You Do Not Need To Love Your Body To Appreciate It And Why This Matters

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I remember flipping through the pages of magazines when I was younger, and then scrolling through social media as I grew older.

I saw picture after picture of thin women with advertisements and stories surrounding them, telling me how I could learn to love myself and why it was so important.

Cosmopolitan says, “10 Steps Toward Body Love and Why It’s Possible For You.” Vogue says, “Why Loving Her Body Led to Business Growth and How You Can Cultivate Body Love For Success.”  Instagram ads says, “She learned to love her body, so she went to this workout class and it changed her life. It can change your life too.”

It was, and is, relentless. Love your body. Got it.

But after seeing the ads and reading the articles that were trying to show me how my life would change if I just learned how to love my body ( I imagine like magic pixie dust falling over my head and catapulting me into body-love land), I always felt worse. And, I could never understand why. If they were teaching me to love...well, me, why did I always come out of the experience feeling like something wasn’t quite right?

I was convinced that it meant that I just wasn’t motivated enough, or I wasn’t doing it right. “There must be something I am missing here”, I would say to myself.

But here’s the kicker, I wasn’t missing anything and This is what I learned over time: The messaging about “loving your body” was saying that, sure, you can love your body and experience success, but only if you look like this thin, white, able-bodied woman.

So, I would leave, feeling like I wasn’t good enough and thin enough, and that body love was just another thing that I was failing at. If I couldn’t shrink myself to look like “her”, then I couldn't be successful, like my body, feel and give love, and be happy.

Sound familiar?

If so, take a deep breath. Grab some popcorn. Hang out for a bit.

Let’s start here: In order to live a happy, fulfilled life you do not need to love your body. Yep, that’s right.

The expectation that you love your body, especially given the climate and culture we live in, is a tall feat. In fact, it often becomes another way that you may feel like you are not “doing it right” and not measuring up. What I am advocating for instead is for you to cultivate body appreciation.

Body appreciation does not necessarily equate to body love, although it’s a common misconception.

To appreciate your body means to grasp the nature, worth, quality, or significance of it. It means that you recognize it with gratitude, judge it with understanding, and be fully aware of it.

Sounds a bit different than loving your body, right?

Body appreciation allows you to honor, practice and recognize the purpose your body serves in helping you to exist and move through the world. It doesn’t require you like those parts, or love them, in order to cultivate appreciation.

And If you have spent most of your life hating your body, degrading it, wanting it to be different, working hard to shrink it, and punishing it, it may feel challenging at first to begin even thinking about what body appreciation might look like in practice.

Remember that body appreciation is a skill that is developed over time, not something that you acquire or purchase. It takes practicing patience and compassion toward yourself along the way.

So, if you are feeling ready to try it, and are open to the idea of working toward body appreciation, here are three ways that you can practice it:

  1. Choose a body part each week and make a list of 3-5 things you appreciate about it. Write them down on a sticky note, on your phone, or on a piece of paper. Post it somewhere you can see it in your house. This can be the bathroom mirror, on your phone’s home screen, in your office, etc.  I recommend starting with a body part that feels less challenging and then with time moving to parts that feel harder. For example, you might choose to start with your arms and not your belly because the latter feels harder, and write: I appreciate that my arms help me to hug people I love, allow me to pick up heavy things, help to hold me up when I am laying down, enable my hands to have mobility, and allow me to play sports. Repeat these things to yourself everyday and then move on to a different body part the next week.

  2. Wear comfortable clothes. If you are working toward appreciating what your body does, you might choose not to squeeze yourself into a pair of pants that affects your digestion and ability to breathe fully. And if buying new clothes feels like a challenge for you right now, or financially you are strapped, take yourself to goodwill or the equivalent. Buy some clothes that feel comfortable and have elastic waistbands knowing that you can donate them again should you not need them.

  3. Take time for rest. Appreciating your body means honoring when it needs breaks and rest. This can look like taking naps, laying down, turning off your phone, or saying no to a social gathering to lounge on your couch. You may have to fight with the voice that tells you that you are being “unproductive”, but remind her that you are working to honor your body and not what the culture has taught you about your value being based on your output.

Katherine Metzelaar