It’s an exhausting way to live, to be mentally at battle with some element of yourself all the time. To want to be body positive but to still have a negative guttural reaction to yourself. And it’s hardly our fault that we feel this way. We have been bombarded with messaging around body size and image since we entered the world.
The fashion and beauty industry has dictated what we should look like, even though their standard is not humanly possible because it is half created by computers. And the health and diet industries have taught us that we are unhealthy, lazy, and complacent if we don’t work our bodies into carefully measured moulds. And they use a very rudimentary system to evidence this. The problem with using data alone (like weight or calories in vs calories out) to gauge wellness, is that it misses a humongous factor. The human factor. A body is not only tissue and cells. It is also emotion and consciousness. And health is a complex ecosystem that cannot be accurately measured by a single metric.
Firstly, the simplistic approach of cals in vs cals out ignores the bigger picture: cause and effect. True, too many calories in causes weight gain on a very basic level. But what causes too many calories in? It must be greed surely. Because of course all fat people are gluttonous food vacuums who have let themselves go right? Er nope. But some people really do hold that limited opinion. And the media perpetuates it. Secondly, that puts all our worth into the physical. That’s a load of rubbish and a toxic way to think about ourselves. If you are prone to emotional eating then that ‘failure’ to measure up will likely lead to overeating in efforts to make yourself feel better. And there we have created a woefully destructive cycle.
While it’s fantastic that the body positive movement is gaining a lot of traction around the world, it’s entirely possible to be on board with it intellectually, but still feel insecure in your body emotionally. Because a lifetime of messaging doesn’t get unpicked overnight.
Activist Megan Jayne Crabbe makes a great point in her extremely good book Body Positive Power. It’s ok not to make the leap to full body positivity in one go, it’s a journey. You can start with body respect and work up to body acceptance. Respecting the fact that your body has kept you alive all these years and all the things it has had to contend with in order to do that. Every illness it has fought, any medical condition it has to cope with. Your heart beating all day every day, lungs breathing, brain manning the ship etc. Then eventually you can grow to body acceptance. Being able to see yourself in a neutral light. Simply accepting that you look how you look without a deep emotional response. Or maybe not even focussing on it much at all. That’s the dream!
To help you through the process, it might be useful to put a few practical things in place. Here are some tips that might make the road to self-acceptance a little easier.
1. If you use social media, follow accounts/pages/hashtags that support the mindset you want to achieve. It’s time to start immersing yourself in images of real bodies. There are loads of great body positive influencers online, so find a few that you like and follow them to start seeing some more realistic content in your feed.
2. Unfollow anyone who makes you feel bad about yourself for any reason. Even friends. You don’t have to ‘unfriend’ them, you can often just unfollow. It is ok to unfollow anyone who makes you feel bad about you for whatever reason.
3. Find a good book on the subject. Reading is a great way to slowly help the neural rewiring as it drip feeds in suggestions over time. A couple of good options are the aforementioned Body Positive Power (Megan Jayne Crabbe), and The Beauty Myth (Naomi Wolf).
4. If you have any clothes that you don’t feel good wearing or that make you feel self-conscious, donate them to charity. If you have a shortfall of clothes you feel good in, get a few new items that make you feel confident (if you are on a budget, visit charity shops or thrift stores). Try to build a collection of things you feel comfortable in emotionally as well as physically. This will help you to be less focussed on your appearance day-to-day. There’s nothing like having your attention continually drawn to something that makes you feel unconfident.
5. If you struggle with an unhelpful habit or behaviour that contributes to your body image challenge, try to think a bit deeper into your triggers in order to understand yourself better. An unhelpful habit could be anything from binge eating, to a social media addiction, or constantly berating yourself. It’s anything we do repeatedly that makes things feel worse. Consider the moments before the behaviour shows up….what sets it in motion? What do you feel in that moment? How does the habit soothe that feeling? Then try to become more aware of that thought pattern as it occurs. Over time you can introduce other coping mechanisms to address that thought pattern.
6. If you are really struggling and it is affecting your life, get help. There are brilliant counsellors trained specifically in this area. You could sign up for face to face sessions or find something online. It is possible to do this cheap or free, so do some Googling around.
7. Finally, look at yourself in the mirror every day and tell yourself you are beautiful, you are worthy of love, and who you are is the most important thing. It will feel ridiculous at first. But then you may find it gets more emotional, you may even cry. Slowly, it will have an effect.
Ultimately, try to remind yourself that bodies are wonderful, amazing, baffling things designed for living in. They are not statues of immortal perfection and they will not last forever. Even the beautiful ones. So use yours. Live in it. And try to respect it for the life it gives you, no matter what its appearance.