My friend responded with "throw in a few emergency self acceptance exercises too." I dug what she was saying. And I liked that she wasn't saying "instead of" but rather "along with."
Finding the equilibrium between accepting one's self (in this case, one's body) as-is and doing what one can do to improve and feel better...it seems to be one of the most pervasive conundrums women face. Sometimes we see a fit body and think 'I would like very much to look like that...I'm gonna step it up at the gym, maybe add in some of that giant rope shit,' and sometimes it's 'fuggit, I'ma eat these BBQ Lays (like, the *whole* bag).'
Sidenote: Yes, I know men face this conundrum as well; I will be writing about women because 1) I am a woman and 2) I've had dozens of conversations with women on this topic and very few with men.
As I get older, I'm starting to realize that the balance, for me, comes from responding not as much to how I look but to how I feel. Sometimes how I feel is related to how I look, but mostly it's related to what I know I have or haven't done to be good to my body and the extent to which I'm enjoying life as a result.
While I agree that it's important to seek out the positive and to accept one's self, I don't think this should stand in as a substitute for actual health.
When I've felt the worst about my body, it was because I wasn't eating well or I'd fallen into a state of inertia. What's to feel good about in that case? Sometimes the feeling was exacerbated by the fact that unhealthy behaviors often have observable consequences (i.e. muffin top). Trying on clothes and discovering we've graduated up a size or two is not as thrilling as it was when we were kids; I will THROW DOWN with anybody who tries to claim the contrary.
But physical appearance isn't everything, either. When I'd gained 30 pounds during pregnancy and had power cankles, I actually felt pretty healthy because I was exercising regularly and eating healthy foods (healthier than I did when I wasn't pregnant...tiny humans growing inside can be incredibly motivating!). Our bodies know the difference between healthy and unhealthy, regardless of our size.
For me a good litmus test is also the question of whether or not I feel sexy. I like to feel sexy (I mean, who doesn't?), and while feeling sexy can have a lot to do with self-esteem in general and the state of one's mind, both of those things are often affected by the knowledge of how kindly a person is treating her body.
Women are quick to lambaste men who report not feeling attracted to their wives because their wives have "let themselves go." Fine. It's okay to be outraged about that. But I personally don't feel as excited to get down when I'm feeling like a blob. I think a lot of partners pick up on this mental block that occurs for women when they're not feeling healthy. A woman who feels sexy is sexy. She is comfortable in her skin, magnetic. Rather than simply expecting our spouses to suddenly become attracted to blobs (meaning women who feel like blobs), why not also do what we can to get ourselves out of the blob-like state of mind?
(Disclaimer...not all spouses. Not all spouses pick up on women's state of mind and respond accordingly. Some just really will not be attracted to a woman who's gained 15 pounds. These partners will have a hard time in life, as will their wives. This is unfortunate.)
Finally, for me, becoming a mother has motivated me to strive for the balance I mentioned earlier because I don't want my body image issues to keep me from taking my kids to do fun things, namely things involving water and bathing suits. I was the girl sitting by the pool fully clothed for a full decade of my life (20-30...I should have been flashing strangers at pool parties in Vegas!).
My gym/exercise routines are sporadic, at best. My weight stays within a 5-pound range, but sometimes that extra 5 pounds can feel like a deeeeeply unhealthy 5 pounds. Time to rein it in, get things bank inline, feel better as a result.
And then, there IS this part: There are times when I just have to go with the self-talk and say, 'No, I don't look exactly like I want to look, but I'm not gonna be a hermit about it in the meantime. I am not hideous. My cellulite does not define me. I will own what I've got and, most importantly, HAVE FUN. Just go out there and LIVE, and shake my booty if it makes my young son laugh and let my boyfriend grab my love handles (or lonjas, the Spanish slang I've taught him and which he uses with much affection) and know that it's the laughter and the memories that we are forming that are what is important. SHAME on me if I let it be about my lack of perfection.
And then...yes, be healthy, as healthy as you need to be in order to feel healthy...and keep on keepin' on...