If you’ve been following me for a while and you’re super down with my message of body neutrality, that’s awesome.
Body neutrality is absolutely the end of the “body confidence road” for many people; a permanent liberation from the pressure of fully loving themselves and their bodies, and a safe place to just stop thinking so damn much about how they look for a change.
I’ve found that people who have previously suffered from eating disorders especially tend to do best pursuing body neutrality over body love, since it can still be very triggering to think about liking or loving their bodies, even years into recovery.
That said, for some folks, body neutrality will only be a bridge; a holding place between negativity to positivity.
Body neutrality can feel like a safe place to rest for months or even years as you heal from decades of body shaming, habitual self-criticism, and basing your worth on how you look… but you may eventually decide to move on toward fully loving yourself and your body.
When I work with clients in that boat, I often invite them to redefine what “self-love” means to them, and how they hold that whole concept, before moving forward.
Today I want to invite you, too. If you have any interest in moving from body neutrality to total self-love or body love, I encourage you to think deeply on the term “love,” and consider which definition you’ll be asking of yourself.
There is a culturally popular idea that “loving your body” means liking the way it looks in every single moment, or walking around constantly feeling sexy, pretty, or beautiful.
Women especially have been so conditioned to think of their value to the world as being based on how they look, it seems completely unfathomable how a woman could ever be truly confident and self-loving without feeling attractive. Therefore the ridiculous standard for a woman who loves her body and feels confident is one in which she wakes up feeling sexy, feels sexy as she runs errands in sweatpants and a top knot, and feels sexy when she goes to bed at night.
This definition of body-love or self-love is not only false and impossible, but it’s also a very dangerous idea, since it keeps the focus on her appearance, and mistakes objectification for love.
So what does self-love or body-love look like, if not objectification?
It looks exactly the same as it does with your partner, your family, your best friends, or your children.
After all, unconditional love means that you acknowledge a person’s unconditional worthiness for love, care, respect, kindness, acceptance, safety, and belonging.
Does that mean you always treat your loved ones with perfect kindness and acceptance? Of course not. Sometimes you snap at them and sometimes you insult them and sometimes you accidentally hurt them really badly, but that doesn’t mean you don’t love them. And likewise sometimes you might not feel very loving toward them all.
Unconditional love doesn’t mean you feeling loving, respectful, or kind toward them no matter what, it means you recognize that they are unconditionally worthy of love, respect, and kindness no matter what.
The key is that in any of these relationships with others, when you mess up or hurt them, you recognize it, apologize if needed, and make amends. You have healing conversations and back them up with healing gestures and actions because you know that you’re both on the same team, working toward the same goal: harmony, safety, and both parties getting their needs met.
The same is true of your body.
Sometimes, no matter how well-intentioned you are to be body confident and self-loving, you will sometimes mess up. You’ll be unkind to yourself and your body, you’ll catch yourself comparing, criticizing, or shaming yourself, or you’ll realize too late that you’ve treated your body poorly. No worries. From a place of real love, you’ll simply show up to acknowledge your mistake, apologize, and begin making amends.
And likewise, sometimes you won’t feel very loving toward your body, but you’ll still recognize that no matter how you feel in any given moment, it’s still worthy of love, care, respect, and kindness.
When you truly love your body, you might feel any number of ways toward your body, but you always hold the fundamental belief that no matter how you feel toward it, your body is good, and worthy of care, kindness, safety, respect, approval, and belonging.
Think about your relationships with the people you love, and whether you like the other person all the time.
Do you like every single thing about your parents?
Are you never irritated at your siblings?
Do you not sometimes want to kill your life partner for doing that thing that drives you crazy even though you constantly tell them not to do it??
Do you only love your children when they’re well behaved?
Do the people you love need to be perfect in order to be worthy of your love?
Of course not.
Again, the same is true of your body. You can be totally annoyed by your body, and still love it — that is, still acknowledge it’s worthiness of kindness, care, respect, and approval. You can feel hurt or angry that your body seems to be betraying you in some way, but still hold a space of love and acceptance, if you are committed to showing up to do the work of honoring your body’s worthiness for kindness, care, respect, and approval.
You are allowed to hate how your body looks in the mirror, and still love your body. These things are not mutually exclusive.
The difference is in how you show up around these facts.
If you told your best friend “I hate this thing about you because you suck so you need to change,” that’s very different than saying “I’m feeling triggered by this thing about you and I’m sorry I said that mean thing about you. I’m working on it, and I promise to try harder to be kind to you even when I feel triggered in the future.”
One of these is a relationship-killer, and the other is not.
Put another way, do you need to feel a constant stream of endless loving feelings toward them in order to know that you love them? Of course not. So why do we expect to feel an endless stream of loving feelings toward our bodies in order to know we love them?
Unconditional love isn’t a feeling, it’s a commitment. Both with other people and with your body, love is a decision to continuously show up, and to do your best to honor them with kindness, trust, care, and respect.
As a side note, it’s important to consider the role of appearances in your relationship with your body. If you’re still stuck on the idea that looking better makes you a better person, or that being thin/fit/conventionally attractive actually makes a person more worthy of love and kindness and respect, that’s going to take some more examination and work on your part.
If that’s where you are today, start poking holes in the idea that being more attractive makes a person more worthy of love, respect, or belonging.
Do you love your partner or children more when they’re thinner or more conventionally attractive? Why or why not?
How would you feel if someone felt that way about you?
Do you consider your friends more worthy of safety, kindness, trust, or care when they’re closer to the beauty ideal for their gender? Why or why not?
How would you feel if someone felt that way about you?
Explore this belief, and continue to poke holes in it until it starts to shift. Whether your ultimate goal is body neutrality or fully loving yourself and your body, you’ll need to dismantle that belief.
Let me know how this lands with you, change the definition of self-love and body confidence from “I love everything about how I look every moment” to “I commit to treating my body with kindness, care, and respect, no matter how I feel about the way it looks.”
Sending you unconditional love,