March 28, 2015

Is Body Acceptance Bullshit?

Thank you for this uplifting thought. Unfortunately, I don't
know how to accept my body when I am exposed to media
messages telling me that my body is ugly, old, and
unacceptable.  There has to be another way.
So I was invited to speak to a room full of teenage girls the other day.  The topic of interest was body image and disordered eating / exercise.  My gut was screaming at me to run in the other direction as I fear teenagers more than I fear a root canal, but the topic is near and dear to my heart so I accepted the invite.  For a month, I sat with this topic wondering how I was going to present it.  I examined body image, eating disorders, health promotion, exercise and the like from all the different angles.

A few thoughts continued to nag me.  The first was how I was going to present this topic when my own negative thoughts about my body continue to plague me.  For me, it is important to practice what I preach in whatever I speak about so the fact that I was unhappy about my panus (if you haven't looked this one up, I suggest you Google it...it's real, it's ugly, it's the truth).  In Fact, I have been struggling with my own body image for most of my adult life, how was I going to present on this topic without feeling like a hypocrite?

The second challenge was how I was going to convey these messages in a way that was reflective of the society and times we live in?  I can't tell you how frustrating it is to see nutritionists (usually with food issues of her own) or counsellors get up and tell a classroom full of children to love their body as they walk out of the room without providing tools to help achieve such a ridiculous suggestion.  I'm sick to death of the same messages about body acceptance while we are drowning in a sea of images that suggest the opposite.  If there is one thing I have learned over my career is when you have a choice of believing what a health professional says versus what social media or popular culture says....pop culture will win every time. Body acceptance may have served us well at a time when social media wasn't so powerful, but today I don't believe we can use the same antiquated concepts when everyone is plugged into the bombardment of media messages of what beauty is.  Body acceptance is bullshit.

So what do you do if you want to promote a healthy relationship with body, food, and exercise? May I suggest a new term that may help to shift perspective? This term not only provides an opportunity to shift perspectives from the negative to positive, but will allow for the practitioner to offer tools and exercises for people to put into practice.   This term relates to positive psychology, strength building, and resiliency...this term is gratitude.  By being grateful for what our bodies do for us, we are able to shift our focus from the negative to positive thoughts, focus on our strengths, and - in turn - become accepting of our bodies....in time.   Practicing gratitude does not originate from Oprah (although there are millions of people who would disagree with me), it originates from the research.  Being grateful changes our perspectives and increases our happiness.  I don't know about you, but I would rather be happy than thin any day of the week.
Even seeing more of these images without
the tag line of love your body would help.
What if this was mainstream? What if we
saw these images in Lululemon stores
without the underlying message of love
or accept your body? What if this was
mainstream? What a wonderful world
this would be.

Let's be honest, when I'm getting ready for work in the morning, I'm usually focused on my ever maturing food baby or my lovely chinkles (chest wrinkles...a nice parting gift of aging).  In fact, I don't remember a time I felt elated over my youthful good looks and fabulous bikini body...no matter how young and thin I was (alas, no matter what, we are never truly happy with what we have).  That is why it is so important to shift our focus to what we have versus what we lack.  I am now able to catch myself in mid negative thought and begin listing the things I am grateful for.  I have two legs that work, they are strong, and they carry me through my day.  I have eyes that see and ears that hear (sort of...but there's supports for that).  I have the ability to do almost anything and the energy to carry it out.  I am healthy, I am smart, and I effect change.  Who cares about my chinkles when I have a fabulous personality and sense of style?

Research has shown us that the brain is plastic.  If we are able to stop our negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts that build on our strengths, we are able to change our neural networks to support the new, more positive thoughts. That is the most coolest thing ever!!! Knowing this, if we continue to be grateful for what our bodies do for us, we can strengthen our relationship with our bodies and how we treat them.  Why abuse exercise if it means it will hurt our bodies? Why restrict healthy nutrition when it would hurt our bodies?  Why think such mean things about a body that works?

When it came time to deliver this message to the group, I did so through questions rather than answers. No matter what the age, people are the experts in their own lives.  Who am I to tell them anything.  I wanted to know what body image meant to them, how they were affected, and what influenced them the most.  We had an open and honest discussion about how we all felt about our bodies and the frustrations we felt about the social pressure to conform.  Finally, we discussed how practicing gratitude may help in building our body relationship.

It's funny, I had feared talking to a room full of teenage girls but the experience was not only exhilarating, fun, and a great learning experience I realized I want to pursue this further and seek out more opportunities like this.  These "young people" (OMG...I sound so old saying that but whatever) are so smart, so switched on, and full of ideas, suggestions, and insights.  I just want to say "thanks" for the opportunity.

K


3 comments:

  1. Hi Kathi,

    I love your term "chinkles"! At 42 I can so relate! It think it is fantastic that you had an opportunity to talk to teenage girls about an extremely important topic at a critical age. I really enjoy my clinical work with teens in the area of sexual health and see how the choices teens make are often connected to how they feel about themselves. I don't know if you have ever heard of the body image website Adios Barbie but thought you might be interested.

    The more work I do in stress management, resilience and personal development, the more I learn and appreciate the power of gratitude. You are so right that we should be grateful for what our bodies do for us. Gratitude truly can enhance our well-being and give us much needed perspective.

    "Thank you" for another cleaver post on an important topic.
    Sara

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  2. Hey Sara!
    Thanks for your comment. Yes, chinkles suck...if I could do it all over again, I would sleep with a sturdy bra on or use a body pillow to separate the girls. No one told me this would happen! It's obviously a little secret mothers do not share with daughters.

    I am in awe of your work with teens and sexual health...you must be a saint or have some sort of super power. I can imagine doing more work with body image and teens in the future, but I cannot imagine talking about teenage bits and what to do with them. Although having said that, where were you in my tweens?

    Thanks for continuing to read my posts and comment. I love reading them. I also appreciate the Twitter share.

    Have a great Easter!
    K

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  3. Hi Kathi, I think real body positivity and confidence comes from within and whether we retain our locus of control or place it in others' hands. If it's the latter, we'll always be seeking validation, admiration and approval for our appearances.

    It's only with the former that we truly are able to be confident because we're making the most of what we're born with. The young ladies in the office are shocked to learn I'm 38 and think I'm a decade younger. But when you're happy and interactive all the time, people tend to forget how much older than them you actually are.

    Good luck!

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