A few months ago I read a piece in a popular, strongly feminist fashion blog in which the author explained how the body positive movement that encourages us to love our bodies just the way they are, may be based on impossible expectations from people who suffer a constant battle against their bodies, self acceptance, self esteem, weight and food relationship challenges (ahem… all of us!). “While it sounds delightful to ooze self-confidence at any size and shape and look, it’s also unrealistic to expect that of ourselves 100% of the time,” she wrote. “Sometimes I look in the mirror and DON’T like what I see.” Her statement is completely valid, and I can’t even think of one person who feels his or her body is just perfect all the time and walks around the street praising it at every step.
This sentiment has given birth to what some professionals call “body neutrality,” which is the idea that you don’t have to love your body as an antidote to hating it. “It aims for self-acceptance over self-love"
Body neutrality encourages us to get over the intense focus on our bodies, and inspires us to center our thoughts and efforts in other more important matters, outside the body.
It all sounds very logic, but I am still a strong proponent of body positivity and self-love. Not because I think we should all agree that our bodies are perfect just the way they are, and show our confidence all over Instagram sporting bikinis in every picture. I think the problem is in our definition of LOVE. We equal body love to the belief of body perfection, and love is never about perfection. Would you love your son ONLY if he always got perfect grades? Would you love your daughter ONLY if her eyes were a perfect aquamarine color? Would you love your sister ONLY if she were 5’8’’ tall? Would you love your significant other ONLY when he/she was funny or rich? Would you love yourself ONLY if your body mass index were 18.82, waist-to-hip ratio of .70, and waist-to-chest ration of .67, no wrinkles, perfect tan, never a pimple?
We are collectively having a problem with the definition of love! Love is not the emotion you feel because something adheres to an ideal expectation, or even liking something in yourself or in others. True, real love is much more.
Loving is, as James S. Gordon, MD puts it in Unstuck, being:
vigilant for the harm you do to yourself, aware of,
accepting, letting go of impulses and tendencies to
martyrdom and guilt, your own inclination to pride or
resentment, as well as your potential cruelty or
indifference to others. We all need to put away the
knife when we are tempted to judge or gossip or
criticize others, to tote up your own shortcomings, or
blame or berate ourselves. Putting away the knife and
knowing that we’re doing it, every day, every minute,
allows us to live without regrets or fears, with love in
So, love means putting away that sharp knife that we all have built in our personality, the one that defends us and protects us, but that we often use without realizing, to hurt others or to hurt ourselves. The knife can be words, thoughts, feelings, our hands, judgment…
When we look at ourselves in the mirror and think “I’m disgusting, my cellulite is gross/my belly is huge/my toes are horribly crooked….” the knife is cutting us inside. Our body listens and our soul does too. We get into a stress response and our mental and physical health suffer, especially when we do this constantly.
The challenge is seeing that cellulite, bulging belly, and crooked toes, but despite not liking them, becoming aware, and putting the knife away, realizing that none of those imperfections can stop us in life. It’s doing ourselves that kindness. We are way more than our cellulite, bellies and toes. Our beauty resides in how loving and lovely we are.
Please understand that I’m not saying that if you are suffering from a medical condition related to your diet you should say “to hell with it, I love myself just the way I am and I’m not quitting soda!” Or if you decided to give up movement or adopt anything that might harm you, as that’s another way of bringing out the knife. You would be hurting yourself by not choosing to take care of your body. Spotting our knives is challenging, as it can come disguised as internal dialogues, thoughts, fears and many other things that cause unnecessary pain.
Yes, love is easier said than done. Self-love and body-love are complicated and a practice. But I hope we don’t stay neutral! We need to become aware in order to detect when we are bringing out the knife and consciously chose to put it away. That peace is true LOVE, and quoting The Beetles: “Love is all you need.” However, love might not equal to liking, but to choosing not to be cruel to those we love, including our stretch marks, big hips and fat rolls.