As feminists share tips, stories, and body love today, I am pleased to see that some are also highlighting the negatives of the body-love imperative. While fighting body-negative messages is crucial, it is important to recognize that the goal should be acceptance of others’ bodies, not unqualified love of one’s own. For many people, including transgender, genderqueer, and intersect people, people with disabilities, people with a history of eating disorders, and those with a history of sexual assault, body love may not be a comfortable or appropriate goal. It’s important to realize that for some of us, a body is an inconvenience or a hindrance, and that experience is just as valid as body-love.
So what tips would I share on Love Your Body Day?
1. Speak to others in a thoughtful, compassionate way about bodies. Recognize that people’s relationships with their bodies vary widely and respect that. Don’t speak in absolute terms or offer advice when it’s not wanted or needed. For example, don’t sing the praises of exercise–many feel that while it’s wrong to criticize someone’s weight, exercise is right for everyone, and that simply isn’t true.
2. Be gentle with yourself if you have difficulty with body-love. Sometimes our bodies are disappointing. They might not function how we’d like them to. It might be hard to gain or lose weight. We might have health problems we can’t control, or a body that doesn’t feel right for our gender. If nurturing your body isn’t appropriate for you, try nurturing your mind or your spirit. A lot of body issues are mental health issues, and it can help to have a safe space to talk those out, even if they aren’t “fixable.”
3) Look for and give support where you can. It might be helpful to share experiences with others who have similar body issues. This doesn’t have to be a formal support group–I’ve seen plenty of this on Twitter and Tumblr.
4) Think of ways to visualize yourself or express your creative spirit–this doesn’t necessarily have to involve your body. For example, you might design an avatar or a work of art to represent you, make a spirit wall, practice creative visualization to envision yourself in some way other than the embodied, or use fashion to cover your body or make it less noticeable than what you’re displaying on it.
5) Assert your right (and others’) to take up space in a way that works for you. It’s okay to say that your body fucking sucks. You have a right to be sad, hurt, or angry. Anyone who insists that you love your body, get over your issues, or make more of an effort to love yourself is practicing emotional abuse. You have a right to inhabit physical space as well. You have a right to accommodations that you need. You have a right to say no to anything that makes you uncomfortable. You have a right to tell others not to say things about your body that they think are positive, and not to touch your body. These are all parts of bodily autonomy.