What Body Positivity Is and How to Achieve It

Image: @emiljarfelt

Recovering from an eating disorder is a long, winding, exhausting process. And as many people who have recovered from eating disorders know, body acceptance or body positivity, is usually the last step. Stopping behaviors- restricting, bingeing, purging, excessive exercise- stopping those things are unambiguous. You are either engaging with a disordered behavior or you are not. There are tangible goals: eat three meals and three snacks a day. Resist the desire to purge. Eat at least one meal intuitively per day. There are all sorts of goals that are attainable. At the end of the day, you can check them off of your goal sheet.

But body acceptance is much harder. The goal of “love yourself” is far less clear.

It exists on a spectrum and can change from one day to the next- or even one minute to the next. It’s not a box you can check. It can’t be neatly squared away at the end of the day. But on the other side of body acceptance is complete freedom. The problem is that getting there isn’t necessarily easy.

I spent seven years caught in a web of anorexia, obsessive exercise and body hate. And even before my eating disorder really started, I can remember hating parts of my body as young as first grade. Sadly, this is a notion I think a lot of women can relate to. Think back to the first time you realized part of your body might not fit the “beauty ideal” or the first time you saw thinness being idolized in the magazines. We are taught from a young age that our bodies are things to be changed, improved, toned, poked, prodded and perfected. We are taught that our bodies are our trophies- something to showcase to the world, to polish and keep untarnished. This idea does not lend itself to body positivity.

When I first became immersed in the body positive community a little over a year ago, something inside me clicked. Watching women of all shapes and sizes unapologetically love themselves, admire their own curves and stretch marks, write apologies and love letters to the bodies that they once abused. It was unlike anything I’ve ever been exposed to. The more I saw of the body positive community, the more engaged I got. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by women who loved their bodies, who didn’t apologize for the way they looked or for loving themselves. In my eyes, these women were blazing a trail for thousands of women to follow along behind them.

My immersion in the body positive world dovetailed perfectly with my own recovery from anorexia. I spent about a year in a state of quasi-recovery before finally committing myself to a full recovery after discovering body positivity and other recovery resources.

I found that it made it less terrifying to recover if I knew that body acceptance was for all bodies. My recovery became less intimidating knowing that wherever my body ended up, it was okay to love it.

As I became steadier in my recovery, I became more emerged in the body positive world. This meant learning new ways to think about my body, to think about health, to think about recovery, food, bellies and bodies. I learned that I was allowed to simultaneously not fit the beauty ideal and also love my body. I learned that I am not on this Earth to be thin or “perfect”. Perfect doesn’t exist. Now I can I can look down at my stomach and feel admiration rather than shame or guilt. I learned that I can feel my thighs touch and be okay. It is okay to be happy, completely independent of the way I feel about my body. Bodies can’t be wrong. I learned that it’s okay to love myself. Body positivity fueled my recovery in a way I couldn’t have predicted.

Interested in learning more about body positivity?

If you’re on Instagram, check out @bodyposipanda, @nourishandeat and @omgkenzieee (there’s a ton more, but those are a great starting point)! Also check out The Body Positive (and the RW podcast episode with the founder, Connie Sobczack) and this huge master list of all things body positive. And finally, I highly recommend reading this list of ways body positivity has changed people’s lives. It might just change yours too!

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