The first time I heard anyone talk about stewardship it was in a discussion about the environment, and in this context it meant making careful decisions that would cause no further harm to our planet. The next time was at the university foundation where I worked, and in this context it meant strengthening relationships with donors by keeping them updated on projects they’d funded. Both of those are fairly big picture, and involve other people. But I’ve started to think about my relationship with my body as being a kind of stewardship, too.

At its root, the word means the activity of protecting, nurturing, and taking responsibility for something. I remember moving to Minneapolis and suddenly realizing that if I didn’t make a dentist appointment for myself, my teeth would never be cleaned again. My mom was no longer the steward of my health and body, so I had to step up. I had to take responsibility for my eating choices, my mental health, my skincare routine. I had to make sure I got enough sleep, got enough exercise, got enough water. And those nuts-and-bolts things have been easy to take care of ever since.

But when I think about body image, the meaning of stewardship shifts. Personally, I don’t find the the body love movement to be invasive or overreaching, but I know many do. And as a friend recently pointed out, asking someone – or many someones – to move directly from loathing and misery to love and celebration isn’t terribly reasonable. Asking someone to move from loathing and misery to neutrality and acceptance? A little less daunting. And I feel like adding the concept of stewardship to the neutrality/acceptance mix can be very beneficial.

Your body is you, so thinking of it as a thing that you care for is a little odd. But aside from instincts and reflexes, your mind does a lot of the driving when it comes to your body. And how you conceptualize your relationship with your body can have a huge impact on your overall well-being. Many people are apt to make demands of their bodies, express wishes or disappointment about their bodies, try to mould and shape and change their bodies. Many of us think of our bodies in terms of the things they aren’t and the things they can’t do. What if we focused on these ideas instead:

  • This is the only body you’ll get to inhabit. No trade-ins, no backs.
  • You’re in charge of your body. If you don’t care for it, no one will.
  • Protecting and nurturing your body benefits both physical and emotional health.

Your body is not a mass of flaws to be disguised, or a list of failures. Your body is not a burdensome receptacle for your brain and soul. Your body is not a lifelong improvement project. Your body is you. And even if you’re not ready to lavish yourself with love and affection, perhaps you could think about protecting, nurturing, and taking responsibility for the well-being of your body. Because even when it is frustrating, or confusing, or filled with aches and pains, it is still yours. You are the one and only person tasked with the stewardship of your body. It’s a lot of responsibility, but the payoff is worth it.

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