Would you like to live in a place that appreciates and accepts all bodies? If so, you’re invited to join me in Body Club. There’s nothing to click or fill out. To join all you need is a body and the desire to live in it more comfortably.
Body Club is my way of envisioning a better way for women to live in our bodies. I imagine it as a psychic sisterhood that links us to our true selves and each other.
Over the years I’ve developed some rules for Body Club to help me maintain a good relationship with my body and other bodies. The “rules” of Body Club are our reminders that this is a place we can retreat to be at peace with our body. These include:
1st Rule – Like Fight Club, the first rule of Body Club is not to talk about it
Nothing good comes from body bashing, diet talk and comparisons with others. That’s why the first rule of Body Club is not to talk about your body or other bodies.
It’s not that you shouldn’t be in connection with your body and its signals – you definitely should. And you should use this information to inform your actions. The problem comes when talking about these things brings unneeded attention and unhelpful external input.
We know from research on body image that the more you focus on your insecurities the more they expand in your perception. It’s not that those of us with body dysmorphia see something that’s not there. It’s that we narrow our focus exclusively onto the thing we perceive negatively. And since that is all we see and feel, our perception becomes out of balance.
There are more interesting things to talk about than your body. When you shift your attention away from your places of insecurity the more engaged you will become with the rest of your life and goals.
2nd Rule – Have at least one safe trusted person you can talk with about your body
All rules have exceptions and so does the “don’t talk about your body” rule. I realized this when on a retreat with three of my closest female family members.
With them I felt safe to share my inner struggle with feeling fat regardless of my actual weight. Of hating my body much of the time. Of how much of my personal growth and professional expertise can still be eroded with one waistband that’s too tight.
They shared their own fears and struggles with aging, illness, pain, and having bodies that don’t respond as wished. We grieved together and laughed together. My weight wasn’t different after this sharing but I certainly felt lighter.
If body acceptance is also a struggle for you, know that you aren’t alone. Know that it isn’t about your body having unique flaws, but about the struggle of being human in body. And know that while talking in public about your body usually makes things worse, that sharing with a trusted friend, coach, or counselor can help you change your perception.
3rd Rule – Value your body for what it does, not how it looks
We need this body club rule because bodies have their own needs and their own intelligence. Bodies don’t consult the media for advice on how they should look. And they don’t blindly follow our mind’s ideas for good reasons.
As you’re reading this your body is busy keeping you alive. It isn’t concerned with society’s desired appearance, especially if that desire conflicts with its needs. This is why you can’t “manage” your body by giving it directions and demanding results.
Instead of trying to force your body to comply with misguided ideas of how it should look and behave, it’s better to consider what your body needs to do its job. Because as long as you are alive your body is working in the background for your best interest.
The question isn’t “how does my body look?” but rather “how is my body supporting me?” Because if your body is keeping you alive it’s a good body. Your job is to respect and appreciate your body for this service, not to starve it and squeeze it to look or behave a different way.
4th Rule – Your body doesn’t owe the world anything
Your body doesn’t owe anyone anything – not thinness, beauty, youth, pleasing behavior, or anything else. This can be a hard lesson because we live in a culture that equates the size of women’s bodies with their beauty and worth.
It’s no wonder many women begin obsessing about weight and dieting at an early age because within this belief system being fat is the worst transgression. You probably don’t consciously believe any of this but these subliminal cultural messages underlie our body shame and repeated diets.
When you bring into consciousness your own background beliefs about what your body owes others, you can transform how you see yourself and begin the process of letting go of unnecessary shame, layer by layer. It’s not easy work, but it’s well worth the effort.
5th Rule – Always be kind to your body
Diets don’t work for long term weight loss because they set up a struggle between mind and body. The mind may win the short term battle but in the end the body will prevail.
To end the struggle we have to step back, put down our swords (diet plans, scales, tape measures, punishing exercise, self-judgment), and seek peace. This is why the fifth rule of Body Club is to be kind to your body.
Unfortunately we’re often not kind to ourselves and our body. We may in fact view our body as the enemy. This idea comes from dieting messages that seek to deny biological drives and to teach us to not respect the body’s messages about hunger, tiredness, or emotional needs.
Be a friend to your body and let it know it’s safe in your care. Listen to it. Respect its need for rest, pleasure, and nutrition. Let the body feel safe without the specter of another famine around the corner in the form of a new diet.
This is where the healing starts. And it’s the place to come back to whenever you are confused or overwhelmed. It all starts with kindness.
6th Rule – Live in your body
When you are caught in a struggle against your body it’s easy to dissociate and view the body as separate and over there – a bothersome appendage. After all you’ve likely been at war with your body for a very long time. No wonder you’ve lost sight of your body being a wondrous container allowing your soul to live a human life.
Your body and brain are not separate entities but one single functional unit working together. To find peace you have to move back in. This is the essence of embodiment and of making peace with yourself and food.
When you live in your body, you naturally practice the other Body Club rules. You claim your body, you respect your body and its boundaries, you listen, and you are kind because you value your body for what it provides for you. And that’s where health and healing are found.
7th Rule – All bodies are positive bodies
In my recent coursework for a masters in positive psychology I focused on the role of the body in flourishing. Since positive psychology is a science devoted to the study of optimal functioning, I began by attempting to define function for body related areas like eating and movement.
It turns out that while we know a whole lot about dysfunction around the body, there hasn’t been much attention to defining function beyond weight. For instance psychology has many ideas about dysfunctional eating but doesn’t have an agreed upon concept for functional eating. This is the gap that has given rise to diet culture and misguided ideas about health.
As I proceeded I gained an appreciation for the general principle of embodiment as discussed in the sixth rule of Body Club – that is living in a body rather than treating the body as a taxi service for our mind. Embodiment and the related concept of embodied cognition clarify for us that living in our body is essential to living our best life.
This led me to the realization that has informed all of my work since that point which is that all bodies are positive bodies. Quite simply, your body is positive so long as it is alive. It’s your human home whether you love your body or hate it. You don’t have to be thin, active, or well rested. Nor do you don’t have to be healthy in any metric or even be pursuing health to have a positive body.
This is the difference between our mental concept of the body (the conceptual body or body image) vs. the body we actually live in (our experiential body). By living in our actual body we can put aside our thoughts, beliefs, or cultural concepts about the body and experience the body we have as positive.
Body Club is a place where we can be at home and at peace in the body we live in. If you’re alive and in a body you’re invited.
It’s time to reclaim our birthright of a positive body. To do this lets help each other fully reject diet culture and its negative messages.
Your body is waiting.
Lisa Newman, MAPP is a positive psychology practitioner and certified intuitive eating counselor specializing in helping women end the cycle of yo-yo dieting. You can find out more at WomenEat.com or book a no obligation consultation here.