Body Acceptance: What It Means and How to Achieve It

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Body acceptance is a big, intimidating step for many people. For some, it may seem entirely out of reach. Diet culture has bred very narrow views and harsh expectations around how bodies should look and be presented, including ideal size, shape, abilities, or conforming to gender stereotypes.

More recently, there's been a shift in attitudes focusing on learning to accept and appreciate all bodies. Before full acceptance, you may land on a more neutral ground, where you don't necessarily accept, but you also don't reject your body how it is now.

If you experience invasive, persistent negative thoughts about your body that you feel are interfering with your health and wellbeing, or if you are anxious and unhappy, speak to a health care provider or see a qualified therapist.

What Does Body Acceptance Mean? 

Body acceptance means accepting your body, regardless of whether or not you are completely satisfied with it. Your thoughts about your body are called body image, which consists of all the positive and negative thoughts, perceptions, behaviors, and attitudes you have about your body and appearance.

Poor body image can lead to becoming critical of your body in ways that interfere with your mental and physical wellbeing. For some, these negative thoughts can become disordered and require medical attention. Practicing body acceptance may help avoid negative body image from taking over your thoughts and interfering with your happiness and general wellbeing.

How Diet Culture Affects Body Image

Diet culture pushes the mistaken idea that an ideal physical appearance is more valuable than physical, psychological, and general wellbeing. Diet culture normalizes controlling your body through diet by limiting what and how much you eat. This can lead to disordered eating and disordered body image.

Is Body Acceptance for Everyone? 

Body acceptance is not a place where many people can land right away. If you have a very negative body image, you may feel better working toward body neutrality. Body neutrality is the middle ground of not rejecting, but not quite yet accepting your body the way it is.

For some people, gender identity or other physical and mental attributes can mean body acceptance is not on the table. Working with a therapist and a doctor provides the support and medical guidance you need to make a plan to address some of these concerns.

For those who are ready to practice body acceptance, know that it does not require you to believe that your body is perfect, objectively attractive, or that you shouldn't want to change your body in some way.

Instead, body acceptance is for you if you are ready to firmly accept that your body is "good enough," according to your own standards. It also means you understand these standards are separate from society's confined ideals regarding body standards that generate negative body image.

Body Acceptance vs Body Positivity

Body acceptance has different interpretations. For some, body acceptance may mean body positivity, where you view your body in positive ways as much as possible and reject negative thoughts. However, some experts criticize body positivity for excluding those who are not ready to be positive about their appearance but need a middle ground where appearance is less of a focus.

Body positivity still creates a framework where appearance is front and center. It stresses loving your "flaws" and aspects of your body that don't conform to strict standards. On social media, it has evolved into flaunting and displaying bodies, and the focus is still placed on physical appearance.

Body acceptance is similar but can also involve body neutrality, which shifts the focus to what your body can do rather than how it looks. Body acceptance is more complex and involves acknowledging that your body has features you may not be completely satisfied with and working on accepting these features.

How to Achieve Body Acceptance

Achieving body acceptance is a personal process that will be different for everyone. It may be best to work through it with a therapist, but there are some "starting point" strategies you can use to build up momentum.

  • Purge social media: Stop following social media accounts that trigger unwanted thoughts (even so-called "body-positive" ones).
  • Inventory your capabilities: Write down the things your body can do and does do for you right now that you appreciate. It could be your ability to run fast or far, breastfeeding, or even fine motor skills for crafting.
  • Practice self-compassion: If you have negative thoughts, try to counter them with self-compassion. Forgive yourself and practice countering these thoughts with acceptance.
  • Try mindful acceptance: Instead of naming your negative emotions, try observing them and recognizing them as temporary, passing thoughts. Try letting these thoughts "pass by" and let them go. This can help you reinterpret your thoughts and reframe them.

A Word From Verywell

Body acceptance is a process that requires rejecting messages you may have been exposed to for several years through media and societal pressures. It's not something that happens overnight and it's not an all-or-nothing concept. You can work slowly toward body acceptance, perhaps first with body neutrality. This shift is hard—a therapist is a helpful resource that should be able to provide personalized, tangible advice.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is body acceptance better than body positivity?

    Body acceptance is often considered better than body positivity for many people. Body positivity puts pressure on people to be positive and happy with their bodies and not desire any changes. For some, this is unreasonable for a variety of reasons. Body acceptance allows you to be more neutral and takes the focus off of appearance.

  • Is body acceptance harmful?

    Body acceptance is not harmful unless the concept makes you feel pressure to accept things you are not ready to. If you feel stressed and anxious about accepting your body, neutrality may be a better stepping stone for you. It's wise to work with a therapist to achieve this.

  • How do you get body acceptance?

    Body acceptance is a multi-step process that involves acknowledging your body has features you may not be completely satisfied with and working on accepting these features over time. It may require the help of a therapist.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Hogan MJ, Strasburger VC. Body image, eating disorders, and the mediaAdolesc Med State Art Rev. 2008;19(3):521-xi.

  4. Gelsinger AS. A critical analysis of the body positive movement on Instagram: how does it really impact body image? Spectra Undergraduate Research Journal. 2021;1(1). doi:10.9741/2766-7227.1003

  5. Rodgers, R. F., McLean, S. A., & Paxton, S. J. (2015). Longitudinal relationships among internalization of the media ideal, peer social comparison, and body dissatisfaction: Implications for the tripartite influence modelDevelopmental Psychology, 51(5), 706–713. doi:10.1037/dev0000013

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By Rachel MacPherson, BA, CPT
Rachel MacPherson is a health writer, certified personal trainer, and exercise nutrition coach based in Montreal.

Edited by
Lily Moe
Lily Moe for Verywell Fit

Lily Moe is a former fitness coach and current Editor for Verywell Fit. A wellness enthusiast, she can often be found in a hot yoga studio, trying a new recipe, or going for a long run in Central Park.

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