I used to think that words like “success,” “self-care,” “beauty” and “body acceptance” had one-size-fits-all definitions. For example, I used to think that beauty was defined as thin, tan and clear skin. Of course, there were exceptions, but I still didn’t qualify.
I used to think that self-care was synonymous with pedicures, bubble baths and spa treatments. I used to think that body acceptance was defined by thinness, too. That is, I thought you had to be thin in order to accept your body, in order to have permission to finally appreciate yourself.
I’m not sure where these rigid definitions came from. They probably stemmed from our cultural narrative, which hyper-focuses on weight, bikini bodies, diets and deprivation.
Of course, these definitions are wrong in oh-so many ways.
In her book Body of Truth: How Science, History and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight–And What We Can Do about It, author Harriet Brown talks about the problematic definitions we have for the word “health.” They’re problematic because what’s healthy for Brown will be different from what’s healthy for me, which will be different from what’s healthy for you. As she writes, it depends on our physical and mental needs. And it depends on our expectations. Brown writes:
For instance, I’ve struggled with a chronic anxiety disorder since I was ten. Thanks to exercise, meditation, and better living through chemistry, I experience way fewer symptoms than I used to. I function a lot better than I did in my twenties, but maybe not as well as someone without an anxiety disorder. Does that make me mentally unhealthy?
And here’s what’s so freeing: You can create whatever definitions you want. You can define these terms in ways that feel true and good to you; in ways that actually serve and support and inspire you.
In another post, I talk about creating an actual dictionary of your definitions. Write out your own definitions for different words. Add a list of activities, actions or things that define each term. Then turn to your dictionary whenever you need a reminder, or whenever you want to edit a term (since you know they’re not written in blood or anything).
Here’s a sample list of words you might want to define, fittingly, on your own terms:
- physical self-care
- mental self-care
- emotional self-care
- spiritual self-care
- body acceptance
If you’d like to share your definitions in the comments, I’d love to read them.