I can’t remember the first time I realized I hated my body. Maybe it was third grade when one of the boys in my class called me a monkey for having hairy arms. Or the summer at camp where the popular girls from my unit decided to open the curtains during showers and taunt us while we were naked and screaming. Perhaps it was the first time I had to venture out of the “misses” section of the clothing store at the age of 14 and into “women’s” while my disappointed mother lectured me about self-control.
I may not remember the first time I realized I hated my body, but I remember the miserable years of waiting for the day I wouldn’t.
It wasn’t until college when I discovered the idea of body-positivity. I had first heard about it online, from “social justice warriors” on Tumblr preaching radical self-love. But soon it came up in my feminist theory textbooks and in lectures. My professors spoke about it in gender studies and psychology classes. My friends were marching in rallies and screaming about their bodies and the right to be safe and happy with who they are. I found it to be a very complex–yet very simple–concept.
What does it mean to be “body positive?”
Body-positivity is the idea that all bodies are deserving of love and respect regardless of gender, size, skin tone, abilities, health status, or societal standards of beauty. That’s basically it! It’s not a really difficult idea to grasp, but the actual practice of being body-positive was definitely something I struggled with for a while. It takes time to work on unlearning decades worth of self-hatred–especially for anyone who has survived abuse or assault.
We are surrounded by so many messages about body image. However, most of them come from corporations looking to profit off our dissatisfaction with ourselves. Corporations that focus on weight-loss, designer clothing, hair and skin products, and cosmetics are huge, multi-billion dollar industries. Even companies who seem to advertise solutions for your body issues profit off the continued dissatisfaction with your body. Their true motives are not to solve your body issues, but for you to buy products that will make you feel closer to unattainable goals they have set for you.
Does this make dieting, fashion, or makeup “unfeminist?” Not exactly. Nevertheless, I do think we need to be aware of what we do to contribute to these industries and how we use their products. If you want to diet because eating healthy makes you feel happy, power to you! If you feel most confident with winged eyeliner and a killer red lip, awesome! The problem, though, lies in the idea that we must do these things in order to appease society’s standard of what we should look like. Remember: feminism is all about the choice.
The focus on change should be for your benefit.
This is a crucial point that some people are going to struggle with–this idea that we can do things to feel good about ourselves so long as we’re doing them for the right reasons. Wanting to restrict yourself to eating meals under 100 calories because you hate how much you weigh isn’t body-positive. Knowing that eating well-balanced meals and exercising regularly makes you feel energized and good about yourself is.
Body-positivity is the concept of taking control of your own perspective. It’s about not relying on the ideals of others in order to make opinions about yourself. It absolutely doesn’t mean that you have to be happy with the way your body looks. However, it encourages the idea that you are still a valuable person deserving of respect, regardless. (If you want to change your looks, that’s within your power, but being body-positive is all about doing it in a healthy and safe way that makes you feel good about yourself.)
How can I promote body-positivity?
There are so many ways that you can support the notion of body-positivity for yourself, for others around you, and for people you may not even know. It doesn’t even take much to get started. You might find that being body-positive towards others has a direct effect on your own outlook, as well.
Here are some things to try out if you want to be more body-positive:
Compliment others. I feel like this is especially important for women to do for other women. A compliment can really make someone’s day, even if it’s a total stranger. Find something you admire about someone’s appearance at least once a day and let them know that it made a good impression on you. (Obviously, be careful not to cross any boundaries or make any unwanted advances by doing this. Remember that people do not owe you anything for compliments.)
Are you shy or socially anxious? Be anonymous! Leave little post-it notes in a public bathroom, a library, or hidden all around town to let people know that they are worthy of love! The Internet is also a great place to spread body-positivity while keeping a safe distance from social situations that might make us anxious.
Reject the concept of societal beauty standards. Beauty standards are not fair to everyone. They are based on racist ideals that exploit lower classes and often dismiss anyone outside the norm when it comes to gender expression or disabilities. Think of the last time you saw lingerie models in a wheelchair, makeup ads using non-binary individuals, or foundation shades for skin tones darker than “caramel”*. It’s important to come to the realization that societal standards of beauty are usually unattainable to the average person. These standards are also more difficult to obtain for minorities, those at a lower socioeconomic status, or disabled folks.
*Naming makeup shades for people of color after food items like “cocoa,” “mocha latte,” or “chocolate” is extremely fetishizing and problematic.
Find redeemable qualities in yourself. Keep yourself thinking positively about your body by finding things about yourself you like. As silly as it sounds, verbalizing or writing down these qualities are good ways to reinforce positivity. Keep a little reminder in your phone that you’re perfect the way you are. Write a sticky note that says “love yourself!” Remind yourself in the mirror that you have stunning eyes. Post a photo on social media expressing how good you feel about yourself.
Positivity about one’s body is often contagious. Posting or discussing positive, encouraging things about your body is a great way to help others feel good, too! Remember to be inclusive of everyone, regardless of race, gender, or physical/mental abilities.
Do one body-positive thing every day. Compliment others without putting yourself down. Wear as much or as little makeup as you want. Drink more water. Wear the dress that makes you feel sexy. Don’t beat yourself up for bloated tummies or acne.
Do something you can be proud of each day. It can be health-related or simply a choice that boosts your self esteem. Finding even tiny things to make you feel good about your body is a great way to brighten your whole day!
Radical acceptance starts now!
The hardest part about being body-positive is learning how to shut off the little voice in your head that focuses on all the things you hate about your body. Whether it stems from a family member’s expectation or what the media drills into your brain, it’s toxic to your well-being. Reject all the messages about your body that make you feel bad. Tolerance for negativity does little to actually motivate healthy change within a person. Instead, I urge you to take a more positive approach by accepting what you cannot change and changing only what you want. With no one to please but yourself, happiness is inevitable.
Repeat after me: I am free.
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