body love, part 2: why make body love a priority?
On June 4th, I'll begin an 8-week group on Body Love at Abegglen Counseling and Consulting. Anyone over the age of 18 who identifies as female is encouraged to sign up.
Signing up for a group like this is a big decision. Not only is it a commitment of time and money, but it requires emotional energy. Learning to love your body as it is, in a culture that encourages the opposite, is inarguably work.
After all: why does it have to be about the body at all? Maybe your main priority is to love what your mind can do. Or how you can serve others. Or how your actions can make a difference. Or how can become more fully and authentically yourself. Maybe it even feels conceited or self-absorbed to spend a great deal of time focused on increasing love for your body.
I know what you mean. The other day, I heard one of my favorite fat acceptance activists say something very true and, in the world of instagram and self-help and Lisa Frank Body Positivity (I love this term), also very controversial: you don't actually need to love your body. You can dislike your body aesthetically, and that can be just fine. You don't need to do a double-take every time you walk past a mirror.
I'm reminded of this hilarious, satirical comic by Julie Houts:
My take on Julie's comic is that, as a culture, we've attributed incredible significance to loving one's body. We've made it a full-time pursuit, and a very noble one, at that. And furthermore, we've operationalized "love" in a way that sounds very much like "control":
Counting steps is now a way of "getting centered."
Special teas remove "toxins" (ostensibly through diarrhea?).
Meditation has been thoroughly, hopelessly appropriated; no longer a spiritual exercise, it is now a way of reducing cortisol and, in turn, "losing stubborn belly fat."
Dr. Alan Levinovitz at James Madison University suggests that, with traditional religion losing steam in popular culture, people haven't actually lost their need to create meaning. Rather, they've simply replaced Sunday School with something a little more culturally accepted: whole foods, natural ingredients, juicing, cleanses, and generally eating like cavemen -- if cavemen had Nutribullets.
Are we similarly at risk of turning "body love" into a religion?
The other day, a friend asked my recommendations for body love resources. She liked the podcasts I recommended, but her main concern was the effect this immersion could have on her mental state. She found herself thinking about the issues of body love, fat phobia, and internalized weight stigma more -- not less. What if body love takes up the mental space we finally freed up when we quit dieting? What if it becomes a religion? And why take a class that brings these all-consuming issues to the fore?
Maybe you're one of those people I mentioned earlier. Developing a loving attitude towards your body feels like small potatoes compared to being a kinder, gentler, more accepting, and perhaps more impactful person. I can't argue with this - but in the present culture, I think the two are hopelessly interrelated for many.
For example: maybe you're a great listener. Maybe helping people to feel understood is something you really value in yourself. And yet: have you sat down with a partner or friend over dinner, only to find yourself counting carbohydrates while they told you about their day?
Yeah. That. It's a yucky feeling.
For me, immersing myself in intuitive eating took up a lot of time and energy at first. But those resources were saved, tenfold, when counting and clicking were no longer the bookends to my meal or workout. It took lots of time to re-understand weight: not as a moral issue, and not as an issue of willpower, but as a fundamentally political issue motivated by - who guessed it?! - money and power. It takes work to understand these things.
And for me, it's well worth it. Body Love isn't indulgent; it isn't body infatuation. It isn't an excuse to think about myself more, and it isn't a religion. Rather, it's a productive type of understanding: it changes the way I relate to myself, my friends, the world around me. For many, body love is the natural next step in the process of self-forgetting.
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[This article does not create a client-counselor relationship. This article is general counseling information and is not to be considered legal or medical advice. Please consult with your mental health professional before you rely on this information.]