Learning to accept your body is easier said than done. Like anything you want to learn, you have to put in the time. You have to stick around when things feel hard, and you have to keep trying. Most importantly, you have to be patient.
The body positive movement, while a huge deal, is just one message attempting to counter about a million other ones. Bigger, louder ones that we learned in our formative years. Yet, accepting ourselves as we are is essential to our sexual health. Studies have shown that our attitudes about our bodies directly affect our capacity to enjoy sex and to orgasm. And body image issues take us out of the very moment when we want to relax so we can experience arousal.
Body image issues even make us avoid sex altogether. They make us believe that we must hide parts of ourselves that we’ve learned are unacceptable.
Critics of the body positive movement say that demanding women to love their bodies in a cultural climate that has poised them to do the opposite is setting them up for more distress.
Others suggest that body acceptance is a better avenue, and we at Emjoy agree. The truth is, we don’t always love our bodies. We don’t always feel positive. And that’s okay. Can we be okay with not being okay all the time? If so, we’re well on our way to acceptance.
What does it mean to accept your body?
When we think of reframing our attitudes towards our bodies, body positivity often comes to mind, rather than body acceptance, because of its representation in the media.
But actually body positivity has its origins in the fat acceptance movement of the 60s. Fat positivity activists wanted to eliminate discrimination based on body size. Since then, organizations like The Body Positive have emerged from questions like: How will we raise girls to love themselves? How do we stop cultural notions of body shame from becoming violent?
Today, cis and trans-female thought leaders are asking new questions. Are loving yourself and wanting to change yourself mutually exclusive? Can you be body positive and still want to lose weight? Or add weight?
It’s up to you to decide what body positivity means for you. Here are our two cents: body positivity is a practice of acceptance, curiosity, and self-reflection. It doesn’t ask you to adhere to a beauty standard. It doesn’t ask you to always be satisfied with yourself. It doesn’t ask that you never change. It’s about accepting yourself as you are, in the present moment, regardless of any negative, or positive, feelings you may have about your body.
What it asks is that you practice developing your capacity to accept yourself where you are every day. It wants you to be reminded that you are worthy of love, and loving relationships, even if you dislike your body. It insists that there are cultural messages that don’t belong to you but are influencing what you see when you look at a picture of yourself. And once you identify them, you get to decide whether you want to keep them or put them down.
Simply, it asks you to accept your body as it is, and accept other bodies as they are.
How to start practicing body acceptance
The work of accepting your body is a lifelong practice. It’s more than an idea; in order to counter toxic cultural messaging, you must begin practicing new ways of relating to yourself. Think of yourself as a student of self-acceptance.
Adorn your body.
First, commit to making choices based on health, curiosity, and adventure rather than on the need to change your body to fit a certain standard, ie. to be skinnier or have a bigger butt. Practice adorning your body (as it is now) with clothes, jewellery, new hairstyles, and fabrics. In other words, play dress up! In the privacy of your own space, can you find a look that you think is sexy, cute, fun, or playful?
Teach your body a new skill.
Another way to reacquaint yourself with your body is to teach it something new. It’s amazing the things you can teach your body to learn. Try tennis, yoga, basketball, gymnastics, rock climbing, roller skating, hula-hoop, tap dance. Teach your hands to play the guitar or piano. Learn that Beyoncé dance-combo you think is so cool.
Learning something new that has nothing to do with sexuality is a great way to remind yourself that your body is a fun place to be.
Purge your social media.
Use social media for good, not bad. Purge your feed of images and accounts that trigger self-hatred and body shame. Follow accounts that represent bodies like yours. Follow accounts who have made it their mission to be at peace with themselves.
Study people who are unconventional but you admire. What is it about them that you love? What strategies are they using to embrace themselves against all odds? How have they taken what’s different and made it beautiful?
Listen to Emjoy.
You may also consider limiting your time on social media altogether and exploring different forms of media like audio for learning and entertainment. The Emjoy app has over 500 wellbeing sessions on a whole range of topics, but we definitely recommend starting with the Body Acceptance collection by sexpert Elle Chase. You’ll also find over 300 spicy stories for a little escape, and they’re a million times sexier than endlessly scrolling on social media.
Learn about your body.
Sometimes acceptance comes from understanding something or someone better. Learn about your anatomy. Look at yourself in the mirror, even if it feels scary. Get to know your body.
You are what you surround yourself with.
The company you keep will influence your experience of body acceptance or shame. If you surround yourself with people who participate in negative body talk about others (or themselves), or demonstrate that they value certain body standards, you’re more likely to have body image issues.
But if you surround yourself with people who accept their bodies as they are, don’t seek to change them based on values that have been imposed on them, but rather their own curiosity about the world and themselves, then you’re more likely to accept your body as well.
Rome wasn’t accepted in a day
It’s true: the outside world has opinions about our bodies. Opinions that are often reframed as rules. If we are a student of accepting ourselves, and we practice body acceptance every day, then part of the curriculum must be examining these messages. Where do they come from? How did our mother feel about her body? What messages are we getting from the media? From past partners?
When we can connect our internal dialogue to an external cultural message, it’s a relief to find that what we once interpreted as the truth is nothing more than an outside idea. And it doesn’t have to be your idea.
Being asked to be positive about our body can be frustrating. It’s just not that simple. It’s the kind of ask that requires us to counter everything we’ve learned up until this point, and that’s no easy feat. Conditioning can’t be unlearned in one day. This is why we preach acceptance over positivity.
The first step towards acceptance looks like this: “I’m not happy. Can I make room for that? Can I accept that I won’t always feel my best, and be gentle with myself? Just in this moment?”
And then keep practicing. There’s always more to learn.
Start your body acceptance journey with a little help from the Emjoy app. Download now!