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The Healthiest Way to Accept Your Body

Why fat acceptance is not the answer.

Key points

  • It's important to develop a healthy relationship with your constantly changing body.
  • Focusing on what your body can do rather than how it looks can help.
  • Breaking the habit of comparing yourself to others, and gathering objective health data about yourself, can also be critical to body acceptance.

Plus-size models are seen increasingly in the media and are commonly employed in marketing goods and services. One might reason that this reflects that people generally are becoming larger, especially those in the U.S. According to the CDC, over 41 percent of the U.S. population is obese, defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 percent or more.

Some dispute that BMI is the best indicator of obesity. Yet, the health risks of having an excessively fat body are indisputable. Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. These are among the leading causes of preventable premature death.

Even though obesity is a primary cause of several life-threatening diseases, it has become increasingly common, acceptable, and even celebrated. Fatness is now often associated with being happy, fun, and healthy.

The opposite of celebrating obesity might be to shame people for being fat. But, in addition to being unkind, research shows that fat-shaming doesn’t work—and that overweight and obese people who are targets of fat-shaming actually gain more weight.

So, it’s a bit of a conundrum: Celebrating and even promoting obesity as fun and healthy ignores the health consequences, yet shaming fat is unkind and leads to significantly more obesity.

In my recent book, Mirror Meditation, research on body image is a hot topic. On the one hand, research shows that people can use the mirror to objectify and criticize their appearance habitually—this can lead to conditions such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder and disordered eating patterns. Yet, people who make drastic positive changes in their health often cite their moment of truth as looking in the mirror and no longer being able to tolerate what they see.

Here are four ways to use the mirror to develop a healthier relationship with your body.

1. Avoid Objectification.

Objectification occurs when we look at ourselves or others purely from the perspective of what we look like instead of who we are or how we feel. Objectification is the act of focusing on how one’s body looks on the surface. So fat acceptance is rejecting the traditional standard of beauty and accepting and appreciating that your body looks fat. Instead of focusing on your body’s physical image when looking in the mirror, look into your eyes and see the person in there. How are you feeling in this moment? Connecting to yourself through feeling is more important than how you look at yourself or others.

2. Focus on Function.

When we focus too much on the form of the body, we can lose sight of the fantastic functions our bodies perform day-by-day and minute-by-minute. You can use the mirror to look deeper and focus on how your body works. Sit in front of the mirror and watch your collarbones or chest expand and contract with your breath. Move your arms, tilt your head—marvel at all you can command your body to do. Tune into your five senses as you watch yourself. Take a moment to appreciate all the functions that your body constantly performs, mainly outside of your awareness.

3. Be Intentional When You Compare Yourself With Others.

Social comparison is a game we play when feeling uncertain—we compare ourselves with others to see how we stack up. It is always possible to find an image of a person with a more or less desirable body than your own. Research has documented social media’s profound impact on how we feel about our bodies.

Consider why you are comparing yourself to this person and how it makes you feel. Don’t compare yourself with models who are very different from you. Instead, focus on you and how your body has changed over time. If you have goals to change your appearance, choose role models who inspire you to reach realistic goals.

4. Gather Objective Health Information.

Maintaining your body and its healthy functioning is your responsibility. Accepting your body as it is and loving your fatness and flaws may make you feel good in the moment. Yet, many chronic and life-threatening diseases start years before they begin to compromise one’s physical health. Obesity is a significant risk factor that should not be ignored in an effort to stay positive. Regularly gathering accurate health information about your body, even if the facts are unpleasant, is ultimately an act of self-compassion.

Tara Well, Ph.D. Copyright 2022.

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