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What Does It Mean To Love Your Body?

by Dr. Jenny Copeland, PsyD

Every now and then, it’s good to take stock of your life: of where you are and where you want to be. Have you achieved your goals? Do the ideals of the past mean the same to you, or has your view of the world changed? Each of us learns and grows throughout our lifetime, leading to changes we may or may not anticipate. All of a sudden, the way we have always behaved just doesn’t feel right to us. No matter how insightful we are, sometimes we miss the change that happens – or we miss that the change was needed.

I was talking with a remarkable 13 year old girl last week about Love Your Body Day 2013 (October 16, 2013) after she vented about the existence of body hatred. I shared with her the history of this important day of observance as an effort to redefine beauty and reject conventional societal standards. This is a debate we often share about who decides what is “beautiful” or “not,” and what to do about it. As I encouraged her to explore some feminist writings to expand her horizons and challenge herself, she scrunched up her face and shared that she does not want to be a feminist. This is not a new debate between the two of us. In the past, she has expressed fears of being pigeon-holed into a particular set of beliefs, preferring instead to live by a philosophy of her own choosing.

Being a feminist or a size acceptance advocate means many things to many different people. All are valid. Each belief, each act, is incendiary in contemporary society. Although each of us may come to believe in a size acceptance perspective through different origins, we hope to work together to achieve a common goal. But sometimes we define what we believe by what we do not believe, creating our identity around a reaction to the status quo. In the end, some may know who they are not, and little else. This teenager knows herself enough to realize that she does not agree with the standard expectations for beauty. She embraces herself as she is, but is not quite sure what that means. Without this self-knowledge, it is easy to get lost.

In attempting to maintain her identity, this unique and strong-willed young person missed out on an important chance to grow. It makes me wonder how often we, as older people, miss out on this same opportunity. On this special occasion, I invite you to make sure you don’t stop growing by challenging yourself, questioning why you believe what you believe. Is size acceptance right for you? How do you use the HAES® principles in a meaningful way in your daily life? What does it mean to love your body? Do you love your body – why or why not? When was the last time you questioned these powerful assumptions? Are you content to define yourself by what you do not want to be, or do you want more?

Although the continual objectification of bodies is an important motivator for the size acceptance movement, it is only one influence. Limiting ourselves to this focus may keep us from growing. Loving our bodies goes beyond refuting societal definitions of beauty. The question is, how will you define your beauty? As we grow and become more fully ourselves we become more powerful in whatever way is meaningful to us. For some, this may be encouraging daughters and loved ones to embrace their bodies as they are. For others, this may come in the form of a drive to elicit social change in the way all bodies are perceived. Still others may focus instead on being comfortable in their own skin. All three are brave and powerful options.

I am proud to see that, as a movement, we continue to question and challenge ourselves. During the Binge Eating Disorder Association’s annual Weight Stigma Awareness Week I felt blessed to be able to learn about applications of intersectionality, our need to be more aware of the broader social justice issues at play, and the need for the HAES® paradigm to be used in practice with understanding and treating eating disorders. But more is needed. Consider this not a call to action, but to reflection: take stock of your life and how you perceive yourself. How can you take Love Your Body Day to the next level? What would that look like? How can you make it meaningful to you? And, is there something more that you need (or want) that could be missing?

As you ponder these questions, I leave you this wisdom from Beauty Is Inside.

equal rights graphic for Oct 15 post

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