I had to like it all to be considered healthy, well, that would be a mindfuck. My cooking, my writing, my sense of humor, my relationships, my parenting, my existence. My body is no different. I have loved and loathed everything in the above list. I accept this, and I don't dwell on it as a matter of course. But I will tweak away, whether it's cumin, sarcasm, or parenthetical asides. (Don't take my asides!)
I think the goal, then, is balance, and that balance isn't even liking yourself every second, it's acknowledging the full range of feelings that come with having a body, letting yourself have them, trying not to be super focused on it if it's a source of bad feeling or gets in the way of being alive and enjoying your life. Get wherever it is you gotta get. You'll know when you do.
It's not a rollercoaster. More like a nuancecoaster. So when I say I'm just fine with it, I am saying that I have reached a point of not caring all that much, except when I do, which I reserve the right to do to whatever extent I decide at that time.
My point is that if you can build your character toward a goal of true self-acceptance, it ceases to matter which category you belong to, or who evaluates you as belonging to one category or the other.
That does not fit on a bumper sticker, but I do think she is right. Especially if that self-acceptance allows for a lifetime of adjustments and tweaking at will. Tweaker's rights (not the meth kind)!
Image via Jochen Schoenfeld/Shutterstock.