Self-Acceptance and Complacency

I admit, I’ve been a little puzzled about some of the feedback I’ve gotten on my RtL posts, especially this past month. What is so bad about the idea of loving ourselves just the way we are, even if we are overweight?, I have wondered. I understand people arguing for health – but I’m not against being healthy. I don’t think that loving oneself manifests as lying in bed all day drinking soda and eating potato chips until one keels over from obesity-related heart disease. On the contrary, I believe that when we totally accept ourselves in any given moment and remember our true inner worth, we will naturally gravitate toward healthier decisions more and more.

However, when I received the following comment (bold font added) from EcoYogini, I finally started to get it:

…In our society we’ve been so conditioned to believe that health and fitness are separate from present self-acceptance that seeing the connection is difficult. We associate self-acceptance as complacency, which doesn’t have to be the case. Both concepts are not mutually exclusive- that kind of cultural and social change just takes a huge paradigm shift for many of us and may take some time.

Soon after, I received a thoughtful email from another awesome fellow blogger, Bella Before and After*:

…I think that not loving [my stomach]  is totally ok, and realistic. NOTHING can make me love it, when I know it’s not supposed to look like that, when I know I can do something about it, and damn it, it’s about time I do. The only thing I would ever teach other girls, including my own daughter to do is, to be healthy. I do not believe we need to be perfect, have tight, skinny bodies, with big boobs, small boobs, big butts, etc. Just be healthy.

I think once we stop talking about being healthy, and just loving our bodies the way they are, we can get in a danger zone, that is even worse than where we are now, if that’s even possible. I think we need to educate NOT only women, but men, and all our children the importance of being healthy, and stop making excuses for not being healthy. Loving your body is one thing, and not talking about your weight, or the perfect diet, I totally agree. That’s not important, and leads to unhealthy habits of yo-yo diets, and unrealistic ideas of perfection. But I think we all know the difference of healthy bodies, and healthy food, and if we don’t then we should learn.
Sorry about my little rampage, but I just wanted to voice my concern, because…the last thing I want is to make women feel that it is OK to be unhealthy, keep on drinking that soda, eating that junk food, and just love your unhealthy fat body, because it’s not OK. Yes love yourself, don’t hate yourself, but PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE realize that if your tummy looks anything like mine does, it’s time to change, because it’s simply NOT healthy. Enough is enough you know, and no excuse in the world is worth it, when you get sick from heart disease or something else.

I understand now! The resistance comes from believing that if we accept ourselves exactly as we are, we will have no motivation to change. We will become more unhealthy. We will have nothing to reach for. We will lose our sense of productivity. We will cast our goals aside and any number of scary circumstances (sloth, obesity, unhappiness, etc.) will set in. And, worst case scenario, we might die if it gets bad enough. I get what you are saying now! But…I challenge that notion with one of my own.

What if that’s all a bunch of BS? What if that’s just another set of fears trying to control us? (Just to be clear, I’m not referring to Bella’s quoted comment as BS – just what I wrote in the previous paragraph.) Here’s the breakdown:

1. If you are overweight right now, and have yet to kick the bucket, loving yourself exactly as you are in this very moment is not going to speed up your demise.**

2. Radically accepting yourself, even if you are 200 pounds overweight (or more) will not cause you to eat more or to spiral into worse health than you are experiencing in this moment. Admittedly, you may find yourself in a short-lived backlash (something I’ll blog about later), but self-love breeds self-loving behaviors in the long run.

3. Loving yourself at ANY weight does not condone unhealthy behavior of any kind. This is a judgment game that we play with ourselves – if we are overweight, we did something wrong and how can you accept something that is wrong? Well, guess what…:

4. Being overweight is not a crime, it’s not inherently “wrong,” nor does it prove we have an underlying character flaw (laziness, lack of willpower, etc.). I know lots and lots of naturally skinny people who eat sugar and other junk food all day long and most of them (the men, especially) don’t flog themselves about it, or judge themselves for not making healthier choices. This one is a definite double standard. Being thinner does not necessarily equate to health, “rightness,” or strength of character.

5. Choosing to remain in judgment of your body only keeps you in a place of guilt and we don’t tend to make very healthy choices from that kind of mental landscape. Self-acceptance, just like self-denial, grows exponentially and affects every decision we make. Loving, accepting environments create loving, accepting behaviors.

I think we’re fighting two paradigms here: First, we live in a goal-oriented society in which acceptance IS considered complacency. If you’re not setting goals and always in the process of improving then the perception is that you have a deep character flaw. Complacency might as well be a synonym for laziness.

The second paradigm is simple FEAR-based thinking. It runs deep in all of us, and in our collective consciousness. We have a million and one seemingly logical reasons behind our self-judgment, and none is so seductive as that of the pursuit of health. What could be more virtuous than that? What human being doesn‘t want to be healthy? It seems to be a motivational concept that is beyond reproach. And at its most basic level, it is. However, why should it follow that self-acceptance is synonymous with gluttony, laziness, and death-by-chocolate?

Judgment, self-denial, diets, self-criticism…all those things give us something we humans seem to love: control. If we just accepted things, what on earth would we do with ourselves? But I challenge you to wonder whether or not there’s really any truth to these fears about self-acceptance and complacency. I saw this update from Marianne Williamson on her FB page today, and to me, it says it all: “Things don’t spiral out of control when we surrender them; they spiral out of control when we try to control them!

Self-acceptance is a type of surrender. Oh, no wonder we resist it so much! Surrender tends to be a hard concept for many of us to digest. It sounds so weak, doesn’t it? But I think we need to reprogram that word. Williamson says, “Something amazing happens when we surrender and just love. We melt into another world, a realm of power already within us. The world changes when we change.” Sarah Paddison says, “When we know love matters more than anything, and we know that nothing else REALLY matters, we move into the state of surrender. Surrender does not diminish our power, it enhances it.” This kind of surrender takes more strength than our fight to control our behaviors. It takes the enormous strength of faith in ourselves and faith in the universe.

I have lots more to say on this subject – no surprise there! But I’ll end for now, with many thanks to EcoYogini for helping me pinpoint the reasons behind the resistance to radical self-acceptance, and many, many, many thanks to Bella for letting me print her email here and use it as an example of my side of the argument!

*I want to be very clear that I asked Bella’s permission to quote from the above email she sent and that I made sure she knew I was going to use it to present another side of the argument here. She wanted to point out that her email was written on the spur of the moment, as well, and while I wrote this post in the same manner, I have, of course, since edited it a couple times. So extra thanks to Bella for letting me use her off-the-cuff observations here!

**I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek here and later, when I mention death-by-chocolate. I am also not specifically referring to anything in Bella’s email with this argument. I have heard from a lot of people worried about serious weight-related health issues. This is a serious problem and I fully acknowledge and respect that. However, I’m just trying to make a somewhat humorous point that self-acceptance will not contribute to or worsen serious health problems.

Please note that I completely respect any of you who stick to the arguments about health and who lean more toward self-acceptance being too complacent. I’m just trying to challenge that notion here – hopefully in a very respectful manner! I’m absolutely open to hearing from any of you on this subject and would be happy to have counter-arguments included here on the blog as guest posts. 

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9 thoughts on “Self-Acceptance and Complacency

    • @MJ: Fantastic blog! Thanks for sharing! I scrolled through and found a topic I’m about to blog about – so I’ll be sure to link to it! Thanks and hope all is well with you and the fam!

  1. My experience with self acceptance doesn’t have to do with body image, but I think it applies all the same. A little over 5 years ago I was diagnosed with a rare and painful kidney condition called Loin Pain Hematuria Syndrome. I went from being a “super-mom” who worked full-time and raised 3 kids on her own, to being unemployed and spending most days in bed. I refused to accept my condition and was always feeling guilty that I couldn’t be more active in my kids’ lives. It would be years before I would fully accept my condition and what it meant in my life, but once I did, everything changed for the better. Somehow the act of accepting my new limitations made me want to set new goals, acheivable goals, instead of trying to go back to the person I used to be. Now, as you know from my interview, I live a physically active life, getting out of the house almost daily on my trike. I’m more physically active now than I was before my diagnosis! All it took was accepting myself and my situation to open the door.

    • Yay, Stepheny! There is something magical about acceptance, isn’t there? I don’t know what it is, but once we stop fighting what is, we somehow find another route (almost effortlessly) to where we wanted to go in the first place!

  2. Oh Yancy, you just get better and better and you are so RIGHT! Don’t change!
    I know that I will eventually tell my whole story, but here’s the short version. I went on my first diet at the age of 8. I suffered from anorexia as a teenager. I had severe thyroid problems as a young adult. I have done every diet possible. I was thin in my 20′s and 30′s and still though that I was fat. The 40′s brought medication, pre-menopause and middle age weight gain. My whole life, my identity and my personal worth were defined by a number on a scale. Society had a role to play, my family (parents, brothers and sisters) too, but I was the main person responsible. I had to make a radical decision. I had to see what is good in me and decide that it has nothing to do with a number on a scale. I am 48 years old and I am happy with my body for the first time in my life although I weigh more than I ever have before. This is a huge triumph for me. And yes, I try and eat well and yes, I exercice, but I refuse to add those to another list of what makes me a good person. I am a good person because of how I think and what I do, not because of how much I weigh, what I eat or how I exercice, and the list is endless, what car I drive, etc. I refuse to bite! I am happy and I plan on staying happy and free of these judgements of myself for this second half of my life!
    The thing that really helped me let go was the realisation, that the judgements that I heard and worried about came from people who didn’t care about me. When all you want to know about someone is how much they weigh or what they are eating, they are not your friends.
    I have been married to the same wonderful man for 24 years. He has never once mentioned my weight. Perhaps he found that I tortured myself enough. He has always loved me and desired me. Putting those two things together really helped me say “enough” and I am not going back!

  3. You know you totally had me rolling on the ground laughing, seriously. Of course I didn’t mean that by accepting my tummy and loving ALL of myself as is right now, I might in turn be accepting my untimely death from laziness, or bad health. I just know that for ME, personally I know I need to be in better shape, and for the things I want to do physically, I have a long way to go. I will point out again, that I do not refer to my weight, or going on a crazy diet, because that’s not what I’m about. I just want to be “HEALTHIER” and I know that I will do it the right way, good food, and working out.

    I’ve been wanting this for over 13 years, and obviously it has never been high enough on my priorities list, otherwise I think I might have accomplished it by now :) At the same time, I have not spent the past 13 years, hating my body, or crying about the way I look. I actually RARELY talk about it with others, but you certainly won’t see me saying I look hot in a bathing suit either, oh no.

    After having 3 kids, I do accept the fact that my body will never look the way it did before kids, my skin will never be flawless again, I have stretch marks galore, jiggly stuff all over my butt, and thighs, and saggy deflated boobs. I’m OK with all that, and don’t even think twice about it. Yes it is what it is, and I love that I have 3 healthy kids to show for it. No problem there. MY PROBLEM is my tummy, my LACK of abs (the muscle kind, not like I have to have them showing or anything), and lots of FAT rolls, which leads to back pain, and even prevents me from shaving down there properly. Yes, that is what I don’t like, and could even go as far as to say I HATE. I want that unhealthy part of me to go away, and I know that it’s only possible with lots of hard work, OR surgery, and I would NEVER (at this point in my life) consider doing that. So my option is hard work, and that’s what I plan to do.

    So even after all you wrote Yancy, why is it so wrong that I don’t like that part of my body. It would be a LIE to say I love it, or accept it. I don’t want to accept it, so there. I still love myself, actually VERY much, which is WHY I want it gone. Does that make sense?

    I still think that it’s almost impossible to ask someone who is obese to just LOVE themselves, just the way they are, and expect them to be on their merry way to live healthier lives. I do believe that they MUST love themselves ENOUGH to want to change the unhealthy habits they are living by, and YES I do think that MOST of the time, it is unhealthy habits that got them there in the first place. It’s harsh YES, but I’m not one to sugar coat things, and I don’t think we live in a world where it is realistic to think everyone is all lovey dovey, this place is BRUTAL, and mean, and if you want to survive then you better learn to suck it up, and stop complaining. WOW, ok, that sounded really bad, but maybe I’ll save this for another discussion on how I feel about the health care system, and how we need to take responsibility for our health, :( Stop Bella, STOP!!!

    Ok, what I meant to say is that no matter what our issue is, YES, just like a drug addict, we must first realize it, accept it, and then if needed do something about it. I love the previous comment above about the lady who is now living a healthier life AFTER accepting her condition, and learning new ways to deal with it. Or the lady who is happier now that she stopped worrying about her weight. That’s awesome, and EXACTLY perfect. I don’t want anyone to get the impression I’m saying unless you are “skinny” or whatever that you shouldn’t be happy, again, it has nothing to do with being skinny, or how much you weight. Craziness to say you are a better person based on a number on the scale. I NEVER said that, or anything close to it.

    Yikes, I know I’m probably digging myself in a hole here even more, but you know how I get late at night, right?

    Love ya girl, and thanks for getting this discussion going. I DO agree with you on some things, and actually everything you said DOES make sense to me, BUT I still must say I don’t see anything wrong with me loving myself, MINUS the tummy :)

    Can’t wait to hear more of your thoughts Yancy!!

    Hugs, Bella

    • @Bella: LOL, that made me realize the ONE thing I forgot in this post – to say that my comments were not all directed at your email, and that my talk about “death-by-chocolate” was a joking exaggeration! :) Sorry about that!

      And I really do see your side of the argument. Honestly, I don’t really know what to make of either side! :) It’s like that stuff I wrote about (that I mentioned in an email to you recently) regarding dressing up vs. dressing down, comfort vs. beauty, etc. Both sides really make sense to me.

      I think for me, though, I feel compelled to fight against this tendency in myself to say “Sure, I love myself, but not ____, ____ or ___.” You know what I mean? Self-acceptance with conditions. I have done that my whole life and I feel like it’s a game I play with myself to keep from really being happy. So that’s what my arguments are all about. This is all just one, drawn-out inner debate that I’m making public! LOL!!!

      Thank you for your comments and emails, as always. I have more to say on this and I’ll be contacting you soon!!

  4. i LOVE this post!!! and I’m so glad my little comment was helpful :)
    I agree with you 100%, it’s so true that you can be a certain size (ie small) and NOT healthy. Our bodies will change as we age, go through beautiful motherhood changes (for some of us) etc etc and we need to come from a place of self-love, otherwise these inevitable and NATURAL changes will be shocking, depressing and painful.
    Thank you for posting this!!! :)

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