Cultivating a positive body image is easier said than done. Radical acceptance, a tool from dialectical behavior therapy, can help.
When people first hear of “radical acceptance,” they’re typically skeptical.
“Let me get this straight — I’m supposed to spontaneously decide to be happy about something that has bothered me for ages?” That’s crazy.
I first heard the term recently at an eating disorder treatment facility where I’ve been interning as a part of my dietetic program. It’s a tool used in “dialectical behavior therapy” to help patients accept their bodies, regardless of perceived imperfections.
It immediately made me think of the “body positive movement” that is emerging right now and the shift in the fitness industry toward health over size. It’s a wonderful thing — and I’m a major supporter — but whole-heartedly accepting the concept is something I think most of us struggle with.
Saying you love your body, encouraging others to embrace body positivity, and celebrating our diverse shapes and sizes is one thing — actually loving your own body is another.
I’ve talked to friends who support the body positive movement about this and they’ve expressed similar feelings.
Am I a hypocrite for speaking out about body positivity when sometimes I look in the mirror and don’t like what I see? When I have days where I don’t feel great about myself? When I still engaged in negative self-talk?
It’s unavoidable, no matter how much we want to love our bodies, we still experience self-doubt.
That’s where radical acceptance comes in.
Radical acceptance does not ask you to love aspects of yourself that you find undesirable. In fact, you don’t even have to like them. What it does is ask that you accept them so that you can love yourself as a whole.
You may, for example, accept that while you would like to be ten pounds lighter, or five inches taller, or have thicker hair, or more muscular arms, or whatever, that you do not, and you may never. And that is OK. You can love yourself anyway. Because your worth is not dictated by a number on a scale, or a clothing size, or a tiny heart on a social media app.
The concept doesn’t just apply to looks. Radical acceptance can be applied to all facets of your life. Maybe you think you’re not as funny as you’d like to be, or as smart, or as creative?
Radical acceptance doesn’t require you to give up those desires, simply to accept that where you are right now is OK. Maybe you’ll take improv lessons and buff up your comedic chops — but maybe you won’t.
A common misconception is that radical acceptance means giving up. “I’m not as good as so-and-so at XYZ, so I might as well not even try.”
That’s not it at all. Radical acceptance doesn’t mean you have to stop telling jokes because you’re not as funny as Amy Schumer, it just means that you’re not going to beat yourself up every time you watch stand up comedy.
It doesn’t mean that if you’re unhappy with your weight that you should stop exercising because you’re never going to look like Kayla Itsines. It just means that you’re not going to torture yourself looking at her Instagram page, thinking if you were only “better,” you’d have a six-pack.
You don’t have to let go of wanting your body to change and working toward it, but you do have to let go of the hatefulness toward yourself for not being there at this moment.
You have to accept that you’re who you are and where you are right now, and you’re pretty awesome in your own right.
Now don’t get me wrong, radical acceptance isn’t easy — and it doesn’t come naturally. It comes with time, knowledge, and understanding.
Do you think all of the body positive bloggers out there have always been so enlightened — that they just came out of the womb comfortable in their own skin? Not so. If you read wellness blogs regularly, you’ll notice a common trend — most of us got into this business because of our own issues.
I’ve talked about my weight loss journey here before, and though it may seem unremarkable to most (I didn’t undergo an extreme weight loss or overcome impressive odds), it was a big deal to me. It stemmed from a long childhood of not feeling “enough” — not smart enough, not pretty enough, not skinny enough, not “cool” enough, not enough.
I thought losing weight would make me feel worthy. I thought it would give me that confidence to excel in all aspects of my life where I was afraid I didn’t add up.
The unfortunate thing is that if you’re not comfortable in your own skin — if you don’t truly accept yourself — outward measures of “success” will never make you feel like enough. So while I may have lost some weight, I was still insecure. I am still insecure at times.
Regardless of the image we see when we scrutinize others on social media, everyone has their issues. I’m not going to pick apart mine here, because that only gives them power. Radical acceptance takes the power away from meaningless things that only cause us pain.
My lightbulb moment was when I heard someone say this phrase: hating your body doesn’t change your body.
It’s so obvious, yet so ingenious.
We waste so much time, energy, and sadness thinking negatively about ourselves, and at the end of the day it gets us nowhere. No amount of self-deprecation can change your situation. What is does is make your situation worse.
Hating your body doesn’t change your body — it only adds to your suffering.
Radical acceptance is a decision to end the suffering. It’s coming to the conclusion: “I am not perfect. I will never be perfect. I am human. I have flaws (real or perceived). But I am worthy of love. I am enough.”
For more on body acceptance, check out my post Why You Shouldn’t Compare Yourself to a Victoria’s Secret Model >>
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