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.