Health At Every Size

“Self-care” is not what we think…

September 28, 2023

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I'm Michelle — health coach for women who want to escape diet culture and find the health they deserve.

Meet Michelle

Over the past six months, I’ve been working on shifting my focus away from weight loss, and away from trying to mold my body to fit into the definition of beauty that the culture I live in has defined for me. 

Previously, I believed my desire to lose weight stemmed from health concerns, finding well-fitting clothes, and boosting my confidence. However, as I delved deeper, I unearthed a web of societal messaging dictating how I should look and dress, perpetuating the idea that thinness equals beauty.

Beneath the surface, I had internalized these messages, convinced that my body needed to adhere to specific standards for societal acceptance. But here’s the revelation: It doesn’t. And none of us should be confined by these unattainable ideals. 

Many self-care practices I thought were positive were deeply rooted in diet culture, emphasizing weight loss over well-being. So it’s time for a paradigm shift and today, I want to explore how we can prioritize respecting our bodies, celebrating the lives they enable, and embracing self-trust and self-kindness.

The Root Cause

The question is: Where did all this conditioning come from? 

The answer is everywhere—social media, movies, TV, commercials, and more. “Thinspiration” is ubiquitous, and even body positivity feeds on platforms like Instagram often portray ideals that aren’t necessarily accessible to us average Joes.

The more I observed how women were portrayed across various media, the clearer it became that society expected us to fit a certain mold. To truly grant myself permission to step away from these expectations, I needed to reevaluate how I related to my own body, especially living within a larger frame.

How could I come to terms with the fact that my body might never align with the ideal? I’m approaching my fifties, and the question nagging me was, “Do I want to spend the second half of my life obsessing over my appearance when I have so much more to offer the world?” After all, my body allows me to share my unique gifts. Why had I been treating it so poorly?

Self-care has become an overused and marketed term, often reduced to superficial rituals like bath bombs, green smoothies, and pedicures. My self-care practices, I realized, were steeped in the motivation to mold my body into that elusive ideal rather than genuinely caring for myself.

Eating better, exercising, and experimenting with diets were all rooted in the desire to lose weight, perpetuating a cycle of shame, self-blame, deprivation, and restriction. The more I engaged in this mentality, the louder my inner critic became.

It was essential to recognize that most of what I did for self-care was causing harm rather than fostering well-being. Even shopping became a coping mechanism, with outfits aimed at conforming to external standards for validation.

When I decided to step away from this cycle, I struggled to understand what self-care meant beyond weight loss. What was genuine self-care? I was still trying to figure it out.

What is self-care?

What I’ve learned is that self-care, steeped in shame and distrust of one’s body, isn’t sustainable. Trusting our bodies is a process, just like building trust in any relationship. It requires consistently showing up, keeping promises, and being present.

If we scrutinize and criticize our bodies, as we have for years, trust won’t magically appear. But by shifting our perspective and offering kindness and respect to our bodies, we can rebuild that trust and experience self-love.

Weight-neutral self-care is about understanding what we truly need, free from societal pressures. If we lived in a world where body diversity was celebrated, how would we care for ourselves? What would we do more or less of?

Embracing weight-neutral self-care involves gentle steps away from practices rooted in weight loss and toward actions that genuinely nurture our bodies and minds. We can have a foot in both worlds, acknowledging the challenges of the prevailing culture while carving out our own path to self-acceptance.

The key is asking ourselves simple questions like: What do I need right now? What will make me feel good in this moment? These questions can lead to self-awareness, self-trust, self-respect, and perhaps even self-love. It’s not about reaching a destination; it’s about experiencing small moments of well-being that gradually build a more positive relationship with ourselves.

In a world rife with societal pressures, self-acceptance is a radical act. Let’s commit to showing up for ourselves and treating our bodies with kindness and respect, knowing that it’s a journey worth embarking on—one that can transform how we view ourselves and our place in the world.

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