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What Does It Really Mean to Love Your Body?

Hint: It's not about loving what you look like.

Key points

  • A non-scientific Instagram poll (by the author) showed that half of the 655 respondents didn't resonate with the term “love your body."
  • Improving our body image does not mean we have to love what our body looks like.
  • Loving your body includes offering yourself love even when you don't like your body.

If I asked you to describe your relationship with your body, what would you say?

Is it one of mutual respect and collaboration? Or is it a tug-of-war competition between two enemies vying for ultimate control?

Would you say that you love your body?

We live in a culture that encourages us (at best) to disconnect from our bodies and (at worst) to hate our bodies. From the youngest ages, we are taught to mistrust our bodies, to try to overrule them, to force them into submission. And when our defiant bodies refuse to submit, we blame ourselves. In this context, loving your body can be a radical act.

But loving your body can also feel like an impossible goal. In a completely non-scientific poll of my Instagram audience, more than half of the 655 people who responded felt that the term “love your body” didn’t resonate with them. Many elaborated that the idea of loving your body felt overwhelming or like yet another demand made on them. Others felt that body neutrality or body acceptance was the goal they were working towards.

Loving your body unconditionally

While no one has to love their body, I think some of the aversion to this term comes from ambiguity about what it actually means to love your body. When I talk about loving your body, I do not mean love what your body looks like. If we focus on loving what our body looks like, we continue to collude with a system that tells us that our appearance is the most important thing about us. To quote Lindsay and Lexie Kite of Beauty Redefined from their new book More Than a Body: “Positive body image isn’t believing your body looks good; it’s knowing your body is good, regardless of how it looks.” They also say: “If you only love your body when you love how you look, that is not love. That is objectification.”

When I say “love your body,” I mean love your body with a fierce unconditional love, like the love that you may have for a child, pet, or beloved friend or family member. This is a love that isn’t dependent on your body always doing exactly what you want it to do or looking the way you want it to. It is a love that can withstand an argument or even a betrayal. It’s a love that is present even when we don’t like our body. And it is this love that can allow us to be compassionate towards our bodies, even in moments of hatred.

As spring arrives and we shed our protective layers of winter jackets and bulky sweaters, as we revisit a wardrobe that may not accommodate the changes our body has been through this past year, and as we slowly reemerge from a year spent largely in social isolation, body image struggles may find their way to the forefront of your mind. The challenge is not to force these feelings out of your mind or pretend they aren’t there but rather to offer yourself grace and compassion in the face of these struggles.

What do you think? Does this idea of loving your body resonate with you?