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Body acceptance is a radical act of self-love

Radical Acceptance is a new column focusing on promoting healthy body image and redefining health.

Amy Pence-Brown, a 39-year-old mother of three, is a body image activist internationally known for her radical stand for self-love at the Capitol City Public Market in 2015.

Pence-Brown stood blindfolded in a black bikini, with the following message written on a chalkboard placed at her feet, holding markers in her outstretched arms inviting the crowd to support her radical declaration of self-love.

“I am standing for anyone who has struggled with a self-esteem issue like me, because all bodies are valuable,” her sign read. “To support self-acceptance, draw a heart on my body.”

By the end of the display she was covered in marker, having been drawn on by young and old, men and women. Visit Amy Pence-Brown to watch the video.

Three years later over 200 million people have viewed this stand for radical body liberation making it one of the most viral videos of all time.

“This is powerful. This is humanity,” she said. “This is a revolution. I’m honored and blown wide open with hope.”

Amy’s “Stand For Self Love” changed me.

Her radical declaration of self-love cracked open something deep inside me. I felt our shared humanness. I, too, wanted to advocate for radical acceptance — of all bodies.

Professionally, I began to see a need for this work. As a former exercise professional and “eat this, not that” nutrition coach, I held the false belief that if we exercised and ate well — the two magical pieces to health — we could achieve a fit and healthy body.

I was wrong.

I learned this after having hundreds of intimate conversations, often filled with tears and stress with Jacksonsites and clients around the country.

I started seeing bodies and health differently, with my eyes wide open. I started seeing myself differently.

I had made a career out of being healthy to look healthy. I took a critical look at my own body image. When I did, the worries, fears and shame that I felt about my body over the years flooded through. Now, as a 49-year old woman, I’ve added on another layer to my body image: aging.

I want to be clear about where I am at now professionally. As a mind-body nutritionist, I often have clients come to me seeking weight-loss help. Often they, like many of us, want to eat better to feel better, but the real hope is that eating the “right” foods will help us maintain or change our bodies.

But that’s not my focus. I help clients make peace and heal their relationships with food and their bodies. I help clients gain the crucial tools to achieve true health and well-being, not just the latest diet trend or body ideal.

It’s been three years since Pence-Brown’s video went viral, and I still think about it. I reached out to Amy for her wisdom on being a body image activist and radical Idahoan. When I mentioned this column, she was both excited yet surprised, in the best kind of way.

“I’ve had a lot of pushback against body positivity for years in the region, due to a long-supported fat-phobic culture with a severe dedication to healthism,” she told me.

Though her work has received positive national and international attention, regionally that has not been the case. She hopes to “pave the way to this slow opening of minds, hearts and eyes to the possibility that there might be a new way, a better way, to live and enjoy our bodies than we’ve been taught previously.”

Fat (and thin) Girls (and guys) Hiking

Body positivity activism recently made its way to our community.

This past week I attended one of two “Fat Girls Hiking, Trails Not Scales,” body positivity hikes in Jackson. Founder Summer Michaud-Skog set the ground rules: Hikers were to refrain from diet talk, body shaming or weight loss talk.

The focus was on enjoying the outdoors in whatever body you’re in. Our Jackson group was represented by different body shapes, sizes, genders and ages.

“We love getting outside as a family and exploring, teaching our kids to move their bodies, respect the earth and enjoy the outdoors,” said Stephanie Marie Martinez, who brought her entire family. “Also teaching them that body type doesn’t dictate what you can do in your life. Be it small children or fat adults.”

Elevating the conversation

I plan to provide new ideas and perspectives on how we see bodies and dive deeper into body image in Jackson and how we might redefine health and what healthy looks like.

I also want to be honest and up front; I am still learning to navigate body image myself. My intention isn’t to “fix” body image, self-confidence or self-esteem because we are not “broken.” My intention is to be of service to this community and News&Guide readers, to infuse our hearts and spirit with compassion, for ourselves and every body; to help us see our humanness and practice radical acceptance … of all bodies, no matter what your body size, shape, gender or age.

Our hearts are craving more — to be more than bodies.

“All bodies are good bodies, imperfect as we all are,” Pence-Brown said in an interview with People magazine. “Life is too short to go on hating yourself, so start loving yourself where you are right now.”

I stand with her and with you. Like yourself. Be a rebel.

How to embrace your aging body – Fifty is the new fifty

“Defy your age — get your body back.”

”Take the 10-year social media photo challenge.”

”Fifty is the new 30.”

What do all these messages tell us about aging in today’s body-centric culture?

Don’t.

When I turned 50, I’ll be honest: I’d been thinking about aging a lot leading up to that birthday. There’s no doubt that my body was visibly aging. Yet I knew I wanted to share a healthy body image message about growing older and how we can radically accept our bodies despite living in today’s anti-aging culture.

How can you choose to see your aging body differently?

  • by detaching your self-worth from our appearance
  • practicing gratitude for your present body
  • honoring aging as a privilege (no matter what your age!)
  • seeing your body’s true purpose

I’ve learned to accept that my outside appearance is going to change no matter how many creams, potions or procedures I try.

One of the greatest gifts 🎁 of aging is that it can encourage us to look deeper than the outward appearance, beyond the reflection in a mirror. That type of introspection helped me separate my identity from my appearance.

One of my favorite authors, 67-year old Anne Lamott, said it best:

“Age has given me what I was looking for my entire life — it gave me me.”

Separate your self-worth from your appearance

Reflect and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who are you? What makes you uniquely you?
  • What feeds your spirit?
  • What brings you joy and happiness?
  • What are your special gifts that you are contributing to the world?

Cultivate your inner beauty and focus on feeling good from the inside out instead of trying to change the outside to feel good on the inside.

Aging woman and body image

Aging is a privilege, a miracle

While navigating life and feeling good in our skin as we age isn’t easy, when we practice gratitude and self-compassion and ditch self-criticism and comparison, we can acknowledge aging as a gift. Or, as poet Rupi Kaur said, a miracle.

The anti-aging industry keeps us invested in trying to stay young by creating contests, like the Instagram 10-year challenge, which asks users to post a photo from today and one from 10 years ago. The underlying message: Show how little you’ve aged. But our bodies are meant to change as we live.

The new challenge that I propose to you is to shift from seeing aging as something to defy and see your body with gratitude in the present. The signs of aging — our wrinkles and lines — tell our story. They make us real. They speak our truth.

View your body with an attitude of gratitude

“As a society we don’t talk about aging as a celebration of a life well-lived,” Mary Robinson said in a blog post titled “Coming to Peace With Aging.” “We scrutinize and shame it, if we are talking about it all.”

Have you ever looked back at a photo of your younger self and thought, “I wish I had that body now?” Yes? Take a pause and remember back then. More often than not you’ll find you were critical of yourself then, too. We’re often stuck in such a pattern, never happy with the present self.

But your body is miraculous at all ages. And it’s truly a privilege to get to see it change through the years.

Be more than your body

Our culture and our egos have convinced us our body is who we are. But when we change the way we see our bodies, how we feel about them also changes. What you focus on expands.

What’s your body’s purpose? Choose to view your body not as an ornament but as a vessel for living your best life.

Turning 50 was a gift that allowed me to see aging through a body-positive perspective.

I don’t need my younger body back. I don’t need to feel or look like I’m 30.

Aging has allowed me to see my identity as separate from my appearance. It taught me to have gratitude for my body today and see aging as a privilege. It taught me to see my body as a vessel to give my unique gifts, as a messenger for helping others make peace with their bodies — not as an ornament.

Love yourself now, no matter your age. Be a rebel.

If only our eyes saw souls instead of bodies how different out ideals of beauty would be. – Lauren Jauregui

P.S. Interested in more body image articles? 👇

Ditch Post-Pandemic Body Talk

Mom’s Body Attitude Can Shape Daughter’s

Body Appreciation is Key to Healthful Aging