By Amy Marturana Winderl
Q: How can I accept (and maybe even genuinely appreciate) my changing body?
A: First things first: Our bodies change. Constantly, actually! It’s beyond normal for your body to look and feel different at different points in your life. It’s also normal to feel some sort of way about it when you notice changes in the mirror or that your favorite jeans don’t quite fit like they used to.
There are endless reasons our bodies change. Our mental health, physical health, life circumstances, hormones, external circumstances (ahem, a global pandemic, for example), disability, pregnancy, aging—these are all things that can cause our body size and shape to ebb and flow throughout life. And there’s no denying that these changes can totally mess with how you feel about yourself overall. Whether that’s because people in your life comment on your body or you’ve internalized all those external messages that suggest your body needs to look a certain way to have value, hyper focusing on how you look in the mirror can negatively affect your overall self-esteem.
So, how do you counteract all that negative body talk to have a better relationship with your ever-changing bod? We spoke with Marilisa Morea, PsyD, clinical psychologist and owner and director of Monarch Therapy and Wellness Center in Thornhill, Ontario, to get her tips for navigating these changes so that you can get to a place of body acceptance—and maybe, eventually, appreciation. Keep these on hand for the next time you get down on yourself and need a reminder that your appearance does not, in fact, dictate your worth.
Think about all the awesome things your body does for you.
It can be infinitely easier to accept your body in terms of what it does for you instead of how it looks, so Dr. Morea suggests starting there. “Think about what functions it has,” she says. That can be anything as broad as “It allows me to provide for myself and my family” or as narrow as “It can swing a tennis racquet pretty damn hard.” The key is to focus on function. “If we focus on function and what the body does for us, that helps a little bit in embracing our changing bodies.” You’ll likely notice that even if you gain or lose weight, your body still does valuable things for you that contribute to your well-being and happiness.
Consider what you love most about the people in your life.
Another way to shift your focus away from how your body looks? Think about all the people in your life that you love and why. Your best friend, for instance. “What are three things you like about her?” Dr. Morea prompts. “Chances are, you don’t focus on how she looks.” You think about how kind, loyal, creative, smart, and sassy she is, right? “Now, remind yourself that that’s what people are thinking about you.” By seeing yourself through your loved ones’ eyes, you can focus on the fact that how you look isn’t the most interesting or lovable thing about you. It’s everything else that makes you you that people cherish, not how you fit into your clothes from one month to the next. They couldn’t care less about that, promise.
Stop holding onto those “one day” clothes.
We’re all guilty of keeping clothes in our closet that don’t fit anymore, in hopes that one day we’ll fit into them again. Dr. Morea says to get rid of ‘em. Yes, right now. Keeping them only lets you dwell on how your body has changed and keeps you thinking that if you do certain things or make different choices then those clothes will fit again. Instead of thinking that way, focus on wearing clothes that you feel comfortable and good in—right now, just the way you are. “The best way we can embrace our changing body is by wearing clothes that make us feel confident,” Dr. Morea says. So, fill your closet with things that do that, and donate the rest. You’ll also feel even better knowing someone else will appreciate them.
Talk back to your negative thoughts.
“Any time you notice that a negative thought about your body pops into your head, you have to say two things you love about yourself,” Dr. Morea says. Don’t worry, we aren’t advocating for any toxic positivity here, so this shouldn’t feel fake or forced. Instead, try to think of compliments that feel true to you—whether they’re about your body, your mind, your accomplishments, whatever. At first, it might feel impossible. But over time, you’ll start balancing the negative things with positive things you love about yourself, which might get you to a more neutral place of body acceptance (maybe crossing the line into the positive eventually?!). “We’re reframing and rewiring our brain and we can only do that if we take out the negative,” Dr. Morea says.
Focus on everything else you’re doing right that has nothing to do with your body.
“We tend to focus on our disappointments and what we’re not doing right,” Dr. Morea says. If your goal is to accept your body, it’s going to be hard to get there when your thoughts are so self-sabotaging. Instead, Dr. Morea suggests focusing on what you’re proud of each day—things completely not body related. Another way to put it: practice gratitude. At the end of each day, ask yourself, “Where did I go right?” she says. When you start to add all of these positive pieces to your overall self-esteem puzzle, it takes the spotlight away from how you view your body, Dr. Morea explains. Think about your self-esteem as a pie chart, she says, with 99% of it starting as “body image.” As you practice gratitude, “you will make that [image-focused] piece smaller and smaller because you’re getting pride from so many other places in your life.”
“The bottom line here is we are so multifaceted and there are so many beautiful parts to ourselves. If we just focus on one sliver of the pie, we’re missing out on so much of our beauty,” Dr. Morea says. “So let’s focus on all we have.” You may not get to a point where you whole-heartedly love your body all the time, but accepting it, maybe loving some parts, and ultimately being able to define who you are by your other kick-ass qualities? That’s the real goal right there.