I am often asked if embracing self-acceptance means “letting one’s self go” or a variation on the theme. And the answer is that I absolutely don’t think self-acceptance and caring about how you project yourself are mutally exclusive. So when Dr. Ashley Solomon, a therapist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, trauma, and serious mental health, offered to share her thoughts about caring about how you look, I was excited to welcome her here. You can read more of her insights at Nourishing the Soul and also follow her on Twitter or Facebook. Now for her thoughts:
I’m feeling anxious today, and it’s not because my phone is beeping every three minutes to remind me of a uncompleted item or because my car is starting to make a weird grinding noise or because I’m concerned about some of my fragile patients.
It’s because I’m too busy to make my eyebrow wax appointment.
Well, perhaps it’s all those things. But my eyebrows are the most identifiable stressor I can pinpoint right now, so I’m going to stick with that for just a moment.
It’s actually hard for me to acknowledge that – the fact that my lurking unibrow is producing feelings of discomfort today. Aren’t I supposed to be a therapist who specializes in treating disorders of body shame? Don’t I spend hours each week running a body image blog? Haven’t I written before about how anti-feminist it is to induce physical pain for the sake of hair removal? (Actually, I haven’t. Yet.)
I promote positive body image – in some I live and breathe it. So sometimes I wonder if shouldn’t care or spend time on things like make-up, hair straightening, and skinny jeans. And yet I do, at least to some degree. Is it wrong? I don’t think so.
You don’t have to give up caring about how you look to love your body. Body acceptance doesn’t not equal body apathy. In fact, loving ourselves means treating ourselves with the utmost respect, and respect demands a bit of care and attention.
Think about it. When you are in love with another person – when you truly respect and admire them – you want to “dress up” your relationship. You want to shout it from the rooftops and proudly revel in your love for that person.
The same can be said for our bodies. When I am proud of my body – and that includes the way it moves, the ways it feels, and yes, the way it looks – I want to share my excitement. I want to play up my eyes with glittery green sparkles and find a skirt that shows off my legs. I also want to take care of my skin, get regular exercise, and sleep enough that the dark circles disappear, and I want to smile!
This doesn’t make me vain – it makes me human.
Like nearly everything in life, it’s about finding a balance between obsession and healthy interest. If I start wearing five-inch platforms every day that give me feet- and backaches, then I’m not truly respecting my body. If my restrictive way of eating takes me away from relating to the people I care about, that’s a problem.
But if I am simply sharing my excitement about my body – an important (but not the only) part of myself – I’m reveling in self-love. And that’s a very good thing.