It could just be me, but it seems that loving your body and facing your own body image issues is the flavour of the month! New pop songs gain instant traction and every second female celebrity is sharing her own body image woes.
But still, there seems to be only two ways for the average woman to deal with body image issues: endless self-monitoring along with weighing and measuring everything including every morsel of food and of course your body; or saying “bugger it, this is me, I don’t care what anyone else thinks” – a kind of rebellion that still leaves you feeling confused about what to actually do after you get the diet rules out of your life! That stumbling around can often lead you back to the semi-certainly of a diet’s rules!
But there is a third way – a path of self-acceptance and profound respect for yourself and every other. While there are no rules around this way, there is a new guidebook that explores Body Respect in compassionate detail by two world leading researchers on this most limiting obsession, Dr Linda Bacon (University of California Davis) and Dr Lucy Aphramor (Coventry University).
They have been collaborating for a number of years across the Pacific, and have finally released their first book, titled, yes: Body Respect.
Welcome Linda and Lucy
We’re delighted to welcome them to Body Bliss Central to introduce Body Respect, as part of their month-long September 2014 blog tour. Please do read on to find out more about just how to do Body Respect, learn about this important evolution of the language around this issue, and find out how you can win your own copy of the book for free!
BBC: The title of your book, Body Respect, has such a solid feeling to it – not that warm’n’fuzzy but so-tough-to-do ‘love your body anyway’ message that we’ve latched onto to try to help people shift away from diet culture. It seems to me this is a concept people will instantly get and will seem more doable. Why did you choose this title?
We’re glad that came across! It’s a term Lucy uses in her work to move away from the clinical feel of the term ‘body image’, and , like you say, to provide an alternative to the ‘love your body’ mantra which if we’re not careful can become another personal obligation to fail at.
Body Respect, on the other hand, situates a societal phenomena – it doesn’t pathologise individuals and it’s about equal rights and, well, RESPECT. Incidentally, it’s a term also used in the body acceptance movement in Iceland.
By using that term, we’re also helping readers to consider that it’s okay to feel ambivalent about loving our bodies. In fact, it’s not too surprising to feel some ambivalence, given the cultural climate.
As we write in the book, “Self-acceptance is rarely available to us as an overnight wonder pill where we wake up unconditionally loving ourselves whatever. In real life, the journey forward is not that smooth, and likely will be punctuated with the trips and stumbles of painful emotions and conflicting positions.
What the HAES approach makes newly available to you is the idea that it’s okay to be confused, conflicted, contradictory—contrary, even! There’s no rule that says you are okay only if you love your body. Everyone deserves respect, and when someone is struggling they can use an extra bit of kindness.
As you move away from the black–white trap of the dieting mentality, you’ll likely find you are more comfortable with uncertainty than you used to be; this in turn makes it easier to sit with difficult emotions without judging them or getting caught up in them.
We cannot emphasize enough the value in lightening up around the judgment you may feel about your body and your weight. The judgment evokes despair as you believe there is something wrong with you, meaning you are not entitled to the food that you want, and you need to deprive yourself as punishment or remedy for your “overweight.”
Check the book out for some helpful strategies in managing this!
BBC: This is a much shorter book than Linda’s previous book Health At Every Size, so it’s a quicker read but still filled with facts that are backed by scientific research. Did you deliberately decide to write a shorter book, or is this designed to be easy to read and digest, so to speak?
Yes, it was deliberate!
We want this to be an easily accessible book that makes a concise case for change: the kind of book you can hand over to your doctor, your elected officials, your office mate about to embark on their next diet… and open them to a new outlook.
As well as being shorter, the book has a different focus to Linda’s existing HAES book, and makes Lucy’s HAES materials more accessible.
There’s such an obsession with fatness still that we started with what’s wrong with weight myths and then put this on one side to discuss what really impacts our right and access to health.
The goal was to keep our focus on the ingredients that would facilitate a transformative journey. Initial reviews suggest we were successful – many readers are already purchasing multiple copies and passing them around – and we’re looking forward to seeing ongoing reaction.
BBC: What would you say to a woman who wants to follow the suggestions you make in the book, but is bombarded with ‘concern for your health’ by family and friends who believe that obesity means a nasty younger death?
The two of us are quite familiar with meeting up with resistance to our message, and we’ve learned over time how important it is to keep developing our skills for resiliency. This message is quite threatening to many people, who cling to the concept that a thinner body is a ticket to acceptance, happiness and health. And it’s also quite threatening to many health professionals who have been trained to believe that weight loss heals or protects against many of the maladies they’re supposed to treat.
People often believe they are acting in your best interests, and may come from a place of caring. Recognizing that helps us develop compassion for someone’s motivation, and lessens the knee jerk anger response -and the fears it may trigger in us that perhaps they’re right. It allows us to be a little more grounded, and hold on to our newly learned reality.
And the reality is that you have already been thoughtful about these issues, you’re probably tired of self-hatred and dieting, and even as you’re ready to make the leap into Health at Every Size, you are probably also carrying some ambivalence and fear- so it makes sense that it may be triggering and that you’re vulnerable to their judgments.
That’s a really tough place to be in: change requires acceptance of this reality, that you don’t have complete power to change others – and it requires acceptance of your own emotional landscape. And also compassion for yourself, for how uncomfortable it is to be in that place.
Knowing you’re not alone is helpful. Find strength in community, other people on this journey. Read books, check out the HAES and size acceptance blogs. Having a safe place to retreat to, and get reinforced, is quite helpful. Any supportive friendships you nurture, intentional communities you join and create, and professional input you seek out, all can do wonders.
BBC: What would be the one takeaway you’d like readers to get from Body Respect?
We can sum up in one word what we’d really like people to walk away with, which goes back to your question of why we chose the book title: respect.
What if we all learned to respect diversity rather than learning to rank ourselves as worth more or less than others, based only on size?
What if we ditched the diet mentality that attaches so much importance to size and health and fitness, and focused instead on relating to ourselves and one another with understanding and compassion?
Welcome to Body Respect, to a world where we treat ourselves and others with caring and compassion.
BBC: Thank you Linda and Lucy – the book is really an easy read, and it’s solid science that I think will help women to start questioning what “everyone knows” about weight loss, and perhaps to start some conversations with the people around them, to spread the word about Body Respect!
Linda and Lucy have kindly donated a copy of Body Respect to BBC for one of our readers to win – just leave a comment about the book here or on the BBC FaceBook page, and I’ll draw a random lucky winner on Monday 22nd (Australian Eastern Time).