Do you ever feel ashamed of yourself for wanting to lose weight when there are new messages from the body-positivity movement that claim you should love your body the way it is?
As someone who has drastically transformed her physical body (and health) and someone who makes a living helping others do the same-- I used to feel like I should be embarrassed by my personal health decisions and my career.
Some of us think if we're seeking out weight loss help that we're not really standing by the body positivity and fair treatment of folks of all sizes. If we want to lose weight, we must secretly hate our bodies, right? But here's what I know to be true-- we cannot love and accept our bodies if we can't accept ourselves on a whole.
Our body is only one part of who we are as a living, breathing human being. I'm against the body-acceptance movement because of this. Our bodies aren't the problem... it's our damaged self-worth that is. Our self-worth isn't just about our bodies.
When we accept ourselves, we don't fall victim to manipulative marketing that screams, "You're still not good enough!" When we practice self-compassion, we don't define our worth by what our body looks like (or what we do for a living, or where we went to school, etc.). Self-compassion is a remedy to the messaging of "You're not good enough..."
A 2012 Portuguese study even concludes,
"Higher levels of a compassionate self-to-self relationship were linked to lower levels of body image dissatisfaction, and lower engagement in disordered eating patterns."
I believe self-improvement is powerful. If you understand American psychologist Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory, you know that it's part of the human condition to desire reaching one's full, human potential (self-actualization) once our basic needs are met. There shouldn't be any guilt in that.
Part of self-improvement is bettering our health and losing weight (if we want to). When we accept ourselves, we can make improvements in our life from a place of love and respect and not from hearing all of the "You'd be better if..." messages.
Self-acceptance and compassion create the realization that we're not happy with where we are in our health journey, and we want more for ourselves. It also helps us understand that it's perfectly fine to want to lose weight and want better health, despite any opinions that are out there about it.
Dr. Kristin Neff's self-compassion studies suggest,
"Self-compassion allows the clear observation of one's thoughts and emotions, with kindness, understanding, and with a sense of shared humanity, fostering feelings of safeness, and promoting a gentle encouragement to change when necessary and the adoption of proactive actions towards well-being."
According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, self-actualized people (those who sufficiently satisfy their basic needs for safety, belongingness, love, respect, and self-esteem) are the people who are capable of perceiving reality accurately and fully and who can demonstrate a higher acceptance of themselves and others.
Self-actualization is rare. It happens only in those who frequently examine their motives, their awareness of habits, and question who they really are. It requires a good deal of honest knowledge of oneself. Most people aren't willing to go that deep.
So, it can be difficult to distinguish between marketing targeting weight-loss for self-improvement and weight-loss to prove worthiness based on beauty standards when you have a hard time with self-compassion, acceptance, and understanding one's authentic self.
Even a British study on "healthism" in the middle classes believes there may be a link between the behavior and motivations of middle-class individuals who enthusiastically seek out perfect health to the self-actualization theory of Maslow's hierarchy of human needs. The experience of self-actualization often stimulates the desire for more (and better) and cannot be satisﬁed in the way that the other human needs can.
Long story short: it's OK to want to lose weight and improve your health when it comes from a place of love and respect for yourself (and your body). We're all trying to improve our lives in some small way every day. But, if you're doing it from a need to be perfect and prove yourself worthy, you're not on the right track at all. Perfection doesn't exist, and you are worthy without losing any weight at all.
How does the body positivity movement make you feel about wanting to make self-improvements in your life?