For you body acceptance might feel elusive. It might feel out of reach. It might seem overwhelming or foreign or just unnatural. Maybe you think it’s insignificant or unrealistic or not feasible to actually embrace your body. Which is why I wanted to interview one of my favorite people, Anna Guest-Jelley, who’s penned a powerful, personal and practical book about body acceptance called Curvy Yoga: Love Yourself & Your Body a Little More Each Day. Below, Anna reveals the biggest myths about body acceptance, how yoga can help and what body acceptance looks like for her today—after trying 65 diets throughout the years.
Margarita Tartakovsky is an associate editor at PsychCentral.com, an award-winning mental health website, and the voice behind Weightless, a blog that helps women deal with body image issues and disordered eating. She also writes a monthly feature for Beliefnet.com, covering topics such as patience and procrastination.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
Q: Why is it important to accept our bodies?
A: You know, this is such a great question to start with because on the one hand I think it sometimes seems like a given that accepting our bodies is a good thing. But on the other hand we also get the message that the exact opposite is true, that we should be doing everything we can to change our bodies into a certain look or supposed ideal. It can get very confusing!
I believe accepting your body is important because I believe our bodies are great sources of wisdom for so many parts of our lives. When we’re disconnected from our bodies, we’re disconnected from our internal wisdom and gauges of what is best for us, whether that is in the realm of career, relationships, food, movement, or anything else.
Q: You’d tried 65 different diets and struggled with a negative body image for years. What was the turning point for you toward body acceptance?
A: The turning point was actually making that tally of 65 diets! I’d already started down the road of body acceptance before doing that, but I wasn’t sure if it was for me or not. After seeing that number, though, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to change my relationship with my body, and it was very clear that what I needed wasn’t a 66th diet but an entirely new way of relating to my body. I clearly had more than enough data to prove to myself that diets weren’t the answer!
Q: Why is yoga such a powerful tool for practicing body acceptance?
A: When I first started learning more about body acceptance, I did that through therapy and reading books. Those things were hugely important to my process and healing—and still are. But I didn’t really know how to make body acceptance move beyond my head and beliefs and into something practical and actionable in my life until I connected it with yoga.
Yoga is a practice that asks you to be in ongoing relationship with your body. Through a teacher asking you to notice something like what your left foot is doing in a pose, you begin to build a foundation of presence and curiosity in and with your body. And that foundation not only exists for your on-the-mat yoga practice, but your off-the-mat life, too. When taught and practiced in a body-affirming way, yoga can make body acceptance tangible.
Q: What does accepting and loving your body mean to you? What does it look like day to day?
A: Day to day it is so much quieter than I ever thought it would be. At the beginning of my journey I thought accepting my body would mean wanting to praise or celebrate it loudly or visibly quite often, or never having a negative thought about my body again. What I found, though, is that there’s much more ebb and flow than that. I think about it now like any relationship: While there might be a more exciting time at the beginning, over time it’s like the companionable silence of a long-term relationship. I find that I spend far less time thinking about my body and far more time living in my body these days.
Q: What’s the biggest myth about body acceptance?
A: Oh my goodness, there are so many! I want to talk about two, but at the root they’re really one: (1) The myth that if you ever have a negative thought about your body, then you’re not body accepting, and (2) That accepting your body means giving up on your body. At the root, both of these myths are about there being a right or wrong way to do body acceptance, which is absolutely not true. In my experience, body acceptance is the opposite of giving up on yourself. It asks you to be in ongoing, evolving relationship with yourself, which couldn’t be further from a static and complacent acceptance.
Also, I truly don’t know anyone who never, ever had another negative thought after deciding to become more accepting of their body. That is not a thing! So we can all give ourselves a little more grace here. What I see in my own life is the contrast of how I used to relate to my body and how I do now. So that doesn’t mean I never have a negative thought anymore, but it does mean that there’s more space between those thoughts than there used to be and that I know how to see the thought, name it, and then re-center myself, knowing that this cycle isn’t a sign that I’m failing, but that I’m human.
Q: How might someone start shifting toward body acceptance right now (especially after years of struggling)?
A: I think the first step, which might sound like it’s not even doing anything, is to get present in your body. What I mean by that is to take a moment and feel your feet on the floor, your bum on the chair seat, your hand on your knee, your breath entering in and exiting your nostrils — anything. When you make that shift to noticing your body, that is the place that body acceptance begins. The reason this is true is because when you don’t know how your body feels or what it wants or needs, it’s very difficult (and I’d say nearly impossible) to form any relationship with your body, much less an accepting one.
Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about body acceptance or your powerful book?
A: I want everyone to know that both yoga and body acceptance are for everyone—especially if you think that’s not true. While it takes most of us time to find the right fit and find our own way, that process isn’t a sign that neither are for you. They’re just a sign that you’re in a process of discovery, which is an essential part of (re)building a relationship with your body.