How a new book about relationships and accepting your partner for who they are, turns out to be a great message about body image as well.
By Elle Chase, ACS
As a sex educator and body acceptance advocate, it should be no surprise that I love to devour books on sex, relationships, and intimacy. People and their relationships (especially with themselves) fascinate me. In fact, I just wrote a book regarding body acceptance called Curvy Girl Sex: 101 Body-Positive Positions to Empower your Sex Life which doesn’t just detail sex positions, but also gives suggestions on accepting one’s body where it is right now. However, I’m always thirsty to learn more, so when a friend suggested I read a new book on relationships called ‘Radical Acceptance’, I was totally game.
With Radical Acceptance, I expected a book with steps on how to love your partner unconditionally, and I that is definitely what the book is about. But, what I didn’t expect to find is how closely Radical Acceptance matches my own philosophy on body positivity and one’s intimate relationship with themselves. To me, this wasn’t just a book about relationships with paramours and how to make them work, it also read like a book about body confidence and body acceptance, and it’s, for this reason, I found it especially intriguing.
In her book, the author Andrea Miller, likens Radical Acceptance to unconditionally loving your partner. Does the hair on his back gross you out? Does he annoy you by always wanting to go to the theater when you just want to see the latest blockbuster? Does he frustrate you be getting pompous after a couple of drinks? Andrea suggests concentrating on just loving him. It’s important to note that she’s not suggesting becoming a pushover or always succumbing to your partner’s wishes … not at all. In a nutshell, what she encourages us to understand, is that in order to have a happy partnership we need to decide what really matters in the relationship and pick our battles. She understands that we will always have differences with our partners, but that mitigating our recurrent conflicts by loving our partner enough to just accept (and not change) some of the qualities that bug us is the key to spousal happiness.
When reading this book I couldn’t help but identify with it. Not in a way that felt congruent with my love life, but with the way I have a relationship with my own body. Andrea has five steps toward Radical Acceptance in a relationship and they all can be read as steps to a more positive relationship with your own body. Here are Andrea Miller’s five steps to radical acceptance in a relationship and how I see them as they relate to how one can go from hating their body to just accepting, maybe even loving it.
STEP 1: Just love him (or just dump him)
You hate your body but are sick of hating it. You know you need a new and positive paradigm with which to relate to it, yet you are so overwhelmed with how much you dislike it, you can’t see the forest for the trees. You feel like your body stands in the way of you liking yourself, your station in life, even achieving things you want. Yet you feel powerless to change it. In her book, Andrea talks about dating someone long-term and the challenges that brings to any relationship. Her advice is if you can’t get to Radical Acceptance with them … if you can’t get past some major deal-breakers, then you need to get out.
When looking at this step in relationship to our corporeal being, to me this is akin to that “come to Jesus” moment you have with your body. This is the point many stop at, exhausted and beaten, just to wake up another day feeling like shit. “Just Love Him (or Just Dump Him)” means shit or get off the pot. Don’t give up. If you can’t love your body in that moment, then don’t. You don’t have to love your body to be free from the aching emotional pain it seems to give you. If you can’t love your body (and let’s face it, most of us can’t) then how about just accepting your body? Acceptance is a much easier place to get to than loving, and in this case, Radical Acceptance is where I suggest you start. Just the relief from the pressure of feeling like you have to “love” your body should release enough stress to allow you start slowly accepting it for what and where it is. Fuck loving your body, just try radically accepting it.
STEP 2: Stop, Reflect, Introspect: Get Outside of Your Own Emotional Reactions
Wanna know what the real problem is with our bodies? How we perceive it. Perception is reality, so the saying goes, and this adage is right on the money. Throughout our lives, our perception is mitigated by all the feelings, experiences and emotions we’ve grown up with. Timmy called you a “fat pig” when you were twelve? That colors your perception today. You overheard Margot tell your sorority sister that she thinks you’re ugly? Put that in today’s perception stew. That guy you have a crush on at work says you’re not his type? Chances are, your perception will most likely tell you it’s because you’re “fat” and “ugly”.
In her book Radical Acceptance, Andrea asks that the reader to think about where their strong reactions are coming from before we speak them aloud to our partner.
In relationship to our own bodies, I feel this step is telling us all to challenge our automatic reactions and perceptions of ourselves. To dig deep and really try to be honest and objective with how we judge, not just ourselves, but each other. “Get outside of your own emotional reactions” and try to see the situation anew. Not everything is about us and not everything is about what we think we look like, or what we think they meant or said. So before you react; “stop, reflect, and introspect.” This is just good guidance for most things in life.
STEP 3: Radical Communication: Creating a Safe Space to Be Heard and Really Seen
Once you’ve decided to accept yourself and to parse immediate negative reactions, you have begun creating a safe space to play around with, challenging and reprogramming all those tapes (old negative voices from the past) in your head that tell you that you’re less-than you need to be, or that you aren’t worthy of love, especially from yourself. Finish creating this space by using body neutrality. This means, that if you can’t say anything nice (about yourself) then don’t say it at all (sound familiar?) … Instead, I say if you can’t say anything nice about yourself … say something neutral.
Is that insult Margot levied in college ringing in your head like a gong lately? Can’t think of anything nice to say about yourself that you actually believe to counteract it? Push it out of your mind and tell yourself, “I look how I look” or “this is how I came out today” – whatever it is, it has to be neutral, you have to believe it and it has to replace that negative thought. Practicing body neutrality on a consistent basis is creating a permanent safe space inside your head where you are free to communicate with yourself in a far-reaching and meaningful way. Hearing yourself change an old negative tape (like Margot and Timmy’s) and belief and then seeing yourself the better for it will make this step easier as you go.
STEP 4: Love All of Him – Even the “Unloveable” Parts
Step four is all about compassion. This is the simplest step, but it’s certainly not the easiest. Change “Love All of Him” to “Love All of Me” and you’ll get the idea. After accepting your body, reflect on what old tapes run in your head, starting to change your perception of yourself, and after creating that safe space in your mind to communicate neutral thoughts about your body, not negative ones, you’re ready to start breaking down the parts of your body (or yourself) that’s really a challenge to accept.
In her book, Radical Acceptance, Andrea explains how to go about accepting your partner – flaws and all. But for me, this step was about my relationship with my body and the parts of it that I still struggle with accepting or loving. Personally, with this step, I decided to focus on my stomach and how large and protruding it is. Even though I accept it for what it is, I still have times where it embarrasses me or makes me feel self-conscious. In those moments, I notice that I am just putting up with my tummy. In those moments, I have to concentrate less on my stomach and more on having compassion for myself, including my need to accept my stomach in that moment. Accepting our “unloveable” parts is a dynamic assertion, and in those moments where we find ourselves challenged by our inner demons, negative thoughts, self-hatred and old tapes, self-compassion is the only healthy way out.
STEP 5: Apply the Platinum Rule and Make him a Priority
In her book, Andrea explains her “Platinum Rule” as to “love others as they wish to be loved”. For the relationship with the body, I took this to mean, loving your body the way it wishes to be loved. If you had control over how you related to your body from day one, how would you want to feel about it? Would you want it to feel loved by yourself and others? Meditate on that, make it a priority. Prioritize changing the gestalt of your body – how would you choose to see it as a whole or in its individual parts? When you find that good feeling you’re looking for, capture it, take it in, remember it so you can call that feeling up when you need it (maybe the next time you work Step 4?). At the end of the day, thoughts become things, and the key here is if you carry thoughts of your best self and the feelings those thoughts elicit, the faster you will be able to move past accepting your body, to actually loving it … “flaws” and all.
Originally published on YourTango