On bodies: active acceptance, being born under a Libra moon, and other hippie shit. ✨
Before we get to the juice this week, I'd like to take a moment to speak out about something I'd be remiss to ignore.
I've been embarrassingly quiet in my online workspace about issues of race, sexuality, violence, and gender (and probably a whole host of others as well, but there's been no shortage of thoughts on my personal Facebook, if you'd like to join me over there.).
But I'd like to make my position clear, if it wasn't before: hate of any kind has no place in this corner of the internet. I feel that, especially as white people, we've made excuses for a very long time about why we're willing to align with public figures who are overtly prejudiced in one of several ways, extending from the economy to safety to quite a few in between. That isn't to detract from any of those (quite valid) points - much in our country needs fixing - but to deny racism/sexism/trans- or homophobia, to deny other people of their humanity, and to deny their right to exist with the same advantages non-marginalized groups are afforded is to be willfully ignorant. And it has no place here.
Perhaps you use fitness as an escape from everyday life, but many people cannot escape the reality of marginalization and oppression, and we all deserve a space for our overall wellness, which includes mental and emotional well-being. It's important to create a space where everyone feels heard, welcome, accountable to each other, and responsible for their own words and behavior. It's impossible to address fitness and wellness for all without acknowledging that we aren't all on the same playing field. It's not about politics, but about humanity.
If you disagree, feel free to unsubscribe.
I’d like to pose a question to every last one of us in the world (but I’ll settle for you, my favorite readers. XD):
How many hours of your life have you spent hating your body?
I don’t mean the conscious, *hatehatehatepickapartinthemirrorhatesomemorebendovertomakesureyougotitall* hate, although that certainly does qualify. I’m including the, “wow, look at her and the way that dress fits. I wish my body looked like that when jersey fabric clung to it,” or the, “how is she working out in just a sports bra and letting everything hang out? Gross,” (the implication being that if you did that, everything would be hanging out, and it would be gross.).
Those subconscious, ingrained, seemingly-insignificant statements get us every time.
They keep us distracted, afraid to express ourselves, unaware of our power, and living as a reaction to the world around us and its messages to us, rather than creating our own.
I can remember sitting in a study hall in 9th grade, looking at the girl in front of me, and seeing how narrow she was. I remember thinking, “how come I take up so much space?” I did nothing but compare myself to the girl in front of me, obsess about the width of her ribcage and the size of her waist, and wondering why mine wasn’t built that way (because why would I use study hall to study?).
Particularly as women, we have been taught to be obsessed with our bodies, willing them to conform to a predetermined ideal. We’re all guilty of being caught up in comparison: wishing we had her arms or her booty or this set of legs or that impossible waistline.
We’ve discussed mental gymnastics with nutrition in the past, and the same acrobatics apply to body image. These things are, predominantly, diversions: just like agonizing over why Jenny McTiny (*name has been changed…mostly because I don’t know if I ever knew it) took up far fewer square inches than I did rather than study, our preoccupation with why we aren’t ____ (thinner/flatter/taller/fill in the blank) keeps us from doing what we actually want to do (get strong, have huge muscles, write, create, advocate, speak, anything…you know, “until we’re thin/flat/tall enough.”).
When we feel pulled to compare – in the gym, at work, amongst friends – the first question we should ask ourselves is if we’re judging something we even want. Regardless of the answer, look closer, choose to accept, and, then, forgive: both the other party (/ies) and ourselves.
I’ve been revisiting the concept of active acceptance lately, a concept I first came across from Neghar Fonooni here. Active acceptance – the state in which we make a choice to both love and accept our bodies while also wanting them to change – is the place from which we make permanent changes, both inside and out.
It’s where we need to start, because when was the last time you hated anything into submission? When was the last time you really gently, honestly cared for something you despised? Does it work when you tell your partner s/he’s the fucking worst and should clean up after herself and caress you just that way or else you’ll chop their head off? Do you get what you want when you tell your boss s/he’s the most incompetent person you’ve ever met and you could do the job better, so give you 78 more vacation days? Do you really treat the pink fuzzy sweater your mother-in-law gave you with anything other than indifference as you shove it into the back of the closet, never to be seen again?
Of course not.
I’ve been revisiting it, because, like all of us, I can still look at a picture of myself and see 78 things I’d like to change. But, a big breakthrough for me, is I can look at the exact same picture and see at least 79 things I accept or even, dare I say it, of which I am proud.
Like, I’ve got some big legs. Cool. Let’s make them bigger (that’s really my only aesthetic goal right now, tbh). The other thing that’s cool about them? I’ve added a few inches to them in the last year, which has added almost 50 pounds to my squat + deadlift total, even though for a large portion of that time I wasn’t even focusing on strength in my training. They also do a lot of great party tricks.
Loving my legs isn’t much of a conscious choice anymore; I think they’re dope AF. The choice comes into play with other parts of my body. You know the ones. We were formerly at war; now we’re in a stalemate and slowly but surely moving to best friendship.
Sound like something you’d like too?
What’s helped me is to realize that the old way – hating my body (parts) enough to jump on a plan and try to “fix it” – will always be there. It hasn’t worked yet, so we may as well try something new, see what happens, and, if that doesn’t work either, we can go back. Nothing is undoable. No shame.
It’s easy to think that when we take the pressure off – when we admit that, hey, hold on, I don’t actually need to compare myself to anyone, because that girl over there isn’t living my life – that we’ll just let loose and suddenly blow up like a balloon. And maybe that’s true. But would we be any worse off? Would it be any worse than agonizing about every bite of food we come across? Would our partners or our parents or our friends love us less? Would we be less capable at our jobs or our parenting or any of our pursuits?
Putting it that way seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?
And look, in no way am I of the camp totally knocking calorie counting or mantras or gratitude statements. I’ve done them all and believe they all have their place (calorie/macro counting for at least a short period of time makes us aware. Mantras connect us to self. Gratitude statements remind us that even in the worst of times, we are still worthy and appreciative and can move forward, inspired to give and serve back.). I just don’t believe in rigidity. I don’t believe there’s any ONE WAY to find the peace and acceptance we all so deserve.
What I do believe is that active acceptance is so named for a reason: it’s active, a choice we make every day. This might be getting to woo for many of your tastes, but I’m a Cancer (Capricorn rising) born under a Libra moon. I recently learned what all this means (ha!), and the moon part to me was the most interesting: it describes how our emotions behave. And, being born with the moon in Libra, I have a deep need for balance, peace, and harmony, characterized by the need to act, taking whatever action I need to in order to restore balance, particularly in relationships. This includes the most important relationship of all: the one we have with ourselves.
What I’ve learned from this applies to us all, no matter the moon under which we were born. When we feel out of harmony with ourselves (because, after all, our deepest desire is to be loved, which starts with us, and when we’re hating our bodies, we’re out of balance, no?), the best thing we can do is take action. We acknowledge where we are and name where we want to be. We can appreciate our bodies (or even – a tip from Girls Gone Strong – treat them with neutrality if the body positivity initially feels fake. E.g., “this is my stomach,” rather than, “my stomach is gross.”) and actively choose to accept them, exactly as they are. And then get moving, headed in the direction we’d like to go (lift, run, walk, dance, eat some spinach, however you choose to get there), knowing full well that we’re meant for more than being small: we’re meant to take up space, to say the shit we’ve gotta say, to do the big epic things we’ve gotta do, which doesn’t really leave any more hours than we’ve already spent hating our bodies, does it?
Our worth isn't wrapped up in our dietary choices, our goals, or our appearance. We're meant for more than to obsess over these things, and, for some of us, the way out is to try many methods before we arrive at what will work for us to find our freedom. In the quest for personal development, physical and otherwise, we are all sojourners navigating our stops.
I'm not sure we ever truly arrive and stay. But I am sure that it's always our duty to accept and own where we are and allow others the space to do the same.
If you feel so called, I’d love it if you’d post a picture representing your acceptance of you, right now in this moment. Either Facebook or Instagram (tag me @strongbysteph on IG!) is cool. I’d love to see where you are and the badassery you’re choosing to accept today, if it feels right.
PS- we’re breaking down a LOT of this, going deeper over the course of 8 weeks, in the Strong Mind, Strong Body group coaching program that launches August 29th. If this sounds like something you’d like to explore, click here to read more and apply.