Can you relate to battling with body acceptance and feeling uncomfortable in your own skin? As I sit to write this, I can’t help but reflect on the long and winding journey I’ve been on when it comes to accepting my own body. It’s a journey that has taken me through ups and downs, moments of despair and triumph. While I know many people will have struggled with self acceptance, trying to force their body to fit in to a certain shape, level of fitness or weight, when you’re going through it, it can feel incredibly lonely and cloaked in shame.
Like most, I can pinpoint the origins of my struggles with body acceptance to my early teenage years. The world around me seemed to dictate a certain standard of beauty that I felt compelled to adhere to. Magazines, the media, and even the people around me all seemed to reinforce the idea that a certain body type was desirable, and I believed that conforming to this ideal was the only way to gain acceptance and love. Thus began my ongoing battle to make my body fit this mould, regardless of the toll it took on my mental and physical wellbeing.
Years went by and my relationship with my body grew increasingly tumultuous. I subjected myself to ‘diets’ (if they can be called that, they were so awful) that left me feeling deprived and miserable, embarked on intense workout regimens that often resulted in burnout, poor skin and an inevitable binge when I had no energy left, and developed an unhealthy obsession with the number on the scale. Every time I looked in the mirror, I only saw ‘flaws’ that needed fixing and ‘imperfections’ that I believed made me unworthy.
But there comes a point in life when the constant striving for an unattainable goal becomes exhausting. For me, the realisation came over time, in part from listening to thousands of clients and patients over the years speak in often truly insulting terms about their own body-when I honestly couldn’t see what they meant! I’ve seen thousands of half clothed people over the years as I’ve worked with them to help overcome injuries, aches and pains through exercises and manual therapy. In all that time I have never once, not even for a second, thought negatively about someone’s physique.
It didn’t seem to matter whether the person was male or female, younger or older, broad shouldered or slight, the list of often negative comments people used about themselves made me realise so many of us feel the same. Having the honour of working with so many people has also meant I have met clients who had incredibly sad and sometimes sudden diagnoses. Some have survived them while others have not. Each and every one of them has taught me something, and that includes what an absolute waste of time the superficial pursuit of an “ideal” body type is compared to trying to nourish and care for it while we can, and to try and use it to live as full and healthy a life as possible.
Surrounding myself with positive influences has played a crucial role in reshaping my mindset. On social media I’ve followed individuals or have read the books (so many books!) of people who promoted self-acceptance and belief. It’s helped broaden my mind to challenge the societal norms of everything we’re told to accept without question – including beauty. I now believe that beauty is not confined to a specific body shape but rather emanates from confidence, self-assurance, and a genuine love (or at the very least, respect) for oneself.
Today, (if you haven’t already) can you envision yourself moving on from wherever you may be in your life, to a path of self-acceptance and believing you are enough – irrespective of what your body can or cannot do, and does or does not look like? To come to understand that your body is not something to be fought against or manipulated, but a remarkable creation that deserves kindness and respect? The scars, the curves, the wrinkles, the faded tattoos with a funny story – all tell a of your resilience and growth. With this in mind I hope you may find some of the following a useful starting point or a sign post to some ideas.
Changing What You See
Read & Listen: Check out authors such as Marissa Peer the creator of the ‘I Am Enough’ movement. Her books are brilliant in audio or paperback. Look out for her books including, ‘I am enough,’ or ‘Tell yourself a better lie,’ – two of her most recent publications. Or Brianna Wiest with her ‘Get out of your own way’ podcast (available free on Castbox or Spotify etc). She also wrote a book by the same title – definitely worth a read! All of the above are thought provoking and filled with plenty of ‘Aha!’ moments.
Challenge Negative Thoughts: Whenever you catch yourself thinking negatively about your body, question those thoughts. Are they based on facts or societal expectations? Replace them with more realistic and positive affirmations, and not just once, but every time you catch yourself thinking them. Put reminders in your phone (I have 5-6 a day) with statements such as ‘I am enough,’ I am loveable,’ and read them quietly to yourself. Repetition and consistency are key!
Focus on Functional Fitness: Shift your focus from appearance to how your body feels and what it can do. Engage in activities that bring you joy and make you appreciate your body’s capabilities. In the words of Baz Luhrmann (song called ‘Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)), ‘Be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone!’
Practice Gratitude: Regularly express gratitude for your body’s functionality and the experiences it allows you to have. Cultivating gratitude can shift your perspective from what you lack to what you appreciate.
Limit Negative Influences: Reduce exposure to media, social media accounts, or individuals that promote unrealistic beauty standards or trigger negative self-comparisons. Seeing regular posts of someone bouncing about with a six pack torso with a puppy and a broad smile on a beach, telling me to love myself and appreciate the day, doesn’t necessarily feel like something I can relate to!
Surround Yourself with Positivity: Seek out body-positive communities, friends, and mentors who encourage self-love and acceptance. Positive influences can have a profound impact on your mindset.
Celebrate Small Wins: Acknowledge and celebrate your achievements, no matter how small. This could be a fitness milestone, not joining in the conversation (or even better challenging it!) the next time friends start to put themselves down for how they are or look.
Focus on Health, Not Perfection: Instead of striving for a perfect appearance, aim for overall health and wellbeing. Make choices that nourish your body, mind, and soul.
Ditch the Scale: If the number on the scale triggers negative emotions, consider letting go of it. Focus on how you feel and how your clothes fit instead. Rarely has a good day started with a weigh-in!
Seek Professional Support: If negative body image significantly impacts your wellbeing, consider speaking with a mental health professional or therapist who specialises in body image issues.
Changing your perspective takes time and patience. Celebrate each step you take toward cultivating a positive and compassionate view of your body.
My newfound perspective has given me a sense of liberation I could never have imagined during the years of self-inflicted turmoil. As I look forward towards the inevitable process of ageing, I’m filled with a sense of excitement rather than dread. I look forward to a life where I hope my body can continue to allow me to access as much of the world around me to enjoy and experience all that I can while I’m here. Rather than battling against my body, using it as my partner in navigating the challenges that come my way.
My journey from struggling with body acceptance to embracing it wholeheartedly has been a transformational experience. It has taught me that true beauty emanates from within and that self-care is not a luxury but a necessity. I am committed to nurturing my body 80% of the time (we all need a break!), to help it remain strong, resilient, and mobile well into those golden years. I’d love to hear your stories and thoughts, I’ve learned so much from others and hope this has been in any way useful to you! You’re in no way alone in this.
Thank you for checking in and take care,