Accept your body for what it can achieve rather than what you don’t like about it
Body anxiety and lack of self confidence is something I hear or see all too often. I regularly have Pilates clients who tell me they want to start Pilates to lose weight, tone up, lose fat, shrink their tummy, have slimmer legs... the list goes on.
It’s a well known fact that magazines with photoshopped images of picture perfect models with slender and / or chiselled bodies have led to the overwhelming discontentment with the general population’s body shape. This has now been exacerbated by narcissistic half-naked fitness social media celebs on Instagram, who I’m sure make many of their followers feel even more insecure in their own skin.
Many presume they will only be happy when they reach their weight loss goal or achieve their perfect body. But this isn’t always the case. The issue many times is more than skin deep - our mind’s relationship to our self and our quest for perfection. I can relate, having struggled with my weight as a teenager onwards, and can empathise even more since working in the health and fitness industry. There is a certain sense of self pressure to look like a slim, well toned Pilates teacher as clients see your bodies as aspirational. I’ve even been told this many times by clients. However, to be honest, at times we struggle to fit in time for our own workouts around the long hours we work in the health and fitness industry. I’m sure many other pilates teachers and PTs echo this sentiment!
Many of us struggle with the idea of having to “love” our body and how we look, always focusing on our faults. So I was interested to hear about the newly coined term “Body neutrality” - the middle ground for body image, which eschews the polarisation of seeing the body as a source of love or hate. It highlights the ongoing battle with our self-image (this applies to women in particular) and instead encourages us to appreciate the fact that we have a healthy, living, breathing, mobile body that has so much potential to achieve what we put our mind to.
I agree that weight loss is important if you are overweight and it’s having implications for your health. Pilates is an ideal jumping board for getting into exercise, which with the aid of a supportive teacher can encourage you to move more and live more healthily. It can help to boost your confidence in what your body can achieve and ward off injury by teaching you correct form if you do go onto combining it with more aerobic style exercises.
The "Quest for perfection" can lead to negative implications on our mental health
Nevertheless, many people still don’t like their bodies even when they reach their weight loss goals. I say ‘our’ as I am definitely not immune to this either. I feel many of us women (although I am aware men are not totally immune to this either) are programmed to be high achievers striving for perfection in all areas of our life, including our appearance. This can be exacerbated by comparing ourselves to others and never feeling that we are good enough.
A change of perspective towards body image
So I was inspired by this women’s health article on body neutrality and their campaign “In Shape, My Shape” which has been a key talking point among certain high profile nutritionists in the press recently such as Rhiannon Lambert. This encourages a change of perspective.
Instead of seeing your aesthetics as a source of ongoing disappointment, hone in on your body’s fitness capability, how strong you are both inside and out.
Set achievable short term and long term enjoyable fitness goals with targets such as mastering the Pilates roll up (curling yourself up to sitting from lying flat) or teaser (folding yourself in half into a V sit position - a veritable core challenge!) or a 10k run rather than weight loss goals. This should hopefully encourage a sense of greater acceptance and pride in what your body can achieve when it puts its mind to it. Then seeing your self reflection shouldn’t appear as much of an internal battle when you realise how much it can do for you!
Meditation can help
To help with self acceptance I personally recommend meditation - spending time with yourself in silence focusing on the present moment.
Meditation apps - I love Headspace and Calm which make mindfulness and meditation very accessible and open to everyone not just yogis and those who follow a more spiritual practice such as buddhists.
I also trained how to practice Vedic meditation last year with Will Williams which is mantra chanting (in your head rather than out loud). Go with whatever works for you.
I would recommend these fantastic reads (or listen - I use audible on the go) for greater guidance on a balanced approach to health and wellness: “The 4 Pillar Plan” by Dr Ragan Chatterjee (my all time favourite book on improving your life threw 4 essential healthy Pillars - Rest, Sleep, Nutrition and Exercise. I love his forward thinking approach to medicine - advocating following these 4 pillars first to try and get to the root cause of an issue rather than always turning to medicine to mast the underlying symptoms.
Another interesting read which provides perspective and useful advice on dealing with the emotional ups and downs of life is "Emotional Agility: Get unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life" by Susan David.
If you’re interested in a scientific read on the latest public findings on nutrition try “The Gut” by Giulia Enders and “The Telomere Effect” by Elizabeth Blackburn.
For a fantastically well written and entertaining read about finding happiness and appreciating the small things in life, I love “The Year of Living more Danishly” by Helen Russell and her sequel which looks at making changes in life - “Leap Year”.
Do you recommend any techniques or books you have read to help with self-acceptance and body image?
Please feel free to share your experiences here.