Becoming Body Positive—For Real

To say that I was late to the body positivity party is a gross understatement. Why would I accept myself? I loathed the way I looked. Plus, I was on a new diet and just 3 (or 6 or 12) short months away from being thin again and never gaining another ounce— so why bother learning to love this body even if I could?

Or so I thought. But as the years turned into decades, the only thing that ever changed was the name of the diet I was on and how much shame I had at the end for failing. Again. Still, I resisted giving up dieting. Giving up dieting felt like giving up hope. 

I watched the body positivity movement take shape and I looked at these strong women who radiated beauty and self-worth, but I could not relate. Lesley Kinzel, a writer I had been following for years was a self-proclaimed badass fat activist and she was genuinely the first writer I ever read that wrote about being fat and just being, living, living joyfully without trying to lose weight. She had such a huge impact on me. But while I read her writing religiously, I was still in denial about my own ability to ever accept my body as it was.  

When I finally realized it was a therapist I needed, not another juice cleanse, I knew I had to confront what had become a binge eating disorder, and more painfully, the cause. My therapist, Dr. Alexis Conason told me that real change would never come until I accepted myself first as I was. I had to be the most resistant to this line of thinking of any patient she ever had. I hate to give in and I hate to lose (ask anyone that’s ever played a board game with me) and accepting myself without ever getting thin meant losing the battle. But eventually, as I chipped away at my issues, I started to get it. I made room for the possibility that I could love myself.

I started writing about my journey to self-acceptance. Like everyone who commits to a new way of life I was annoyingly vocal about it. I wrote about it and encouraged others to give up dieting for good. I learned about eating mindfully and took up other passions that I was too scared to try when I lived in total shame about my body, I started feeling happier, lighter. The side effect of all of this: I did start to lose weight. And while I criticized the hypocrisy of people for complimenting me on it – I honestly got off on it. When I pictured myself at a party in the future, my default was still to envision myself thinner. I still felt shame when I was eating noticeably more than everyone else at a dinner with friends.

Then recently I read something that Kinzel wrote and it stopped me in my tracks: “You can’t be in favor of fat positivity for others if you can’t also extend that same compassion to yourself. Because as long as you fail to include yourself in that space of acceptance and forgiveness you will inevitably wind up participating in the institutions that oppress other fat people.” Jaw meet floor. I felt like she was speaking right to me.

While I’d come so far on this journey, at the end of the day I still had all this undeniable baggage about my body. I was still secretly hoping it was going to magically change. True story: I still own two scales. And I use them both! When I broke my foot I was worried about a lot of things, but gaining weight back from having to be so sedentary was most certainly one of them. I knew I had a lot more work to do.

I think back to the LGBT movement of my youth and I remember a common refrain used to be some version of, “I don’t care what ‘they’ do, I just don’t want it flaunted in my face.” Thank God those days are over. But with body acceptance we are in a similar stage of mixed messages and conditional acceptance – the same media outlets that love to talk about size inclusion and body diversity, still run 100 weight loss articles a day. 

When women talk incessantly about their diets and about their own disdain for the slightest imperfection in their physiques, can they then truly call themselves body positive? And it’s not just thin women, as women in larger bodies we not only participate in this, we are happy to lead the charge. We hate ourselves and have been so drenched in this conditioning that when other people hate us we not only don't resist it, but we think we deserve it. 

So, what can we do to propel this movement forward? For ourselves and for the next generation of girls and women? What if we lent a fraction of compassion that we give to each other to ourselves? What if we started to authentically accept the body we have now? Or at least stopped criticizing every single aspect of it...?

I know I can’t really elicit change with my writing without authenticity. When you marinate in the contempt for your body that diets produce, you can’t just immediately change. So, my call to action is for every woman who is calling for size inclusion, for representation of different bodies, who is truly excited by the movement toward body positivity, if you want something different for the next generation of women, even if you simply call yourself a feminist, you have one job today: Start with yourself. 

Show yourself the same kindness and tolerance you would show another woman you respect. Start to love your own body the way you would want your own daughter to love hers – regardless of what size jeans she wears. Begin by just allowing yourself to be seen, to be visible without apology. To send some love your own way. To let yourself feel fucking sexy. 

Because this chronic criticism and deprivation will never make you skinny anyway, I promise. It will only perpetuate this never-ending cycle of self-hatred and shame, and worse it’s contagious. Stop telling yourself you are not enough – or you’re too much. And when you can’t, forgive yourself. Check yourself when you criticize your body—out loud or in your head. Imagine what it would feel like if you just gave it all up. All. Of. It. The obsessing and the deciding and the talking about your food choices. Oh my God it’s all so boring anyway. Set yourself free.