A couple weeks ago, a blog I recently started reading featured a post titled something like “How to Get a Healthy Body Image.” Intrigued, I took a look, but, within minutes, I’d closed the tab. The top two tips, you see, implored the reader to “clean up” their eating habits and “sweat” regularly. The writer want on to explain that eating healthier would help readers to “slim down,” while exercise would lead “stronger muscles.” There’s nothing wrong with this advice, per se, unless you count the fact that rather than loving your body, these tips emphasized changing it, namely via loosing weight and toning up. Thus brings us to the topic of today’s post or the radical idea that you should not need to alter your form in order to love and appreciate it.
Now, I would never discourage someone from experimenting with their diet or a new exercise regime. Admittedly, some of the habits that help me feel most in tune with my physicality is when I’m eating mindfully and practicing movement that makes me feel good. There is a fine line, however, between mindfulness and damaging dogma. I learned that the hard way when I lost a lot of weight during my freshman year of high school. By the next fall, I was down enough pounds that my peers and even some adults noticed, complimented me, and asked questions like “what are you doing?!” In theory, my body image at this time should have been sky high, right? Well, not really. After a brief spurt of confidence, my perception of my body became more hateful and consuming than ever before. Without getting into all the nitty-gritty details, there was a period of several months when food anxiety occupied 90% of my thoughts. Thankfully, I’m not in that place anymore, but my “body issues”are still an everyday struggle that I’m not sure will ever go away.
I do not blame the blogger whose post I read for what they wrote. Whoever wrote those words has every right to their thoughts, and I know they shared them with positive intentions. With that said, the biases expressed in their post is just another example of how our culture’s continued rejection of body diversity. Sure, there are a handful of plus-size models fronting Sports Illustrated, Vogue, American Eagle, etc., but their rise does not eliminate our society’s ingrained belief that only very thin people are “worthy” of confidence. That, of course, is the farthest thing from the truth. Body confidence is not something we earn— it is our right as living, breathing, yoga-doing, Netflix-watching, kale-and-cookie-eating individuals. I refuse to accept the arguments of those who say the opposite.
True body acceptance is grounded in appreciating what is. Those muscles leftover from high school track? Awesome. The rolls on your stomach? Also amazing. I’m not saying this mindset is an easy place to arrive at— I myself still have a lot, a lot of work to do. But whenever I’m a negative place with my body (like the past few weeks, for instance), I try to remember that it’s not a question of working towards a flatter stomach or more toned arms, but a matter of working towards internal acceptance of my external self. How do I (we!) get there? I’m no expert in body love, but here are a few tips I’ve heard and I like the sound of:
1. Spend time with your body, either naked or wearing underwear/bathing suit. You don’t have to look at yourself, but be with yourself for a while. Walk around your room, do some homework, vacuum…do whatever you want, with every angle, elbow, and roll exposed.
2. Get rid of your scale/mirror. Maybe you have one, maybe you have both. If you sense that either is playing a more negative than positive roll in your body image, get rid of them. Try a few weeks without compulsively weighing/examining your body, and see how you feel.
3. Buy clothes that make you feel good. After the whole “ditch your mirror thing,” going shopping might feel counterintuitive. It’s true, though, that wearing clothes that feel uncomfortable is real downer on your body positivity. Next time you’re in the mall or online, try to scout out pieces that you feel great in, no matter what kind of day it is.
What’s you perspective on body image? Wherever you’re at in your journey, remember: You have a right to love all of your parts, just the way they are. 🙂