Radical Body Acceptance

I’m trying something new this summer. In tune with The Year of Enough, I’m attempting to practice Radical Acceptance of My Body. So far, it mostly consists of me stopping my body-hatred in the act, and just saying, “Radical acceptance, Rhea.” Then I try to replace that frantic thought that I need to CHANGE something in my body with love, surrounding it like a bubble of protection from self-judgment. This has been working… until inevitably someone tags a photo of me on Facebook, which I viciously pick apart, like a vulture to her prey. “Why did I think it was okay not to wear sleeves? What is up with that weird bump in my figure? And there is definitely something off about my face.”

Interestingly enough, reading postings on Facebook is how I started down this whole road of radical body acceptance. One of my lovely friends from dance, Jennifer Portnick, has been posting about studies that show that dieting doesn’t work, and making comments about her philosophies about weight. I found this one, in response to someone who was touting their weight loss, particularly inspiring: “For me personally, and in my former practice as a trainer/fitness teacher, I have completely removed judgment about weight. It’s not an easy thing to do, especially given how our culture applauds thinness/weight loss and considers fatness/weight gain undesirable and even disgusting. The practice I’ve followed is to do all the things I know are good for my health– exercise, eat a moderate and balanced diet, get enough rest and manage my stress levels– and not to judge myself for whatever number is on the scale. I wish for everyone to have the opportunity to go outside and play, eat their fruits and veggies, and generally enjoy a good life in their body, no matter what size or weight it may be.”

Pretty basic, right? Be healthy, and try to forget about the scale? I’ve been trying to follow that path for years, with one glaring exception. In the back of my mind, I’ve always been flirting with the idea of drastically changing my shape. I think, “find a balanced (i.e. eating sometimes for health, sometimes for pleasure, sometimes for both) way to eat, exercise when I can, do all of that as a baseline… and then at some point ramp it all up to 200% and get your 22 year old body back.”

Ah, yes, the fountain of youth thinking. I have such a selective memory. When I really sit to ponder what would come with with that young adult body, I rethink ever wanting to return to it. Constant anxiety about keeping my weight down so low. Mental instability in general, fear of death that led to frantic food restriction and over-exercising. Finally, my 22 year old body didn’t birth a baby. It wouldn’t know any of the steps to my favorite Rhythm and Motion routines. And, I was way less comfortable in that skin.

My 21-year-old self, which I have such compassion for now. She is gone, and she lives within me.

So, I remind myself of that, every time I wish I could turn back the clock. Sometimes it works, but sometimes I wonder, does anyone else find themselves thinking, “I want to become a vampire so I can live forever, but first I need to lose 20 pounds so I can be a thin vamp for life, not be stuck in an average body for all eternity?” The root of this thinking is dissatisfaction, which is at the very core of our economic system, which always leaves us wanting more, different, better, rather than finding contentment where we’re at.
Recently, I discovered the loving-kindness mantra, from Jack Kornfield’s book A Path With Heart, and I am using it liberally, in every situation of dissatisfaction and grasping:

May I be filled with loving-kindness.
May I be well.
May I be peaceful and at ease.
May I be happy.

I like to linger on that first one, asking God to plump me up with loving-kindness like an IV of saline solution to a dehydrated body. So, what the hell is this “loving-kindness”?  Loving-kindness is, in the Bible, agape love, which is characterized by acts of kindness, motivated by love. In the Theravāda school of Buddhism, it is the first of the four sublime states, and, in essence, love without clinging.

Go back to that mantra. Do you see, “May I be skinny enough to fit into the size 4 pair of pants I’ve been saving for the better part of decade” in there? No? Shucks. I guess happiness, well-being, peace, and love for myself and others will have to do. In fact, bringing myself back to this prayer every time I am feeling bad about my body is an amazing reminder of what is important in life. I could be skinny and wildly unhappy, like I was at 22, grieving the loss of my father and confused about how to keep myself sane. Or I could be skinny and happy, that much is true, but seeing as that is not my natural body type, it is an unlikely reality for me. So, I return to radical acceptance.

The funny thing about this whole body image issue for me is that I much prefer a bigger body type on other women. I think the soft curves of a full figured woman are incredibly beautiful, and I’m not just saying that to be PC or feminist. Whenever I find myself with a little “girl crush”, it is invariably on a woman who is nearing 200 pounds.

Katya Zharkova, a shining example of the body type I actually aesthetically prefer.

Last week, at the lake, the undeniably hottest woman on the beach was a thick-thieghed, huge-assed, stretch-marked-tummied sun goddess in a bikini. She was not hiding anything and I wish I could have snapped a picture to show you how much it was working for her. My friend and I marveled about it later, how comfortable she seemed with her cellulite and how incredibly sexy she was in spite of her “imperfections”. It was inspiring.

So, why do I love seeing curves on other women, but denigrate them on my own body?  For me, I think it is fear of death, fear of aging, and fear of change.  Seeing the effects of gravity on my flesh reminds me that I am not Superwoman, and I, too, one day, will die.  Aging gracefully was never modeled for me, and I want desperately not to end up like my grandmother, still trying fad diets in her 80′s!  Can you imagine?  Being a senior citizen and still hating your body?  But, ladies and gentlemen, that is our future, unless we learn to love our bodies now.  I hear a lot of people say, “Sugar (or white flour, or whatever the diet industry is telling us to get rid of completely these days) is slowly killing us”, but I think poisonous thoughts about your body, the place your soul currently resides, are much more dangerous!  Long-life feeling perfectly fit is not promised to us.  We only have today, and I’m going to try to love this corporeal being, even if it means giving up my entire way of thinking.

In my quest to find that kind of radical acceptance for myself, I am collecting information about staying body-positive, and striving to engage in dialogue with wise people like my friend Jennifer, who is light years ahead of me in this effort. I am trying to avoid conversations with folks about their dieting efforts, unless they are following a particular health-related plan (no sugar for diabetics, no gluten for celiacs, etc.), and I am cutting back on my fashion magazine reading.  I cannot give up Vogue yet, although I know I should (that article on the dieting child was unforgiveable) because the spreads that Grace Coddington does are works of art that I can hold in my hands and manipulate with scissors and glue.  As soon as GC retires, Vogue is hitting the dust just like Elle before them.  Other than that, I am totally open to suggestions for how to fully embrace radical body acceptance.  I am also open to hearing reactions to this idea in general — a friend of mine, when I told her about my radical body acceptance goal, said, “I’m so not ready for that.  I feel like a troll.”  She was being real and we had a great talk about it.

I have now been working on this post for over a week, and thinking about it even longer than that.  I am dragging my feet because thinking detrimental thoughts about my body and fantasizing about drastically changing it is an addiction, and one I’m reluctant to stop.  I know that if I come out fully as one addicted to thinking about my body image, I’ll have to change, and that scares me.  If I give up dreaming of ways to look different, will I lose all my standards and become really unhealthy?  I don’t believe so.  I believe my mean thoughts about myself are the most unhealthy  thing I’m doing these days, and if I can stop them, health will abound.

The best way I know to achieve a sense of well-being in my body is to MOVE it.  Using it, really getting down into what it feels to be in this body, right now, is the only thing I know that really works.  I can sit here and intellectualize until I’m blue in the face, but only movement and experience will change me holistically.  Well, my dance program, Rhythm & Motion, put out a video about the classes I take, and I’m in it, dancing my little heart out!  All the people in this video are my friends and co-conspirators in finding joy in your body.  One of my best friends, Michele, is truly stunning in it.  So, I will leave you on a positive note, a reminder that everyone can dance, even me, in my imperfect body, which I am trying to learn to truly love.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/44686594″>I Am A Dancer</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/rhythmandmotion”>Rhythm &amp; Motion Dance Program</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

41 thoughts on “Radical Body Acceptance

  1. wonderful! the video is heartbreakingly good, weeping and laughing and feeling it! so joyful.

    • I’m so glad you liked it! I was actually in tears by the end as well. I don’t know what I would do without Rhythm & Motion and my community there.

  2. well, while i cant say it took me a week to read this post, i can say that i conciously put it off for 6 full hours. i knew-very similarly to your thoughts on posting it-that you would share your wonderful thoughts, i would then agree with them in my most honest places, and because of my agreement action on my part would be indicated…sigh…and so it begins…

  3. I think that a very large percentage of women are in the same predicament (myself included). If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend watching Miss Representation. And good luck on your Radical Body Acceptance quest. I think it is a fabulous idea!

    • Thank you for commenting! I saw the trailers for Miss Representation, but didn’t see the feature itself yet. Do you have a link for where I can see it/get it? It looks incredible.

      • You can rent it from Netflix or the iTunes store, or you can purchase it directly from the MissRepresentation.org website here: http://www.virgilfilmsent.com/store/product.php?pid=556

        I rented a copy through Netflix and watched it first by myself and then with a group of friends. Now I’m trying to get my mom and sister to watch it. I think that the message is very powerful and important; an idea definitely worth spreading. I hope that you enjoy it!

  4. Really enjoyed this post. I can relate to it on many levels, and I too have to stop myself throughout my day to remember to be as sweet to my thighs as I am to my puppy. My grandma is also in her 80s, and her biggest life achievement was that she weighed 110 pounds. Sadly she still talks about it all the time. She also still talks about her weight. It’s sad that these were the only options women seemed to be aware of. I hope we can work together on Project Enough. I would love to feature your writing–it’s really wonderful!

    • Blake, you just took it to an amazing new level. If I could treat my fleshy belly with the love and affection I give to my daughter… woah. That would change this whole body acceptance game. And yes, I would really like to collaborate with you. I’m excited about what awaits!

  5. YES RHEA!!!!!! Radical acceptance of our bodies is so important, especially because we have daughters and we don’t want them to go down that crazy body hating path. Its why I force myself yearly, to put on a bathing suit (my personal fear factor) and swim with my fifth graders at our graduation pool party. I always am so happy once I’m swimming in the water!!
    What is perfect about ending your post with R&M, is that when I’m at my most self loathing of my body, I stop and say, “Your body can DANCE!! That’s pretty f*ing spectacular”, and then I let those thoughts get erased by thinking of when we’ll next dance to Got That Vibe or Shake,Shake, Shake It. Thank you for helping us to keep it real and honest.

  6. This is such an important post. I’m so glad you mentioned the link between personal dissatisfaction and our economic structure (or rather un-structure) of capitalism. I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately. I heard it said (can’t remember the source) that the bigger factor behind fashion & mainstream culture’s current obsession with thinness (and watching the standard evolve from different silhouettes over the last century) is marketing the idea that the body is changeable. It’s a huge falsehood and so damaging to our psyches.

    That puts me in mind of an article I read recently on capitalism (it’s kind of crazypants, but interesting). I’ll link to it but I really like these two points: “The Free Market, by design, abhors limits. It is obsessed with expansion. Boundaries must be transgressed, worked-around, cheated.” “Capitalism does not want you to have strong values and a happy home life, because you would do too much to protect it. People with fulfilled lives and tight family connections make terrible slaves.” http://theaesthete.com/story/view.dT/gadgets-porn-and-guilt-free-murder-why-good-capita

    It’s so courageous of you to really break it down like this. Everyone struggles with it, but for me sometimes it’s even more hurtful and frustrating to hear another beautiful woman express self-denigration, and not knowing how to make it stop. (I’m not referring to you here, btw). Besides screaming out loud, I don’t know what else to do. I think we could all benefit from a little anger, though, and find it empowering.

    I guess it’s also so frustrating because I know that even if somehow all the negative outside voices could be removed, if we could take over the conversation from misogynists and fashion tyrants and the youth-obsessed… it still wouldn’t fix the problem. It just points me back to the same hard place where you realize that loving and accepting oneself is truly the hardest thing to do. So, bravo for taking it on!

    • Erin, thank you so much for writing such a detailed reply. I love connecting with you in this new way — our relationship has taken on so many incarnations! I realize now I should have credited you as the photog for that 21 year old photo! Thanks for picking up on the economic piece, I didn’t flesh that out as much as I could have. Maybe a follow-up post? I’m grateful for your friendship and support.

  7. Miss Rhea,
    I always enjoy your blog; this entry hit me close today. I remember just four years ago telling Jonelle that I would gladly put on 20 pounds if I could just break through my anxiety – a constant anxiety that kept me sick, nauseous, with little or no appetite. In four more years of self-work I’ve gained more self-acceptance, bravely faced phobias, have committed myself to more real and true friendships, have found a loving and accepting partner, and have put on ten pounds. Only ten, but I loathe those ten enough to think fondly of the anxiety that used to ruin my daily life and my health, and this is so frustrating, so disappointing. And I think about it alot of the day, most days.
    I’m there with you. Thanks for the post.

    • Wow, Dana, what a fascinating story, thank you for sharing your experience here. Yes, our well-being should mean so much more to us than our waist size. We must strive for that!

  8. Rhea, I love you. I very much related to your words. I fondly remember “the good ole days” when I weighed 103 lbs in high school; which is crazy because I was quite unhappy with myself at that time. I know it’s no good, but I romanticize the times in my life when I was at an “acceptable” weight. I tell myself that I am a better, more beautiful, more self-controlled person when I weigh less. Having said that, I joined Weight Watchers a few weeks ago. But with it, I’m adopting healthier habits and getting away from that scary diabetic danger zone I was in after I had Nicky. I like what Michele said about being mothers to daughters, and setting a healthy example. I think about that a lot. How could I ever tell Lucy to love her body no matter what when I still want to change mine? The video made me smile, and reminded me of my happy times taking my friend’s Jazzercize classes- so much fun! Your blog made me think. So thanks!

    • Rachel, so fun to see you on here! Thank you for bravely sharing your experience. It’s really true, we’ve got to figure this out so we don’t pass it down to our daughters. The cycle stops with us.

  9. Such is wisdom in this post, Rhea. I love it. And relate thoroughly to both the self-criticism but also the self-tenderness that I alternate between, along with so many other women I know. And that video is LOVELY. As are you.

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  12. The video is amazing, Rhythm & Motion looks like something that should be a part of everyone’s lives. Though I’ve taken dance classes before, I always felt weird, stiff and thought I looked stupid compared to everyone else. But this looks like so much fun! Oh, to be able to let loose and just move!

    And also, it’s such a small world, truly. I was wondering why Wendy and Ryan (R&M teachers) looked so familiar, especially Wendy with her very unique hairstyle, then I realised they were waiting across from US at the boarding gate in SF while we were waiting for our flight to Tokyo.

    Your post, as always, in so great and so real in so many ways. Thank you for writing this. Radical body acceptance – I’m keeping that as a constant reminder.

    • Cherie, thank you for commenting! I know that I am incredibly blessed to have Rhythm & Motion. You can take classes with me all the time soon! That is so funny that you recognized Wendy & Ryan from the airport! They were on their way to China. They are truly one-of-a-kind! As are you, my dear.

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  14. Wonderful as always Rhea….have you ever seen all the ads/educational materials by Dove about body image? They are really helpful and so affirming. The women are gorgeous like the one in your post but they are not skinny. I have never been skinny compared to other girls my age. But of course, we never appreciate the stage we are in. In college, I had a big butt and thighs but I also had a tight little waist, something I have come to accept is a thing of the past. Am I willing to give up wine and cheese for it? Nah-uh. :) I wish wish wish my area had dance classes like yours. That video was so cool—especially seeing the variety of people having fun together and not giving a DAMN about how they look. You always provide food for thought. Keep bringing it.

  15. hello rhea!
    I read about the rare device events on mission parents yahoo group and thought they sounded super cool…I have the dates marked in my calendar but have yet to attend one. I remembered your name from the post and then was able to put a (lovely) face to that name after watching the (amazing) r&m video!
    you are the kind of person I want to know (honest, passionate and compassionate) so I look forward to saying hello again in class, in the mission or online :)

    • Maggie! I am actually quite a fan of yours, and miss dancing with you at the Women’s Building, when you used to attend Dudley’s classes. So, I’m quite flattered by your words, and feeling very encouraged to be brave and get to know you better the next time we meet!

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  18. I loved reading your post about body image. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said:
    “Seeing the effects of gravity on my flesh reminds me that I am not Superwoman, and I, too, one day, will die. Aging gracefully was never modeled for me, and I want desperately not to end up like my grandmother, still trying fad diets in her 80′s! Can you imagine?”

    If we continue to teach our girls to self-judge and constantly reinforce this notion of superwoman, that’s where we are heading. This video was inspiring and I will definitely have to borrow that loving-kindness mantra!

  19. Beautiful. Wow, do we all have so much in common! Makes me reflect on high-lights and low-lights from life in my body:
    –age 14, going to sleep at 8pm so I wouldn’t be tempted to eat anything else, trying desperately to arrest the weight in my growing body that I saw my (non-pubescent) 45 year old mother lamenting about her own body daily. Sorry, Mom! I know you didn’t mean for that to happen…
    –age 18–becoming an opera singer and loving the power by body and the gravity of my body possessed–luxuriating in my curves for the first time
    –age 21–so anxious I couldn’t eat (essentially) for two years. Nauseated continually. Suffering I have never since experienced. Envious of the comfortably eating world. Became the ideal physical type–WHAT A SET-UP!!!
    –age 32–pretty normal looking–the HORROR!!! :) Passing reflective windows and nit-picking about my butt, my arms, my neck–not an exaggeration–probably 10 times a day. Wishing I was more extraordinary looking. Less of a normal woman…
    And there’s the truth! Thanks for inspiring it! ;)

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