Self-acceptance is a lifelong struggle. It is ironic, perhaps. We are the ones who have spent the most time with our selves and our bodies. And yet, so many of us wake up wishing we could see someone else in the mirror. Maybe it is because we know all our flaws so well, all those cracked and bruised pieces of our existence which seem to stand so stall in the face of our strengths. Even as we grow, we are constantly in conflict with our selves. No matter how hard we try, those niggling doubts at the back of our minds somehow always manage to chip at the shield of body acceptance.
You may catch yourself wondering, “Why do I struggle with accepting my body? Why can’t I just like myself?”. It seems like something obvious, something that should naturally happen. Unfortunately, just wanting to accept your body does not automatically ensure you accepting your body for what it is. There are multiple factors which are at play here, most of which come from society.
Since the day we are born, we are all trapped within social conforms. Even as a kid, we are subliminally told what is expected of us. Girls are supposed to play with dolls and wear dresses while boys are supposed to be tough and wear pants. There is no mention of anyone who does not identify as either gender or whose gender and biological sex do not align.
So many existences are invalidated in this process. If a girl feels like going to the gym and growing muscles, the stigmas society has instilled in her will make her feel like there is something wrong with her. If a boy wants to wear skirts and paint his nails, he will automatically judge himself for it, even before society does. If someone feels like they do not identify with a binary gender, they might feel discomfort at the gender expression forced on then. Constantly we are fed ideas about how we are supposed to behave and look.
But people cannot be fitted into boxes. There will always be something in you that does not align with societal expectations. When this happens, we begin to doubt our ways of expression, our appearances and our selves. It is here that we derail from the road to self-acceptance.
So what is this ideal standard that the society insists on? Well, it depends on who you are. If you are biologically a woman, society will bombard you with media that is filled with fair and skinny women as the ‘perfect type’. Even if your body type itself is different, only seeing one type of body being represented will naturally make you feel like you have to live up to this image.
Media is the biggest source of this. There is no representation of intersex and trans bodies. No representation of chubby or dark bodies unless it is to mock them. There is an entire array of memes, books and advertisements that constantly engage in body shaming. Through these, certain body types that do not fit into society’s ideals are made into mere caricatures that only serve as a source of laughter.
Fat-shaming, in particular, is rampant in today’s age. People are made fun of simply for being obese. They are deemed as ‘unattractive’ and are constantly judged for their food choices. Fat-shaming does not come from a place of genuine care and concern.
Demeaning someone is not the way to encourage them to be healthier. No good comes out of being fit at the expense of shattering your self-esteem. What’s ironic that often body-shamers themselves struggle with self-acceptance.
Skin colour is another such criteria. People who have darker skin are constantly told to use certain remedies to lighten their skin. Women, in particular, are told to do so to be attractive enough for marriage meetings. There are so many advertisements showing people who were sad when they had dark skin but immediately become happier when their skin lightens. Often women are even expected to not show signs of ageing!
These are all things that get in the way of accepting your body. They exclude so many people by setting up these ‘norms’. Many people are born in hotter places and hence, have a naturally dark complexion. Who are we to tell them that their appearance is not acceptable?
First, it is important to note that body acceptance is different from body positivity. There is nothing harmful about body positivity, which aims at treating all bodies as equal and counting them all under the umbrella of beautiful. However, this can create pressure to always like yourself. A person may feel forced to find positives on days where they just don’t like themselves.
Body acceptance leans more towards forming a personal relationship with your body. It does not mean thinking of your body as attractive, but simply accepting it as yours. It means looking at what your body can do, instead of focusing on how it looks.
Body acceptance means acknowledging the discomfort. It means accepting the insecurities that come with your body. If on a particular day you feel like you don’t like how your thighs look, you don’t have to force yourself to like them. Instead, you can just accept that on that particular day, you don’t like them. You can still accept that they are yours and some days, you will feel comfortable with them too.
Body acceptance is a journey. It means learning to accept your body through all the fumbles that come in the way.
Broken does not have to be beautiful for us to accept. Broken can just be broken and still deserve to exist just as much.
The first step to accepting your body is to realize that it is yours and yours alone. Nobody else gets to decide anything for you. This means that you are allowed to wear your skin the way you want to. You don’t have to change it to fit anyone else’s comfort but your own.
If having your body the way it does not feel wrong to you, then so be it. If a certain type of clothing makes you more comfortable, go for it. If your gender identity does not align with your biological sex and you think transitioning will help you feel okay, then do that. If getting tattoos or coloring your hair is your way of expression, then go get them.
Learning to accept your body does not mean you have to adjust with yourself the way you are. It means accepting that this body, with all its strengths and weaknesses, is yours to take care of and you should do that in any way that you want. It means accepting that you, your body and soul are walking on this path of self-acceptance side by side.
It’s okay if some days you get tired and want to rest. It’s okay if some days you just can’t bear to look at yourself. Tomorrow is always a new day.
Someday there will be a tomorrow where you will feel at home in your bones once again.