Ask the Expert—Erin Holt
Q:Do you have any tips for having a positive body image? I have struggled with it for years and I’m exhausted.
A: Self-Acceptance is an ACTION.
Imagine you’re standing in front of a full-length mirror. Naked. You have been asked to gaze at yourself for two minutes.
Now take a quick inventory of the feelings that were aroused by this suggestion. Did you feel curious or afraid? Interested or hesitant? Willing or unwilling? Or did you reject the whole idea as something you would absolutely never do? Imagining the experience gives you an indication of your level of self-acceptance. Actually doing it will tell you even more.
Self-acceptance is something we do, not just something we feel. To say, “I value myself,” is an act of self-affirmation that provides a base from which self-esteem develops.
When we practice self-acceptance we don’t have to condone or even like everything about ourselves. In fact, it’s almost certain that we won’t. What it does mean is that we recognize and accept our thoughts, our actions, our emotions, our bodies, our dreams—everything about us—as our own.
“But I don’t want to be insecure (or afraid or judgmental or angry or fat or old or alcoholic or any of a dozen other things),” someone might say. “If I accept that about myself, it means I don’t want to change, or I won’t change.”
Here’s the paradox: Without acceptance of what is, it’s impossible to change.
When we deny any part of ourselves we name that part alien or outside. To say, “I don’t want to be BLANK, therefore I won’t accept that I am,” is self-rejection, the opposite of self- acceptance. To say, “I don’t want to be BLANK, but I am and I’m willing to change,” is the kind of self-acceptance that gives birth to transformation.
Here’s another exercise: Try on any emotion that is difficult to face such as insecurity, jealousy, anger, or fear. Try it on as if it were a sweater or a pair of shoes. Breathe into it and focus on it; feel your feelings. Notice how, as you accept and experience it, the feeling begins to melt away.
If you are resisting—tightening your muscles, holding your breath—accept your resistance. If you deny the resistance, it will only gain in strength. But, like the feelings themselves, if you embrace the resistance, it will dissipate.
It’s not only negative feelings or thoughts that we sometimes don’t accept; we refuse our positive sides, too. In fact, some of our bright side can seem more frightening than the dark. What a loss to refuse to accept our excitement or joy, our sensuality, or our beauty. How sad to be frightened of our brilliance, our ambition, or our dreams.
It has been said that the greatest crime we commit against ourselves is not that we deny and disown our shortcomings, but that we deny and disown our greatness.
At its very nadir, self-acceptance is what keeps us alive. It’s the strength that keeps us moving. It’s what gives us the courage to finally say “No!” or “Yes!” It is the hand that reaches out for help.
To be self-accepting is to stand up for—not against—yourself. It’s the birthright of you as an individual.
A Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and TPI fitness professional, Erin Desharnais also holds a B.S. in Exercise Science from the University of New Hampshire.
Stock photography from StockFreeImages.com.