Learn to Practice Body Acceptance and Body Positivity
Body positivity and body acceptance are usually talked about in grand, sweeping terms. Most people are discussing the body positivity movement, not body acceptance on an individual level. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It often takes a movement to make changes. (And the body positivity movement has done a lot to redefine beauty standards in advertising!)
But when it comes to body acceptance and positivity on an individual basis, representation in advertising is only a piece of the puzzle. The others are self-love and self-acceptance.
So what can you do in your life to foster body acceptance and body positivity? Here’s a hint: forget about the scale. Or at least put it away for a bit. Keep reading for a rundown on what exactly body acceptance means, tips on how to promote body acceptance in your own life, and some health metrics you can turn to instead of weight.
What is Body Positivity?
Put simply, body positivity means feeling good about your body. Not your body as it could be or your body a month ago, but as it currently is. Here’s the thing: the human body is constantly changing—it’s a normal part of life. So body positivity also includes accepting those changes as they come.
There are a lot of misconceptions about body positivity and body acceptance out there, but the most common is that body positivity promotes unhealthy lifestyles. And, more specifically, the body positivity movement is telling people it’s OK to be unhealthy.
As mentioned above, this is not true. Body acceptance doesn’t promote unhealthy lifestyles because it doesn’t promote any sort of lifestyle. It’s not about telling people how they should look or how they should live. It’s about telling people it’s OK to feel good about themselves no matter how they look or live. The goal of body positivity and body acceptance is to separate your self-worth from the way you look.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have goals for yourself and the way you look. Just make sure you’re mindful about those goals. But more on that later!
Body Acceptance and Weight
Modern society is too focused on weight. For many people, it is the only indicator of health they pay attention to. And, as a result, their perception of their own health is tied directly to their weight—and nothing else.
Weight-based evaluations of health are often based on the bathroom scale and the body mass index, or BMI. The BMI takes four data points (your height, weight, gender, and age) and provides a number that sorts you into one of four categories: underweight, at a healthy weight, overweight, and obesity. While this can be a useful guide for some people, BMI should not be used as a sole indicator of health. Many athletes, for instance, are overweight by BMI standards because of their muscle mass.
Another flaw with the BMI is that, at the end of the day, it’s still centered around weight. Becoming too focused on your own weight can have a negative impact on your body image, mental health, and distract from other health indicators—such as how you actually feel.
At the end of the day, the human body is complex and so is your health.
That being said, it can be hard to break free from the weight-focused mindset. Whether it’s unkind comments on social media or children being bullied in school for their weight, many people will face some form of weight stigma in their lives. And this can reinforce the notion that weight is the only metric that matters.
So what can you do to break free from this mindset and create a lifestyle built around body acceptance? The key is finding other ways to measure and monitor your health.
A Different Approach: Health at Every Size
Moving away from weight-centric measures of health looks a little bit different for everyone. And that’s because “healthy” looks a little bit different for everyone. This is the fundamental logic behind one increasingly popular approach to health—Health at Every Size, or HAES.
HAES encourages people to ditch the scale and focus on other elements of healthy living: self-care and intuitive eating, for example. Whereas many people equate a healthy living to weight loss and maintaining a societally determined weight, HAES is built around the idea that you can foster a healthy lifestyle regardless of your size or weight. Naturally, this requires a certain amount of self-acceptance.
Here’s the good news: once you get started, it’ll create a positive feedback loop. Weight stigma can sometimes contribute to decreases in mental and emotional health, which can make self-care difficult. But as you start focusing on other elements of your health, you’ll start to feel more comfortable with yourself. And as you feel more comfortable with, and accepting of, your body, it becomes easier to focus on healthy lifestyle habits that aren’t based on weight.
Tips for Fostering a Lifestyle of Body Acceptance and Positivity
At this point, you’ve hopefully picked up on one thing: body acceptance and positivity require you to focus on aspects of your health other than weight or unrealistic standards of body image. But how does that knowledge turn into action and results?
Fortunately, there are a few tips to help you practice body positivity in your day-to-day life:
- Monitor your internal dialogue: It’s easy to get down on yourself. Especially with all the negativity circulating online. The first step towards body acceptance is ensuring your internal narrative doesn’t start to mirror that negativity.
It might seem cheesy, but one of the best ways to maintain positive internal thoughts is through affirmations. Saying positive statements about yourself out loud can lead to changes in your internal narrative. This can be especially helpful if you frequently find your thoughts turning negative.
- Move your body every day: Whether it’s a walk down the block or a half hour bike ride, moving your body is a great first step towards body positivity. Exercise can give you a sense of accomplishment, release positive-mood-supporting endorphins, and help keep your body and mind feeling healthy.
When it comes to movement and exercise, be generous with yourself. Give yourself the tools you need, too. Try a new pair of walking shoes or a smart exercise watch to help motivate you to move. And, some days you might only manage a quick walk around the neighborhood—and there’s nothing wrong with that.
- Try intuitive eating: This dietary approach is all about connecting with your body and its needs. The guiding principle behind intuitive eating is simple: eat when you feel hungry, stop when you feel full. Intuitive eating works best if you identify foods that are nutrient rich, keep you full, and satisfy some of your cravings.
Eating when you’re hungry sounds pretty simple, right? Paradoxically, it’s incredibly simple and tricky to actually put into practice. In the hurry and hustle of today’s world, you might find yourself scarfing down meals on the go or in the few minutes you find to eat. Often, this can lead to eating too much—you don’t give your body time to process the fact that it’s full. Intuitive eating requires you to slow down and really listen to your body. (For tips on slowing meals down, check out this story on a related concept—mindful eating!)
- Tweak your typical online diet: Often, the most negative messaging in your life come from your online intakes. Though it has its benefits, internet culture and social media can become a rabbit hole of counterproductive comparisons and negative self-talk. If you find yourself constantly comparing your life or your body to those of people online or in pop culture, consider changing what you look at online. A short break from the apps and sites you frequent can also do wonders for your self image.