Here's Why It's Wrong to Tell Women They 'Have' to Love Their Bodies

woman mirror reflection

When I stand looking at my body in the mirror, usually in some harried state of half undress, late for something, I'm completely comfortable with what I see. No question, I love my body. I'm used to its flaws. They're mine. They've always been a part of me. This is who I am and what I look like. When it's just me, the mirror, and the reflection, everything is okay. However, the minute I step away from that mirror and interact with the world, the love goes away. I compare myself to other women and imagine all the bad ways others might see me. Complete horror and anxiety sets in. I hate how my body looks in clothing. I worry I'm not enough. If only I could just figure how to carry that tiny dose of self-love with me everywhere! Well, according to a new study, maybe learning to love ourselves and our bodies unconditionally isn't the answer after all. 

  • There are so many factors that contribute to the reason why so many women hate their bodies:

    Media (including social media), advertising, and good old-fashioned screwed-up beauty standards send us through an emotional whirlwind. 

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  • However, some would argue that those "factors" are long gone thanks to body positivity.

    And admittedly, the body-positivity movement has made a lot of strides in changing the social climate. It attempts to put diverse body types at the forefront of media, as it was started by fat WOC to erase the stigma against plus-size women. Since then, it's evolved into a sort of social media monster, and now not only erasing the women it meant to help, it constantly pushes the message that all women must love themselves -- at all times.  

  • The truth is, body positivity isn't really reflective of the social conscious en masse ...

    ... as we can see from Everyday Health's published survey, Special Report: State of Women’s Wellness 2017. The study asked many different women about what factors influenced their personal wellness, what wellness means to them, and what stands most in the way of their achieving wellness, health, and happiness. Among the things women cited as roadblocks were understandably not enough sleep and financial stress about money. However, nearly 75 percent of women surveyed claim body and self-image negatively affect their wellness. Additionally, the top three (out of eight) "wellness bummers" for women this year were, from greatest to least: stress and anxiety, weight/BMI/waist size, and body- and self-image. 

    So if body positivity is supposed to be such a successful movement, how are we still here? Perhaps because we've conflated the message of "body acceptance" with "unconditional body love."

  • "You don't have to love your body, but you do need to make peace with it ... "

    ... says Ann Shoket, the New York City–based former editor in chief of Seventeen magazine and the author of The Big Life: Embrace the Mess, Work Your Side Hustle, Find a Monumental Relationship and Become the Badass Babe You Were Meant to Be, and one of the women's health experts consulted in the Everyday Health study. "Appreciate your body for what it can do. The more we obsess over what our bodies look like, the more we sabotage other areas in our life ... It's a complicated relationship, but you have to make peace with your body." 

    Easier said than done. How do we do that? 

  • "Rather than giving in to pressures that stem largely from the media and advertising, focus on self-care ..."

    ... Sean McCaffrey, MD, the founder of the McCaffrey Family Health Center in Springfield, Illinois, and a women's health advocate, tells Everyday Health. "Taking care of yourself emotionally, physically, and nutritionally will help you have a more positive mind-set, because you will feel better in all those aspects. When the body is healthy, it is also happy."

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    See? No one's saying anything about love. Nothing in there about unconditionally loving our bodies and the way they look. 

    There is, however, a lot in there that suggests all this worry about weight, BMI, and waist size is dooming us both physically AND emotionally. An unhappy, stressed-out body doesn't even make the goods needed to maintain a happy body at any size or shape. 

  • So maybe we never have to love how we look in jeans.

    Maybe we can hold onto the those small moments in the mirror in which we just appreciate our bodies for holding us up and getting us there (even if we're late). But also maybe one day, for even a little while, we can muster a little love for our bodies just for that. And maybe someday that will be enough. 

body positivity body image