I absolutely love the fact that body acceptance is actually a thing now, like a real movement. I mean, when I was growing up, I don’t know if it was even a baby concept in the back of someone’s mind. There’s plenty of debate around it still and that will only help strengthen and refine the concept that all bodies are good bodies. It’s just super cool that it’s being talked about, considering how many women (all) are affected.
Body acceptance has become a more recognized phrase and more and more backlash is being created against the diet industry. As this has begun to happen, there has been a lot of writing and talk about what body acceptance is and how to get there. And these are critical aspects of learning to accept, appreciate, and maybe even love our own bodies.
I’ve been on this journey for a few years now and one thing I think deserves a little more attention is what the journey to self- and body-acceptance actually looks and feels like. Maybe I was naïve, but I pictured a hell of lot more puppies (housetrained), unicorns, and rainbows (maybe even double ones—those are so cool). I didn’t get any of those except the puppy, and she definitely wasn’t housetrained.
I’m just sayin’, what gives? This is supposed to help me, make me happier, and help me enjoy life more. It’s supposed to be fucking worth it. Well, today we are going to look at how you feel BEFORE it becomes fucking worth it.
The main issue that is skipped over, as I see it, is GRIEF. That’s right. The five stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. When you first commit to giving up dieting and trying to not hate your body for its shape and size, it’s almost like the high you get when you START a diet. My life will be different! I will always feel happy and confident!! I won’t care anymore about how I look!!! I will shine!!!!
The only difference is that when you start a diet, the end of those sentences is, “when I lose weight.” When you set out on the path of body acceptance, the end of those sentences is, “when I love my body.” And the point is to love your body exactly the way it is. Ummm… are you serious??
There is actually grief around the loss, or giving up of, something we have always wanted, even if that thing was to look a certain way. If you spent 34 years (a-hem…) “knowing” that your life would be better if you were just thinner, it can be quite a shock to the system to realize that losing weight does not heal body image. In other words: no automatic rainbows, unicorns, or housetrained puppies. You are still you, no matter what size you are.
So I’d like to look at the development of a positive body image through the lenses of grief. After all, grief means “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret”. If you’ve been chasing thin all your life and finally realized you were chasing a ghost, you can’t tell me there wasn’t at least some grief involved.
I experienced grief. It was unexpected and it made me feel like somehow I had done this whole body positivity thing wrong. But I hadn’t. I just didn’t have all the pieces of the puzzle. I was missing a big one. One shaped like grief.
One more thing before we get started. Just because there are 5 numbered stages, that doesn’t mean that the progression through grief is linear and predictable. It’s not. It’s a big jumbled up mess of back and forth and jumping all around the stages. Just a heads up 😉
So here we go.
Body Acceptance and the 5 Stages of Grief
STAGE 1: DENIAL
Denial shows up in several ways. First thing, I was in denial that I even needed body image work. I was convinced the problem was my weight and my weight alone. I tried to deny the fact that I was scared to death to start eating food in case I gained weight. I denied the possibility that I even would gain any weight when my caloric intake became healthy (Not me, I know how to maintain). I wanted to deny that all the statistics telling me how diet’s work (they don’t) didn’t actually apply to me. They apply to everyone else without as much willpower as me, but dieting will work for me. This time I know it will work… Denial.
STAGE 2: ANGER
This is a tricky one because the anger goes outward, but it always digs its way inward. I got angry about a lot of things. I was angry at my mom (mostly) and some of my family who set the example that if you weren’t thin, everything else just took a back seat. I was angry at my mom for only letting me and my brother eat 600 calories a day, which set me on a clear path to disordered eating and body image issues up the wazoo.
I was mad at society for making how you look such a big deal. I was mad that there is basically one standard of beauty—that being a thin, white, young female. But what I was mad at the most was me. I was mad at myself for not being able to keep the weight off all of the times I lost it. I was mad that I was stupid enough to mess my body up the way I did. I was mad that I still wanted to be skinny. I was mad at my body for being so fucking wrong. So yeah, you encounter a bit of anger on this journey.
STAGE 3: BARGAINING
Yep, bargaining. Crazy amounts of crazy bargains. I bargained with whatever being there was greater than me (fill in your being/s of choice) that if they would just let me lose weight one more time, I promised, I PROMISED, I would never gain it back. I promised I would be kind to my body. I promised I’d be nicer to myself. I promised I’d love myself. If only, please, let me loose this weight and I promise I’ll never have to go through this again. I promise… As you can guess, bargaining didn’t actually pan out.
STAGE 4: DEPRESSION
This was the hardest one for me. I was so sad. I felt like such a failure. I was so embarrassed to see anyone because they would notice I was gaining weight. I was so afraid of being judged as a pathetic loser. Again. I was just so sad. There’s not much else to say about it. Sad, sad, sad. And I was sad for a lot longer than I wanted to be. And sometimes it still shows up. Depression is a hard stage.
STAGE 5: ACCEPTANCE
I’ll be honest. There were many times when I didn’t believe body acceptance was even possible for me, let alone that I would ever get there. I struggled. I said affirmations. I got mad and sad and I bargained and I denied. Again. I worked with a therapist. I journaled. I meditated. I stopped eating again. I started eating too much again. I started listening to my body again. I was told, “Be patient. It takes time.” And that answer made me mad because I didn’t want it to take time. I wanted it to be done for good.
But then I realized “done for good” probably wasn’t even a thing. Everyone has bad-body days sometimes. And once I really surrendered to the fact that I didn’t have control over all the things I was trying to control to force myself thin, I stopped perseverating on my body so much. I stopped thinking about it ALL THE TIME. I started putting my focus elsewhere. I started actually trying to live a life that didn’t center around the size and shape of my body.
And low and behold, over time, I noticed that I was running out the door after putting on only one outfit and not checking the mirror to see if it made me look fat. I wasn’t thinking about food. In fact, I was kind of sick of food. I started doing my hair and wearing make-up again because it made me feel good. I got dressed and did not live in yoga pants. I wasn’t so sad. I didn’t feel disgust and hate towards myself and my body.
I felt… different. I realized that I was coming to accept myself and my body and I hadn’t lost weight. Did you hear that? I HADN’T LOST WEIGHT. I never believed that would be a possibility for me and here I was, not hating myself. Here I was, starting to see myself in a positive light. Here I was accepting myself– all without losing a single pound.
AND THAT, MY LOVELIES, IS WHY DITCHING DIETING AND WORKING TOWARD BODY ACCEPTANCE IS FUCKING WORTH IT!