Self Acceptance: A Stepping Stone Toward Self-Love

Words by: Zoe Spiers. Follow more of her journey on her Instagram, @boporecoverywarrior.   

One of the best things that can happen to someone is when they stumble across the body positive and anti-diet community. This is a community where societal pressures to be a particular kind of ‘beautiful’ are eradicated and a spectrum of all kinds of beauty is unveiled. A community which says you don’t have to go hungry, that you can honour your body and let it be whatever size it wants to be. I remember stumbling across this wonderful community, and being ecstatic, confused, scared and hopeful all at the same time – as I’m sure many of us were, and might yet still be.

Let us dissect these bundled emotions and try to understand why we have all been on this rollercoaster.

We are ecstatic from coming across a group of people that don’t fight for one unrealistic beauty ideal. Instead, they accept themselves for who they are, living life beyond diets, exercise regimes and bucket loads of self-loathing. All things we have grown up to believe are normal (which is essentially how the diet industry profits).

That leads on to why we are confused. How can these wonderful individuals get to a mental place where they appreciate their bodies?

If you’re anything like me, finding the body positive/anti-diet community brings up fear as well. I was terrified of letting go of societal beauty ideals, as well as letting go of my eating disorder. Terrified that I would no longer have the body that’s celebrated worldwide. Of losing all control.

However, above all, many of us experience overwhelming hope when we find these self-love advocates. Hope that there is a life where you can simply live without going from one diet to the next. Without doing the latest celebrity exercise routine on a measly amount of calories, as recommended by some stranger on the internet (with no nutritional qualifications and zero clue as to who you are and what your body needs). Hope that I can go about enjoying my life and go on adventures, and eat the damn cookie if I want it, without having any crippling guilt accompanying it.

Despite all these emotions, and the good definitely outweighing the bad, it can seem impossible to reach this utopia of self-love. You can see it, but you have no idea how to get from A to B. It can seem pretty daunting, and often feel impossible to go from self-hatred we are taught to feel about ourselves based on all our ‘flaws’ (PSA: there’s no such thing), to a place of self-love.

Here’s the thing: it’s not usually possible. How are you expected to suddenly reverse years and years of negative feelings towards yourself in a single night? This is decades of our life, where these thoughts have been ingrained in us. It’s a bit like never running in your life and expecting to be able to run a marathon the next day. Just like the marathon, we must work towards the goal. The ultimate goal is self-love. The key word there being ultimate. For many of us, this is a challenge and one we all should be striving towards. But here’s a thought: what if we all just worked towards self-acceptance?

That daunting feeling starts to ease when the pressure of reaching self-love is lifted. This community isn’t about setting another goal that seems as impossible as that goal weight you set yourself 5 years ago. It’s about removing all these pressures, and if we do that, working towards self-acceptance seems a little bit more attainable.

So, what is self-acceptance? It’s accepting that your body knows when it’s hungry and full (which, FYI, changes daily). It’s standing in front of the mirror, and instead of criticising every last inch and grabbing at your skin, you can just see yourself. Just see a body looking back at you. Hopefully, one day we can look in the mirror with love, but even when we reach that point, self-acceptance might be all we can manage some days and that’s okay! It’s being able to see yourself in a neutral way, without seeing yourself as a host of different things that need to be fixed. Without highlighting everything you’re not.

From experience, I can honestly say I no longer stare at my reflection and wish with every fiber of my being that I were someone else. Sometimes I do still fall into the comparison trap on social media, but with time, it has been increasingly easy to claw myself out of that hole. I’d be lying if I said I looked at myself with love, but on a daily basis I simply see myself in the mirror. I just see an image of all the particles of stardust that have miraculously formed for me to exist on this planet. Not just exist, but live a full life. A life where losing weight and being ‘beautiful’ aren’t my purpose.

It’s taken years for me to get to this stage. It’s practising just sitting in front of the mirror and not picking myself apart. It’s relearning to listen to my body. It’s unraveling years of being taught all the reasons we should aspire to be like the latest celebrity. Getting to a point of self-acceptance, and eventually, self-love, is a daily practise. Just like running a marathon takes time and training, so does rebuilding a relationship with yourself.

That being said, along your journey, treat yourself with love. You may not be able to love yourself yet, but be kind to yourself. Listen to your needs. Feeling ill? Take a day to simply rest. Deadlines getting overwhelming? Make time for self-care, whatever that might be for you – reading a book, taking a bath, having a nap or simply making yourself a cup of tea. Small acts of kindness towards yourself are the stepping stones throughout your journey.

Self-love shouldn’t be a chore or an unattainable goal. It shouldn’t be the next thing that doesn’t work out, because you can’t fail at this. Your self-love journey is yours, and only yours. Only you can dictate how it goes. Working towards self-acceptance has been a massive part of my life, and I’ll continue to strive towards having more days full of love! How wonderful would the world be if everyone were able to simply accept themselves for who they are? It doesn’t seem so daunting when the journey is just as incredible as the final destination, does it?

Kindness is Key

Words by: Zoe Spiers. Follow more of her journey on her Instagram, @boporecoverywarrior.   

The issue with today’s generation is that nothing is ever enough.

Your best is never enough. There’s this unspoken rule that you can always do better at work or school – achieve more, cope better, push yourself further, recover quicker, and the list goes on. This mindset is drummed into us: that whatever we do, there’s always more that can be done.

This is exactly how diet culture works too – there’s this promise that if you lose x amount of weight/eat a certain way/exercise x amount/look a certain way, that happiness and success will follow. But the weight loss is never enough, the dress size is never small enough, your diet is never perfect enough and the workout is never tough enough. With perspective and knowledge about diet culture, it’s easy to see how this disordered relationship with food, exercise and our bodies can spiral into an eating disorder – something that is far too common. So it’s no surprise that there’s an eating disorder pandemic at the moment.

Choosing recovery is really hard, but it’s a huge step in the right direction. You start by immersing yourself in the recovery community online – which, don’t get me wrong, can be such a positive, comforting and beautiful community. However, social media is a highlight reel. And this is crucial to remember. Recovery isn’t linear: it’s not always eating cake and laughing with your friends; it’s not suddenly being able to let go of your eating disorder. Recovery can be incredibly messy – it can be breaking down in tears in the middle of the restaurant because of food anxiety; it can be bent over the toilet after a slip up; it can be sitting on the floor numb after a binge.

Recovery is all those good things you see on the highlight reels that the community posts, but it’s also the tears, the pain, uncomfortableness. It’s unlearning everything diet culture taught us, AS WELL as fighting against your own eating disorder. It’s about finding the you – the real you. It’s hard work. But, despite all this, recovery is worth it – in dark times, please remember this.

These highlight reels can be so detrimental to our recovery sometimes, causing us to compare our bad day to another person’s good day. However, the next day the roles may be reversed. It’s this knowledge, that everyone has good and bad days in their recovery journey, that you should use as a reminder to be kind to yourself if you’ve reverted back to a disordered behaviour – to be gentle with yourself. Being kind to yourself doesn’t necessarily mean face masks and bubble baths (although, of course, it can include those too!). It means being the friend your younger self desperately needed; reassuring this vulnerable part of you that you are not a failure; comforting yourself with the knowledge that a step or two backward doesn’t negate the leaps and bounds you have made in your recovery journey.

Don’t punish yourself, for you are unlearning years of diet culture and challenging your own mind. Nobody’s – yes, not even that influencer you admire on social media – journey is linear. Be kind and gentle with yourself, for recovery from an eating disorder can be painful and a rollercoaster of a ride.