So, I’m going to guess my experience is not unique. I’ve always despised my body since I was put on a diet at 9. I’ve always wished I looked like X, Y and, for variety’s sake, P. Then as I aged, I simply wished I had my 16-year-old body, 20-year-old body — well, you get the drift. So, it wasn’t until middle age that I was introduced to the idea of fat acceptance and body positivity and it BLEW MY MIND! I’ve since been mostly an onlooker, wishing this radical acceptance would just land in my lap. I’ve made strides. I don’t diet or weigh myself. I have my HAES spiel ready for any healthcare professional, but … here’s where I’m stuck.
How do I accept a moving target? I gain weight, I lose weight (due to a medication), I sag a little more, I notice a new line and, most recently, I’ve had a double mastectomy. My breasts no longer feel like they are mine and, ironically, all I want back is my fat, saggy body of pre-July.
Now not everyone can relate to the mastectomy specifically, but maybe they’ve had a procedure, or a medication side effect, or their body is changing due to aging, maybe they can relate to that. So, my question is: how do you accept an ever-changing body?
Thank you for your amazing blog and for all you do for the fat community! I always look forward to seeing your posts and pictures.
I want to start with compassion! It is really difficult to be on the path of self-acceptance because every single thing in mainstream culture, every single day seeks to dissuade us from entering or continuing on this path. It is such a bummer to recognize this, I know. On the other hand, how cool are we, right?
The truth is that many of us recognize that we are unhappy with the drive to self-annihilate (which many of us learn in childhood from peers or family — or both) but few of us will actually act on that sense of dissatisfaction. So, I know you are struggling but I want to tell you that even in considering all that you’ve detailed in your note to me, you are already practicing the deeply taboo acts of self-love and self-acceptance. So, yay.
People have asked me questions like this in the past, and they always challenge me to think harder about the scope of the work I do and the way I teach people how to self-accept and self-love. Because, in my opinion, if the body-positivity and fat-liberation movements are doing a good job, then these struggles you mentioned don’t need to feel siloed.
Accepting your body ideally does not feel like “conquering” one struggle and the moving on to the next when it arises. Ideally this process is integrated — each experience is unique, but is more like a battle rather than an entirely new war where you have to learn the enemy all over again each time. I kind of hate war/battle metaphors, but right now it is what is coming to me.
In short: you have already been armed and trained to fight in this war against yourself. You don’t have to learn a whole new set of skills, you just have to tweak the ones you already have. One set of tools — without much moderation — can be used to radically accept your body as it changes, whether that is because of aging or weight fluctuation or any other reason.
I think in some ways the body-positive movement fails because it often boils down to recreating conditional acceptance: as long as you are seen as beautiful or fashionable or ________ then you are “OK.” But the truth is that we are all “OK” without having to do anything.
At the core of fat liberation politics is the belief in freedom, the idea that we can choose to live our own lives on our own terms without outside forces controlling what we do through intimidation.
There is a universality to this that I love. At the end of the day, every single person’s body is changing, and aging every single day. This is true for all of us, and when we open up what it means to radically self-accept — not just separately accepting our fat, or accepting our saggy boobs, or accepting our mastectomy, or accepting our scars, etc. — we can begin to accept all of ourselves, surrender to all that has come and that will come.
I think sometimes we have to stop yearning (for our idea of perfect self-love, for instance) and start surrendering (to the reality that just like our loving relationships to others are fraught and scary and wonderful and complex, so is our relationship to ourselves).
I hope this helps!
Dear Virgie is a weekly advice column by Virgie Tovar, author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp, the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012) and the mastermind behind #LoseHateNotWeight. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race, and gender. Virgie has been featured by the New York Times, MTV, Al Jazeera, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine Online, and Bust Magazine. Find her at www.virgietovar.com.