We’ve seen enormous shifts in social commentary regarding bodies and how we talk about changing them. Yes, it’s still fairly common to see a hint of we-must-fix-XYZ-broken-part-of-ourselves in order to to “be worthy”, or “be happy”, “be attractive”, etc. But, there has been some shift. Read on.
In response to magazine covers that said things like “drop 2 sizes before Christmas” and “bikini body ready with these core moves” and “7 easy fixes to banish unsightly cellulite for good” we’re now seeing and hearing messages like, “it doesn’t matter what you look like, it's only how you feel that matters”, and “accept your natural shape and size”.
Today’s body acceptance movement seems a bit like backlash. And backlash doesn’t usually take us back to neutral - it purposefully swings the pendulum a bit too far in the opposite direction in an effort to balance some long-standing injustice.
I personally sense it’s swung too far when women approach me in secret about their goals, too shy to share their journey towards a leaner, stronger body shape and size. Or when clients are afraid to tell their peers they are working with a nutrition coach for fear they might be shamed for seeking change. Or when people vastly downplay their successes because it’s totally become uncool to “make it” and “get there” - wherever that may be.
>> We’re hearing from the body acceptance camps: wanting to change or seeking change in your body size or shape is wrong. It means you’re subscribing to outer rules and norms. That's bad.
>> We’re hearing from the beauty, dieting and fitness camps: not wanting to change or seek change in your body size or shape, is wrong. It means you’re content. You’re not good enough just the way you are. If you’re not in pursuit of change towards social or cultural norms, that’s bad.
I am finding myself and my coaching practice falling somewhere in between these two poles.
There have been countless body acceptance articles written about this very topic and they might say I am exactly a part of the problem: essentially I’m giving people the tools (education, accountability, structure, guidance) to change their bodies while also encouraging them to love themselves at all stages of the process. To many, that’s a contradiction and you can’t have both.
But, it’s not like I cared much about what people thought anyway. I don’t feel that Jane’s goals to lift more are any better than Joe’s goal to fit in size 34 pants or that either of those goals are any better than Jamie’s goal to look and feel leaner and slimmer. I wouldn’t trade the feeling that comes from empowering you to hack your own health, body composition and athletic performance.
I am not saying it’s ok to set out to change your size and shape in order to love yourself. I’m not saying it’s ok to love yourself when you get to your ideal size and shape. The people I work with, especially the women that I work with, neither hate themselves, nor feel they’re not good enough at this place and time.
I personally advocate autonomy above all else. There's no reason for any kind of moralizing or divide here. Each person is entitled to do whatever they like with their own [damn] body. And there is zero reason for anyone to judge another person's body or their motivation for changing it.
I will use myself as an example: I don’t workout or eat however I want independent of how my body looks or performs. Working out the way I do is the perfect intersection for me between enjoyment of the process and enjoyment of the results. Similarly, eating the way I do is the perfect intersection between enjoying delicious foods in a pattern that totally works for my lifestyle, and enjoying of the results it yields for me in energy for my day, focus for my work, fuel for my activity. And yes, a body shape and size that I feel confident in.
I wish for my clients to pursue change because they enjoy the process as much as they enjoy the end result. The process nor the results are more important than the other and they not mutually exclusive.
Here’s my bottom line(s): You don’t have to prefer all your parts and pieces exactly the way they are all the time. Just because you want to change something about yourself doesn’t mean you’re not body positive. Self-love comes in many forms and if you’re rooted in your awareness and intentions, you’ve nailed the biggest, most important piece of the body puzzle. You can want to change something about yourself and make the appropriate adjustments without coming from a place of self-loathing or trying to “fix” something that’s wrong with you.