There’s no doubt about it; once you embrace self love and body positivity there’s no looking back!!! But what do you do when other people don’t share your enthusiasm? How do you handle the pressure to conform?
I’m a year into my self love/body positive journey, and there’s no question that I’m immeasurably happier and healthier for it. But unfortunately not everybody in my life gets it. And the pressure to conform persists.
In my experience, the pressure comes primarily from family. I come from a big but very closely knit family full of avocado loving, athletic, juicing runners who take vigilant care of their physical health. As the token fat sheep of the family, I’ve always felt under massive amounts of pressure to tow the line, get my shit together and fit in with the rest of them.
And while I don’t put myself under that pressure anymore, I do still feel that their expectations of me haven’t changed. Now let me be clear about something, my family love me. They don’t want me to lose weight because they hate me, but because they want me to be happy, to be healthy, and to thrive. And while I don’t internalise that pressure anymore like I used to, it can still be hard to deal with the inevitable, ‘how’s the diet going’ questions that come my way at family occasions.
So how do I handle that continuing pressure?
It’s easy to get frustrated when you feel you’re constantly having to defend your new found self love. It’s just as easy to become defensive about your choice to stop hating yourself. Why can’t people get it? Why can’t they just see that I’m happier than ever before and accept that?
The key thing to managing your response to this is to be compassionate towards whoever it is that’s putting you under pressure.
In my case, I have to remind myself that this person, whether it’s a parent or an uncle, has been conditioned by society in the same way that I have to believe that there is only one right way to have a body. More often than not they’ve been conditioned in that way for forty/fifty/sixty years. And what’s more, they’ve lived their lives according to the standards of society without ever having had those standards challenged. The bopo movement is still new, still niche and still unkown to most people. So of course it’s going to be difficult for them to get their heads around your comparatively radical way of thinking.
Thinking this way helps me to find the compassion to respect where they’re coming from. In the same way that their need to change me is wrong, it’s also wrong for me to try to change them. I have no right to impose my beliefs on them. I have no right to denounce them as conservative or backward. So I don’t.
Instead I simply try to respect their experience, understand their perspective and be grateful for their love.
The pressure to conform is something that we’ve all lived with from the day we were born. Society says we need to look a certain way, be a certain size, shape, weight, live a certain lifestyle and behave a certain way. And the harsh truth is that even after you’ve made the commitment to yourself not to conform, to live an authentic and loving life, there will always be pressure from society to do the opposite. You can’t change that, so don’t waste your precious energy trying.
But we have the power to choose how we respond. Do we internalise that pressure? Do we allow the claims of others to infringe on our own convictions about who and what we are? Or do we accept that every single one of us, body positive AND body negative, is simply trying to do our best with the knowledge, understanding and awareness available to us? And that at the end of the day, our only goal should be to love ourselves so unconditionally that the opinions of others simply don’t matter.
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