People who struggle to cultivate positive body image – myself included – seldom feel overwhelmed by sweeping waves of love for our bodies. We struggle, which means that many days we don’t feel that great about our physical selves. And if you’re in the same boat, you may hear people talking about the importance of loving your body and think, “Love? I can’t even make it to ‘like’ most of the time.”
But think about it this way: Does your mom drive you bananas? When your dog has pooped in the bed for the second time in a week do you feel a momentary urge to set him on fire? Has your best friend ever said something so boneheaded you considered never speaking to her again? In the vast majority of cases, love does not remain at a constant, steady level all day every day. It fluctuates, shifts, and sometimes seems to disappear entirely. The people, animals, and things we love can irritate, sadden, disappoint, and upset us. But even in the midst of those negative emotions, we recognize that there is still love. There will always be love. Even if it dwindles, it will never disappear.
So that’s the first concept to mull: That you can love something deeply and truly and still struggle with it, become aggravated by it, and occasionally consider giving up on it. And that this holds true for yourself and your body.
Then there’s the black-and-whiteness that “body love” can seem to convey. As in, if you don’t love yourself you obviously must hate yourself. OR in order to love yourself you must embrace absolutely everything about your physical form and never even think about changing anything. Which is both unreasonable and untrue. Your all-time favorite TV series will occasionally introduce a new character or plot line that makes your blood boil. You may not agree 100% with every single word in your sacred text or every single tenet of your faith. Your kids may have a habit of waiting until you’ve settled in for some quiet time before they begin demanding your full attention. But these things don’t cancel out your love, and they don’t mean that you can’t abandon TV shows, question faith leaders, or attempt to change your kids’ behavior. Some people approach body love what an all-encompassing, change-free attitude and it works beautifully for them. Others feel that loving every inch and aspect of their bodies 24/7 isn’t a reasonable expectation, and that wanting to change their bodies can come from a place of stewardship.
And that’s concept number two: That you don’t have to like everything about yourself to cultivate love for yourself and your body.
So what does it mean to love your body? YOU get to decide. All the rhetoric and inspirational quotes in the world may fall flat if they just don’t work for or resonate with you. So take from them what you need, and leave the rest behind. Decide for yourself if you want to try mantras or read body image-boosting books or journal about your feelings. Decide for yourself if you want to go all-in and accept yourself without change, or if you’d rather let change be a part of your journey. Loving your body is going to be different for each of us because we each come to it with different expectations, hang-ups, needs, and challenges. And while others can offer advice and techniques, support and suggestions, we must each create our own path to peace, acceptance, and body love
What does it mean to love your body? It means whatever you need it to mean.