Listen up ya’ll.
Yesterday I got an email from a woman who was considering joining my body confidence group coaching program, but wasn’t sure if it would be possible for her to ever love or accept her body, since (in her words) she is a “very fat black woman with immune disease and chronic pain.”
Then she mentioned that she was afraid if she did figure out how to love her body, she would never lose weight, which would be (again in her words) “extremely bad.”
I wrote back:
“It sounds like you have perfectly good reasons to keep hating and rejecting your body, if you want to.”
I’m pretty sure my answer freaked her out; she was expecting me to respond with some “you can do it!” encouragement to join the program and love herself.
But the truth is that this woman clearly has a strong and self-protective reason to not love her body, which in my experience will trump everything else. Some part of her still believes that loving herself would be dangerous, because she worries it would mean she has to “give up” on her weight loss goal, which is too scary.
Have you ever worried that loving or accepting your body is the same thing as “giving up” on your goals for self-improvement, or that you should wait until after you lose weight (or whatever) to start the love and acceptance part?
I hear this from clients all the time.
Thinking negative thoughts about how you look is familiar. It’s comfortable. It’s easy, and it gives you a sense of being on the moral high-ground. Negative thoughts are “motivational,” after all, right? They’re all about self-improvement, and trying to be your “best self”!
And it can be really damn scary to imagine giving these thoughts up, especially if you think these thoughts are an important factor in helping you make changes that you really want, like losing weight or getting into shape.
But the thing is, most people think healing their relationship to their body means they just replace their negative thoughts with positive thoughts, and move along their merry way feeling confident, beautiful, and worthy… and then because they feel so confident, they never change or improve anything about themselves ever again.
First of all– how on earth would that be possible, to just replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts? Surely you’ve tried this, right? It doesn’t work.
This is kinda like saying that in order to get an education you should just replace all of your dumb thoughts with smart thoughts and you’ll be good to go!
It completely misrepresents and erases the long and energetically intense process of schooling, learning, processing, discussing, writing, and experiencing, and the millions of little paradigm shifts and identity changes that occur along the way.
The same is true when it comes to body image.
Learning to accept and love your body for how it is right now will be some of the most challenging and important self-improvement work you will ever do.
That’s because it requires you to explore and reject your current paradigm about a person’s worth, and rebuild a new one in its place. It requires you to challenge everything you’ve ever believed, and destabilize some core cultural ideas about health, weight, food, exercise, beauty, and gender. It requires you to be fiercely courageous, and patient, and honest with yourself about what you need, want, and value.
My clients never seem to see this messy self-improvement work coming.
They often show up terrified that they’re accidentally flip a switch and start accepting their bodies too quickly. They tell me that they don’t want to love themselves too much because then they won’t be motivated to “improve themselves,” or because they can’t stand the idea of gaining weight, or giving up weight loss goals.
Kind of like a woman joining a gym and telling her trainer that she “doesn’t want to put on too much muscle, or get too bulky,” I always tell my clients that they are not in any danger of this happening, because the process is very hard work, it unfolds slowly, and you have lots of time to process and consider your values and priorities along the way.
That’s why the promise I made to the very fat black woman with immune disease and chronic pain who emailed me was this:
“You will not love or accept your body until you are ready.
The work of Authentic Body Confidence will be laying the groundwork to get you ready, crumbling and reconstructing your inner landscape so that by the time you are ready to face true acceptance and love for your body, giving up the pursuit of weight loss (if indeed you decide that’s the most loving course of action) will no longer feel like a sacrifice.”
The gritty inner work of exploring body neutrality, body confidence, and self-worth is some of the most challenging and important work you will ever do. Your “best self” and your desire for “self- improvement” will both be satisfied in the long run if you dive into it, I can promise you that.
But if you’re afraid that you’re not ready to “give up” on yourself, or that this work will force you to sacrifice something that feels really important to you today (like losing weight, looking beautiful, or feeling sexy) let me put your mind at ease.
First of all, self-care and healthy habits are a hell of a lot easier when you feel truly worthy and like yourself.
Secondly, negative body image is self-protective, and until you truly no longer need that protection, you will not love or accept your body.
My group coaching program Authentic Body Confidence is designed to help people figure out what dangerous and enigmatic threat they seem to need protection from, and work through that. This is the messy personal development part, because it often includes figuring out what emotional needs are going unmet in your life, what really hurts deep down, and what fears have been running the show of your life.
Thanks to all this work, by the time you’re actually ready to let go of self-hatred, self-criticism, body negativity, food/weight anxiety, and other body image issues, doing so will no longer feel like a sacrifice, or a threat.
If you love personal development and self-improvement, you will never be bored on this journey. I know I never am. 😉
But likewise, you will also never be rushed into giving up something that still feels important to you. That’s just not how this works.
So… if you’re worried that self-acceptance is akin to giving up on self-improvement, I challenge you to dive in anyway.
Yours in forever growth,