The Gift of Self Acceptance

“It’s important to remember that when separated from our soul, we are separated from life.”
—from The Endless Practice, Mark Nepo

There have been three times in my life when I fought against my body, in the hopes of meeting society’s standards of beauty, achieving perfection, being loved, feeling worthy, avoiding my fear and emotions, and obtaining peace: when I was in an intense study program of ballet, after my divorce from my first marriage and in my recovery from breast cancer. As I look back on these times in my life when I distrusted and rejected my body as it was, I realize I was working against creating the love, peace and self acceptance I was hoping for. In the hopes of finding love, peace, and acceptance through deprivation, restriction and non-acceptance, I created more disconnection and unhappiness with myself. I separated from my soul and from my life. Because of my own experiences with disordered eating, and the conscious and intentional choice I now make every day to be fully and lovingly connected to my body, my soul and my life, I want to send the following message to all of you. It is my hope that we all will continually learn to love and accept the full beauty of ourselves and not turn against our precious bodies so they fit another’s idea of what is worthy, valuable, sexy, beautiful, healthy and lovable.

This time of year we are bombarded with messages from the dieting industry to repent for our sinful behavior over the holidays and get our bodies back under “our control”.  Eating, pleasure, treats, celebrating with family and friends, feeling alive and being connected to feelings and sensations, and actually enjoying food are,  I suppose, what the dieting industry means by “bad” behavior for which we must do penance. The negative messages from the dieting industry flood our lives. We are left feeling that how we are in this present moment and what our bodies look like, is unacceptable. That we need to be skinnier, more in control, more “buff”… that we can’t possibly think about going to the beach without a “beach body”. The term “beach body” is just another way of saying we are currently unacceptable. Without a “beach body”, certain life activities are off limits to us. Without a “beach body”, we don’t deserve to have access to certain sources of joy, beauty, recreation unless our bodies get into better shape. The dieting industry wants us to believe (and unfortunately most of us do) the following: 1.  beauty equals skinny and 2.  happiness comes from skinny and 3. perfection is the goal and 4. restriction and deprivation and obsession is the way to get there.

Dieting and disordered eating, as well as an obsessive focus on working out, are ways to “numb” ourselves and to cut ourselves off from living in the present. They are obstacles to being connected to and fully aware of our emotions,  as well as being connected within relationships and to our own souls. What the dieting industry doesn’t tell us is, that, entering a cycle of dieting and restriction always comes from a place of, “I am not good enough as I am”. Once we are in this place, we are creating a context for physical, emotional and spiritual isolation. Once we believe we are not good enough, being truly present and authentically and spiritually connected, becomes way too painful and something to be avoided at all costs.  Much like drugs and alcohol, restrictive/disordered eating serves to distract us or gives us the false sense that we can “escape” the unpleasant and difficult feelings; that we can escape our unacceptable selves. However, in this process, we become cut off from ourselves and others while it simultaneously closes us off from living our truth, deep intimacy, peace, and love.

The dieting cycle is a cycle of non-acceptance, rejection of ourselves, striving for perfection, belief in false hope and unrealistic expectations, all leading to feelings of isolation and deep shame. The sense of isolation and shame then serve to pull us right back into the non-acceptance and the cycle begins again. It is a cycle that is antithetical to love, compassion, peace and joy. It makes it impossible to live in the present moment because we are either thinking of the meager amount we will allow ourselves to eat, counting calories in our head, craving food, beating ourselves up for “over eating” and feeling dread that, because we ate without restrictions, tomorrow the scale will prove we are ugly, fat, or not as good/pretty/skinny as others. The number on the scale will prove we must work harder to achieve love and peace. Of course this is highly destructive to our heart and soul and our relationships. Once we are in this cycle, certain life experiences become out of reach for us: such as true intimacy with ourselves and another, trusting our needs, wants, and desires and cultivating an unconditional acceptance of who we are.  And all of these experiences (intimacy, trust, acceptance) are the most precious life experiences that allow us to access our soul. Once we are deeply connected to our own spirituality we also become connected to something greater than ourselves, the powerful and ever present life force of love.

It would be a very nurturing, loving way to start the new year if we allowed ourselves to embrace a completely different mindset from what the dieting industry wants us to embrace. One that focuses on and values life, health, intimacy, trust, joy, peace, and compassion (toward self and others). And, of course, a life that encourages us to actually FEEL and be imperfectly human. A life that creates space to not only feel the full gamut of our feelings that come with being alive, but to honor them with reverence and to allow ourselves to learn from our emotions. To not bury them or run from them or live in fear of them. A life that defines beauty as living from our truest selves, compassionately accepting our imperfections, loving ourselves and others, and choosing each day to embrace the gifts that are available to us when we live and love with an open heart.

It is my hope that we can start a revolution against the dieting industry in the year 2016. That we can accept the beauty of ourselves without reaching a number on the scale, without getting into a certain size jean, without comparing our body to someone else. I hope that all of us will embrace the joy in life that is available to us each time we let go, feel, and are present to our experiences. I hope that we can experience deep peace within ourselves when we are open to the delight and pleasure of being alive by sharing a delicious meal with a loved one, savoring a cup of coffee and treats over deep conversation with our adult child or a friend, or sitting quietly and sipping on a hot mug of  delicious tea while we practice gratitude. It is time we all practice cultivating deep and abiding compassion toward ourselves and this can start with loving our bodies. It can start by being grateful every day for the work our bodies do to keep us strong, healthy and alive, to help us recover from disease, injury and pain. It can start by believing that we deserve to eat without restriction, that we deserve to feel pleasure, that we deserve to participate in joy. It starts by being able to trust what our bodies need, respond lovingly and letting go of perfectionism. It most definitely starts when we choose true intimacy, trust and loving, unconditional acceptance.

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Jane Ryan

Jane Ryan, M.A., LMFT, is a Licensed Couples and Family Therapist with twenty years of clinical experience. She specializes in intimate relationships, sexual challenges, sacred sexuality, and helping clients embrace their true erotic nature. She supports women in discovering their most radiant, vibrant and powerful feminine essence.