Why We Need To Advocate For Self-Acceptance, Not Just Body Positivity

Initially, the body positivity movement aimed to end the discrimination of larger bodied people. The movement preached that we should all love our bodies at any size, and that body diversity is beautiful. As the movement grew, supporters advocated for health at any size and dismissed diet culture and weight loss at all costs. Ultimately, the body positivity movement aimed to empower people of all different body types, and the body positivity movement encouraged society as a whole to become more accepting and inclusive of body diversity. These were the initial goals of the body positivity movement.

But when examining the logistics of the body-positivity movement, I can definitely say that body positivity, as a cultural theme, has become a double-edged sword. It can be extremely influential in both a positive and negative way.

Body positivity has its plus sides. It empowers women to feel comfortable in their bodies and it advocates for more inclusion and equality. Body positivity fights back against weight loss protocols and diet culture in general. The body positivity movement also fights against the media, who still portray impossible standards of what a beautiful body “should” look like. Why are we only seeing women who are between size 0 and size 4 everywhere? With 67% of women being over a size 14, the media really needs a reality check. We really need to start putting an end to thin privilege and develop an awareness and acceptance of bodies of all sizes.

So please, don’t get me wrong, I am definitely an advocate of people of all sizes feeling beautiful and confident in their own skin. Beauty clearly comes in every shape and size, and the body positive movement celebrates this. But I also worry that the movement kind of misses the whole point of the direction in which society could (and should) be headed.

Rather than focusing on self-empowerment, self-confidence, and self-love, we are still putting the lens on bodies. We are still hyper-focusing on what we look like on the outside. Our minds are still consumed with thoughts of how our appearance compares to others, and we still believe that our looks reflect our value as human beings. In some ways, this focus on body positivity leads to an overemphasis on our appearance, and still unintentionally stresses the importance of how “pretty we are. In other words, the body positive movement may accidentally lead us into believing that our worth comes from our looks.

When are we going to start to focus instead on women empowering women? On being good human beings. On striving for more than just “pretty.” For one thing, we have no responsibility to be pretty. And for another, we have so much more substance than just a number or a size. We have so much more value, so much more to give back to the world. Yet we keep trying to focus on our bodies.

And this body obsession can be particularly troubling for people who struggle with body image or eating disorders. Emphasizing that we have to love our bodies can be overwhelming, confusing, and can ultimately steal the opportunity for these people to live happy, thriving, recovered lives. Furthermore, moving from body-hate to body-love can be an especially daunting task for someone who has suffered from body image issues and who has not had a good relationship with his/her body in the past.

And there’s another catch 22 with body positivity. None of us will love our bodies 24/7…that’s just a fact. We aren’t always going to feel 100% perfect in every piece of clothing we put on. Some days we are going to feel sluggish and tired, some days we are going to feel bloated and uncomfortable. Some days we are going to feel self-conscious, and we might feel uneasy just showing up. And if we put our worth into how we feel about our bodies, on these days when we don’t feel body positive, we are going to be let down. We are going to feel down. We are going to feel like we aren’t good enough, or pretty enough because once again, it’s all going to come back to our appearance.

But because body positivity has become such a cultural movement, and because #bodypositive will probably continue to be a trending hashtag, it’s best that we make the most of this movement by taking some action and starting a conversation.

I think we should advocate for the acceptance of all bodies, rather than advocating for “body positivity.” Accepting that your body is just as valuable as everyone else’s body is difficult, and it may not necessarily come naturally to you. In some respects, we essentially need to retrain our brains to believe that all bodies are worthy of acceptance and that all bodies are worthy of praise. We have to unlearn the idea that some bodies are more valuable than others. And putting extra value on some bodies means discriminating against other body types. I think if we can put the emphasis on acceptance of diversity, rather than positivity, we will eventually realize that bodies are just bodies, nothing more, nothing less.

If we share the message that all bodies are equal and that we are all much more than just our bodies, I think the tides will begin to change. And most importantly, I think we can all speak out and advocate for kindness and authenticity. Our minds, our thoughts, what we do and who we are are all much more important than just how our bodies look. We need to speak up and share that our true worth is not reflected in our weight, our size, our curves, or our skin color. How we show up to the world physically isn’t nearly as important as who we are as human beings. We aren’t required by anyone to be pretty. But we should be required by ourselves to be good, kind, compassionate human beings.

The body positive movement isn’t inherently wrong. It definitely has its strengths and it has definitely had a powerful impact on the lives of many people. The message of inclusivity is extremely valuable. The confidence that some people have developed as a result of the movement is powerful. However, I think we can take it a step further. I think we can encourage one another to first accept all bodies. We can teach ourselves and others to embrace body diversity. And once we’ve done this, we can move onto what is even more important: who we are. We can lift each other higher for who we are, rather than what we look like. We can compliment people on their thoughts and actions, on their writing and on their creativity. We can let others know how much we value them as friends and as sisters, as coworkers and as mentors.

The important thing is that we start somewhere. And maybe that “somewhere” is a conversation with a friend. Maybe it’s about telling someone when we are feeling insecure in our bodies, and talking about how we can place value on other aspects of our lives, rather than focusing just on our bodies. Maybe it’s about reassuring our loved ones that we think they are beautiful people all around, not just on the outside. And maybe it’s about realizing that while we advocate for body diversity, we can also advocate for self-love – genuine self-love. Because who we are is much more important than what we look like. And once we realize that we are so much more than just bodies, I think we will know we have done the work. 

Why You Have To Learn How To Accept Yourself No Matter What

The older I get, the more I find myself thinking about the idea of self-acceptance, and what a crucial role it plays in how we all conduct and present ourselves on a daily basis as individuals. As someone who has struggled with social anxiety and depression, you could say I have a lot of personal experience with this concept.

From as early as the age of eight, I’ve compared myself with others, choosing to focus on my supposed physical, emotional, and intellectual deficits in comparison as opposed to my God-given strengths and abilities. When I’m feeling extremely anxious, I’ve noticed that I effectively stifle my personality in fear of appearing too vulnerable or embarrassing myself.

Time and time again, I’ve chosen to believe the lies that I’m not attractive enough (which usually translates to ‘thin’ enough), smart enough, strong enough, enough; period.

Despite having a good number of close friends and family members who have continually affirmed me and recognized the beauty in my individuality, I still continue to believe these horrible lies about myself; about who I’ve been created to be.

Despite identifying as a feminist and strongly if not overwhelmingly agreeing with the feminist ideas of body positivity regardless of shape or size and finding one’s self worth in individual capabilities rather than physical appearance and allure, I still believe I am not physically attractive enough and therefore somehow worth less than others.

For the majority of my 25 years, I’ve begun to realize that I’ve both consciously and unconsciously rejected, rather than embraced, countless unique, God-given attributes of myself–from my fuller figure to my being a verbal processor. I’ve asked myself questions of the like countless times: Why don’t I look more like her? Why can’t I just be an internal processor who isn’t so obnoxious and emotional? Why am I always so sensitive? Why do I sound like such an airhead when I try to make a point compared to that smart girl in class?

Today, in reflecting upon these thoughts and many more, I realized something else: the majority of these self-deprecating thoughts have their root in comparison not just to another individual, but mostly to other women. And while I’ve tended to pride myself as one confident enough to be genuinely happy for others in their own personal achievements and happiness, I’m beginning to see that I’m in reality sometimes jealous of them, whether in regards to physical appearance, relationship status or otherwise, and have effectively fallen into the trap our culture sets for women: that we should believe ourselves to be inherently inferior to and therefore be envious of the strengths and abilities of other women, constantly and aggressively competing with them. All too often, what actress Tina Fey in Mean Girls so eloquently described as “girl-on-girl crime” seems to take the form of comparison, whether of the physical, emotional, intellectual or otherwise personal variety.

If another woman appears to be more attractive, intelligent, is in a relationship while you aren’t; fill in the blank, our culture tells us we need to do whatever we can do to beat or outmaneuver them in order to validate our own personal sense of self-worth. Even in demonstrating self-acceptance, we often do it at the expense of other women as though we have something to prove. Consider, for example, the messages of the “empowering” musical anthems of our day written by female artists, such as the bridge and chorus of Meghan Trainor’s hit, “Me Too”:

I thank God every day

That I woke up feeling this way,

And I can’t help loving myself, and I don’t need nobody else (nu-uh)

If I was you, I’d wanna be me too (x3)

While I will clarify that I greatly appreciate Trainor’s musical style, I believe she is very talented and would consider myself a fan, I will also say that I respectfully disagree with the way she goes about getting her message across here. While I certainly admire her self-love and am not denying her right to do so, I do not believe self-acceptance needs to or should be expressed in a way that implies individual strengths can only be recognized in light of others’ inferiority in comparison.

I honestly believe that women like Meghan Trainor in many cases don’t even realize that they’ve fallen into the trap of comparison when attempting to communicate self-love. In this way, the true idea of true, unabashed self-acceptance in the absence of comparison as a woman in today’s society remains radical in comparison to the self-hatred and body dissatisfaction that is culturally encouraged.

Even more radical, then, is the idea that Christ died for each and every one of us despite our being completely undeserving so that we could be given the privilege of a relationship with God, our creator.

While we haven’t all been born prophets, the fact that He has created us each as unique individuals with a purpose speaks volumes about His love for us and our inherent worth; far more than our comparison or perceived superiority to other women ever could. While Christianity and feminism are often assumed and treated as though they are at odds with one another, I don’t believe this to be true. If God accepts and loves us unconditionally in our belief, how much more should we accept ourselves as He has created us to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and intellectually? This is, of course, much easier said than done, and is something I can admit I haven’t yet achieved. I’ve started by choosing to remind myself daily of some of my strengths–such as that I am easily able to personally connect and empathize with people, that i am loving, caring and that I’m deeply passionate about mental health and hope to work in the field in the future. As a Christian and a woman, I believe it is necessary and possible to recognize and praise God for these abilities and more that He has gifted me with. Radical, but possible.