Is the “Love Your Body” movement becoming another source or guilt and another way to make people feel not good enough?
That’s the question posed by Jessica Cobb (DomesticPirate) in her BlogHer article “I Don’t Love My Body, and That’s Okay”. She brings up two points that are worth exploring: one, that people have worth and value beyond their bodies and self-acceptance should be focusing on those; and two, that promoting complete body-love is taking one unattainable ideal (get the perfect body) and replacing it with another (love yourself perfectly). While we at The Emily Program Foundation are huge advocates for being body positive, we also think she’s right.
Before directly addressing Cobb’s points, here is some clarification about advocacy and movement building. The Emily Program Foundation envisions a world without stigma and misconceptions about eating disorders and disordered eating, where everyone has an equal chance to feel positively about their body. That is not the world we live in now. So while we at the Foundation are actively working to be a catalyst for this change, shame over how people react to the world we live in cannot be a part of this movement. That kind of shaming is exactly what creates stigma around eating disorders and can be a barrier for folks seeking treatment. When we say “Love your body!” we understand that self-acceptance is not a simple place to arrive at, but is a challenging, ongoing, lifelong journey. Everyone gets hundreds of messages every day telling us what we should want to change about ourselves and we respond to these messages differently. For some, they may affect our health and be a contributing factor for mental illness, like eating disorders. For others, they may make us mad and spur us to create change. But probably, for many of us, they just causes us to look in the mirror and not be thrilled with what we see. A wealth of factors contribute to our feelings about our body. Health, ability, gender identity, socio-economic status, cultural upbringing, among others, all shape the relationship we have with our bodies and with food. Realistic representation of a variety of bodies will help create positive change in these relationships, but individual factors will always exist and people will probably always struggle with self- and body-love. So, while we work together to break down unhealthy cultural practices that are influencing our health, we need to do this without judgment for where people are in their journey towards self-acceptance. Maybe you feel awesome right now, just the way you are, and if you do- rock on! Maybe you want to modify or alter your body in some way, and as long as this want is coming from a healthy place and isn’t a symptom of an illness- rock on!
Back to Cobb’s points: first, our movement should focus on valuing traits other than the appearance of your body. This is an essential part of our work to eliminate eating disorders. Cultural messaging, especially in (but not limited to) advertising, objectifies bodies and teaches us to think that our value is in how others perceive us. While bodies of women identified folks can primarily be targeted, men are not immune. Limited representations of people of color are also highly prone to objectification and people with disabilities are often reduced to what their bodies are and are not capable of. To counter this, our work for cultural change needs to create messages about the worth we have as human beings beyond our appearance. Even in relation to body-love, our bodies can be valued for what they do and how they feel over how they look. Again, this is a movement for a cultural shift and for creating conversation, not instructions for how you should ideally be viewing yourself. This is generational work.
Which leads into Cobb’s second point: body-love should NOT be held up as another unattainable standard. Having some negative thoughts and feelings about your body is normal! No one walks around only feeling positive, all day, every day, not just about their body, but about anything. It is fine not to like something about your body, as long as those feelings aren’t interfering with your daily life and as long as they feel healthy to you. Mary Lambert said it beautifully, “Own your good and your bad, and all the scary parts that you’ve been covering up, because it’s yours and no amount of judgment can tell you how to love your body.”
Interested in contributing to our Love Your Body series to tell us about your journey towards self-acceptance? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info
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