In the English language, the word acceptance we often misconstrue with approving of or liking something. In Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), we hold that acceptance means acknowledging reality rather than agreeing with it. By accepting what is, we recognize the reality of the situation and how we’d prefer our body to be, but that doesn’t guarantee that it must or should always be the way we desire it to look. Acceptance is surrendering control of what we cannot change, and working toward that which we can improve on. When I discuss this concept with others, I often receive pushback against body acceptance because many express how they can’t accept themselves as long as there are features on their bodies that they still hate. Many also mistake acceptance with not trying to change the things they can do something about. It’s essential to keep in mind that loving yourself doesn’t mean that you have to like everything about your physique to accept it still.
Unconditional body-acceptance is not labeling ourselves as entirely one thing or another based on the aspects of our physique we don’t love. We refer to this mindset as black and white thinking or dichotomous thinking. It’s about seeing our negative and positive physical features on our bodies as just part of what makes us who we are rather than defining our entire selves by those features we dislike. For example, when you buy a brand-new car and drive down the road and accidentally pop one of the tires, do you junk the tire or bring the entire brand-new car to the junkyard? Just because the tire is defective doesn’t mean the whole car is faulty. In other words, when we label ourselves as a failure, inadequate, inferior, and or worthless by a physical trait or two we don’t like, theoretically we are bringing our entire selves to the junkyard.
To unconditionally accept our bodies, we have to accept others as well unconditionally. That doesn’t mean we have to like everything about their bodies either; it just means that we see them as a collection of good and bad traits or physical features rather than all one thing or another. Unconditionally accepting others is vital because we cannot unconditionally accept ourselves by throwing out this flawed judgmental metric when it comes to our bodies, and then turn around and use this erroneous metric to bring down other people. How could we work towards being comfortable in our skin despite our flaws while simultaneously judging other people by their imperfections? Doing so would continue to reinforce the measuring stick that perpetuates our misery and body shame. If we aren’t defined by how our body looks holistically speaking, then it would logically follow that other people wouldn’t be as well.