"Plus Model Magazine" recently released a "Love Your Body" issue, which made me wonder how helpful these campaigns really are.
Sure, "Love Your Body" initiatives loosen rigid social norms about how we should look. They break down our collective beliefs about which bodies are "worthy" of love and allow everyone to value their unique appearance. This is a step in the right direction — everyone should be proud of their bodies.
But often, these well-intentioned campaigns just create different body ideals.
Take retailer Ashley Stewart, for example. The plus-size women’s fashion brand has embarked on a "Love Your Curves" tour to celebrate their curvy customers by encouraging them to love their bodies.
There’s also the popular #fitspiration hashtag, which encourages women on Instagram and Tumblr to view "strong as the new skinny." These campaigns suggest that women should love their bodies because they're curvy and strong, respectively.
However, "love your body" is shorthand for "if you love your body, then you will be at peace." But this "if…then" way of thinking is at the core of body image issues. The insidious belief "if I weigh X pounds, then I will be good enough" follows this same logic.
Both imply that our love for our bodies should be conditional.
For those of us who struggle with body image, it is dangerous to believe that loving our bodies is the answer. If we subscribe to this belief, then we’re still locating the solution to our problems within our bodies.Our peace stays rooted in our physical bodies, rather than in our ability to accept ourselves — our bodies and our emotional states — however we are.
Instead of trying to make the leap to loving our bodies, we should focus on releasing judgment about how we feel and think about our bodies. We should practice awareness and acceptance of our thoughts and feelings about our bodies, without reacting to or trying to change them.
Author Eckhart Tolle wrote that we often confuse attachment and love, and we suffer when we're attached to anything being a certain way.
"What the ego calls love is possessiveness and addictive clinging that can turn into hate within a second," he wrote. Our bodies are constantly changing, so attaching to the way they look is not a sustainable route to peace.
Isabel Foxen Duke, a certified health coach and emotional eating expert, told the Huffington Post that overcoming insecurity "is not just about our bodies at its core — it's about creating and feeling deserving of the life we want to live."
I did not recover from my eating disorder because I suddenly fell in love with the way I look. I recovered because I fully realized the impact that my body obsession had on my life, and began to shift my attention away from my body and toward creating a fulfilling life.
I realized that I controlled my body because I sought acceptance, power and love.
So, I've found new, healthier and more sustainable ways to feel this same validation. I began nurturing my connections and passions, so my dependency on my body obsessions gradually faded. I still have days where I don’t like my body.
But now, I don't give value to those thoughts and feelings. I don't resist, I just notice them and continue on with my life. Acceptance, rather than love, may be a much more attainable and helpful goal here. We can accept our bodies regardless of whether we love how they look.
Since many of us are a far cry from having a loving body image, writer and creative Francesa Baker urges us to focus on just being "comfortable with knowing that that’s your body."
We may always have small grievances with our bodies, but these grievances shouldn’t define us or get in the way of us living our lives.
Baker writes that we must find solace in the fact that everyone "feels a little badly about themselves from one time to another." Only then can we let go of expectations about how we should look and feel about our bodies and accept them for what they are, "a constantly renewing, highly complex network of cells, muscles, blood and bones that is capable of marvelous things, as well as frustrating things."
So let's examine the real reasons we love our bodies: Is it because they are our home, our center of awareness, and the means we use to experience life? If so, then right on. Everyone's bodies will always be these things, so our love for them is unconditional and inclusive of all body types. However, if we love our bodies because of the way that they look now, that love is conditional.
It causes suffering in the long run because our bodies inevitably change as we go through life.
It's time to change "love your body" to "give your body love even when you don't love it." We've got to commit to nurturing and appreciating our bodies even on the days when they're not our favorite thing.
The ultimate freedom from body image issues doesn't come from stretching social norms to include different bodies. It comes from not needing our bodies to be validated at all — by ourselves or anyone else — in order to be at peace.
The real key to overcoming body image issues is not in changing our opinions of our bodies, but in the discovery that our bodies are not all that we are.
Cover image: Twitter/NowToronto