A little girl is walking to school one cold morning. She is wearing her big green winter coat with the faux fur hood pulled up over her head. She feels cozy, warm and safe. She has the thought that she feels safe because no one walking behind her can tell that she is Black. In that moment she feels like she fits into the world around her. I still remember that particular feeling of belonging that came with my body being invisible. It is not that I hated the body that I was born into but, by the age of 7, I had already figured out that being in a body that was different was not ok.
Then as I continued to grow up, I learned that we live in a world that does not center the female body in healthy and empowering ways, often ignoring all of the beautiful variations. Society’s expectations and standards of beauty for women can be depressing and anxiety producing if the body that one finds themselves in is outside of that very narrow standard.
To combat those influences, there is a movement that asks you to “love your body.” What a powerful command – Love! Your! Body! And yet, from my own experience and as I coach women, I am aware that, as simple as that statement sounds, putting the idea of loving your body into practice can be really complicated.
The Challenge of Loving Your Body As It Is
I know that I am not alone in the impulse to conform by attempting to make my body fit into the mold of what a woman “should be.” My clients’ stories are echoes of my own. We have been sold this idea that we have come a long way and yet we still question our worth based on the numbers on a scale or the number of wrinkles on our face. And at what cost? Women still find themselves feeling disempowered and depleted as they do more, often finding that they have invested the majority of their time and energy into their kids, their relationships, and their careers, growing older day by day in a culture that does not value the hard-won wisdom of a woman of advanced age. We keep ourselves so busy supporting and caring for other people that we neglect our own needs, and then we look up to find ourselves feeling out of balance, unhealthy and invisible to ourselves.
Can We Actually Learn How to Love Our Bodies?
This is where it can feel complicated, this invitation to love your body. It can feel like a huge leap to go from judgement and contempt for your body to anything approaching body-love. It can be confusing to straddle the line between wanting to change the appearance of your body (like wanting to lose or gain weight, color your gray hair, or start lifting weights at the gym to tone up) and loving the body that you find yourself in right now. Are you loving the body that you are in if you want to change it? Can both things be true?
At the Women’s Vitality Center, you will often hear us talk about one’s journey toward vitality. We believe that all women are here to do important and impactful work in the world and they need their health and energy supporting them. A number of women who come to the Center find their bodies changing as they are going through perimenopause. Like puberty in reverse, these hormonal changes can activate a lot of anxiety about the way that the body looks and functions.
We look in the mirror and see that we no longer have the body that we had in our earlier days. Then add in hormonal shifts that can change a variety of things like your skin, your hair, your muscle tone, your ability to focus and even fluctuation in your weight. You try what used to work and find that your body may not respond the way that it did in the past.
Aging can be frustrating so it is no wonder that loving your body may feel like too much of a stretch. Rather than focusing on jumping straight into love, why not start with moving toward a place of neutrality with your body?
Introducing Body Neutrality
The concept of “body neutrality” encourages acceptance along with the recognition of the body’s abilities and nonphysical characteristics over its appearance. When you look into the mirror you are only seeing one aspect of who you are. Your body contains the systems and organs that keep you functioning and it is also the home to your heart, your mind, and your spirit – all of the parts that create your personality and how you identify in the world. Your value and your worth come from so much more than the body that you find yourself in.
It is a beautiful thing to love your body but accepting your body as it is and loving your body are not mutually exclusive concepts. If you are looking for middle ground between judging your body and loving it, then body neutrality can be a helpful bridge between the two.
Body Neutrality In Practice
Your body is going through the natural process of aging and it is doing its job and deserves acceptance just as it is. Body neutrality helps you to recognize how you feel in your body and can allow the space to respond to your needs in any given moment. This could look like noticing that you are tired in the middle of the day so you lie down and take a 20-minute nap and wake up refreshed and ready to get back to work. It can look like buying clothes that feel good to wear or working out because it feels good rather than to burn off that dessert you enjoyed at dinner.
This way of being embodied can empower you to see, appreciate and value your body for all that it can do rather than beating yourself up for what it can’t do. Start by dropping body talk from your conversations. This even includes body talk you have with yourself. Notice how you and those around you talk about the body and if someone brings up weight or size, or expresses discontent with their bodies, then redirect the conversation to talk about how you (or they) feel, rather than how you (or they) look.
Another step toward body neutrality is to acknowledge and reframe the body-hating thoughts. We can’t change what we don’t acknowledge, so when you catch yourself criticizing your body, notice what those thoughts are doing for you in the moment because in that moment you have the opportunity to choose to focus on your body’s abilities instead.
With this concept, give yourself some time to shift your mindset from a habit of negativity to a more neutral place. Media and advertising have been pushing you in a body-hating direction for a long time so have patience with yourself as you find your place of body neutrality.
If you would like help to shift your relationship with your body as you learn how to take great care of yourself, sign up for a Vitality Discovery Call today so we can get to know you, help you get clear about your goals and consider your options for your best next steps forward.