Self-Love-Based-Improvement: Another Side of Body-Positivity

The third season of Queer Eye is out, and there’s one particular thing that I really appreciate about this season—they balance the concept of self-love with self-improvement. The fab five are always showering whoever is the focus of the episode with love and encouraging that person to learn to love themselves, but they also challenge that person to grow in the areas they are most struggling.

Sometimes, that’s in challenging one to practice social skills or find people to connect with. Sometimes that’s in buying somebody a gym membership and teaching them how to work out so that they can lose weight.

The idea that self-love and self-acceptance aren’t mutually exclusive from self-improvement goals is a concept I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

Quite a bit of the body positivity that I’ve encountered has been combatting this unhealthy approach to physical health—the inner critic that tells you that being thin is equal to being beautiful or that you’re a lazy slob if you eat a piece of cake. It’s a fucked up approach to dealing with diet, exercise, and appearance because it relies on bullying oneself and working towards goals based on arbitrary standards of beauty and acceptableness.

But at the same time, there are times when it is appropriate and healthy to want to exercise more or lose weight or change one’s consumption habits—just as it is healthy for one to want to grow in being able to reach out for emotional support or get a different job or improve one’s mind.

Queer Eye reminded me that it’s possible to have physical goals while coming from a place of love and acceptance.

Externally, the approach might look similar—watching what you eat, getting to the gym, etc. But internally the process is very different.

Instead of “I hate myself; I can’t love myself until I am like _____ (insert appearance-based goal)” or “I hate myself; I’m such a pig. I shouldn’t eat ____” or “I hate myself; I’m too lazy to get the the gym” the dialogue is “I love myself; therefore I want to see my body at a healthier weight” or “I love myself; therefore I want to be stronger” or “I love myself; therefore I choose to eat foods that will nourish my body.”

The universe is bringing this reminder to me at the right time.

For the last several years, I’ve been struggling with on and off injuries that I couldn’t seem to overcome. It limited my ability to be active, with the frustrating side effect of gaining weight. I watched myself lose the ability to fit into some of my favorite clothes, lose the stamina I had worked so hard to build in being able to run, hike, even do a yoga class, and lose my confidence in my sense of self.

At that time, I needed the reminder that my body isn’t only worthwhile when it looks a certain way or is a certain size. I needed reminders that it’s okay to be where I am, that I’m not lazy or unhealthy or worthless or ugly or any of the other messages that got instilled by media and advertising growing up as a girl in our society over the years.

But more recently I have begun treatment with a physical therapist for EDS—a condition that results in hypermobility (e.g. being able to partially dislocate my arm simply by raising it above my head). The physical therapy is focused on strengthening my body so that injuries don’t happen as often…and I’m starting to see results. I’m able to be more active as a regular rule rather than spurts of activity followed by a long healing process for whatever latest injury I have.

And I’m starting to get hope. I’ve begun monitoring my diet more, trying to encourage myself to adopt healthier habits like not snacking after 9pm, making sure I eat in accordance with how physically active I am so that my caloric burn is higher than my caloric intake, and choosing foods that are more sustainable and less empty calories.

It’s slow, but I’m beginning to notice results. I’m liking the changes I’m seeing in my body, starting to get hope that maybe I can wear some things I haven’t had the heart to get rid of but that haven’t really fit for a while. I’m also starting to be able to do things I love again that I haven’t been able to do for a long time–things that make exercise fun for me.

At first, I felt ashamed of the fact that I had these goals for my body, wondering if that was a sign that I wasn’t really able to love and accept myself.

But Queer Eye was able to remind me that it’s possible to want to change my body’s way of being in the world without it being about self-loathing. Loving myself doesn’t mean being perfectly content with where I am and never wanting to grow or change. It means respecting my limitations, seeing the value in myself as I am, and finding respectful ways to work towards my goals.

Most importantly, it means my goals are rooted in my love for myself rather than trying to make myself loveable.

 

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