We know there is no correct way to have a body, yet we are inundated messages from the media, friends, and family about how are bodies are supposed to look. Now, in addition to being told we’re not thin enough, we’re receiving messages that we’re not toned enough, curvy enough, and ultimately, not good enough. These conflicting and confusing messages about “ideal” body-types have our heads spinning. Trendy buzzwords like body positivity and self-love are used by advertisers, influencers, and people in our day-to-day lives; yet we still feel this overwhelming pressure to look more like a Instagram model and less like ourselves.
So what does this all mean? How can we learn to love, or at least accept, our bodies in a society that tells us we’re not enough? Likewise, how can we call ourselves body positive when we are still challenged by these problematic (and let’s face it, common) pressures, even though we know better?
Just as there is not one way to have a body, there is not one way to feel good about our bodies. Here are a few steps to help you feel empowered in the skin you’re in.
Even on our best body image days, we’re bound to come across a page on social media or hear a comment from a family member that knocks us down a few notches. Don’t let the haters get you down! When you learn a new skill or prepare for an upcoming test, practice is key. The same holds true when embracing body positivity and challenging negative thoughts about your body. Remember: the ultimate goal is progress, not perfection. Make an honest effort to end complaints about your body, and if you catch yourself saying something negative, follow up by saying something positive about yourself.
2. Curate your social media feed
These body pressures are magnified by having social media at our fingertips 24/7. While there is no single cause of body dissatisfaction or disordered eating, research suggests that teen girls who use social media were significantly more likely than non-social media users to internalize a drive for thinness and engage in body surveillance. As you can see, the influence of social media on body image is no joke. Unfollow accounts that serve as “inspiration” (read: thinspiration/fitspiration) or #goals, and build up your newsfeed with people and images who make you feel empowered.
3. Pay it forward
As you embark on your journey of self-love and body positivity, build up those around you and encourage them to do the same. For example, choose a friend or family member with whom you will avoid negative body talk. When you catch your friend talking negatively about their body, remind them of your agreement. When you or your friend slip up, pay each other a compliment and work on replying with, “thank you,” instead of refuting it.
4. Become an activist
Culture change starts with each and every one of us. In addition to practicing body positivity in your home and with your friends, you also have the power to fight this social pressure and change your environment in a way that will benefit/inspire others to join you in this body positive movement. One of my favorite sayings is “empowered women, empower women.” It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognize the importance of liking yourself just as you naturally are.
5. Practice self-compassion and self-care
Some days will be better than others. If you’re feeling down on yourself or having a bad body image day, know that better days are ahead. Be kind to yourself and your body; it’s the only one you’ve got. For example, if you’re struggling to accept the size of your your thighs, instead of focusing on the physical appearance, try thanking your legs for being strong enough to carry you from place to place.
If you continue to have negative thoughts about your body, know that you are not alone. The National Eating Disorders Helpline (800.931.2237) and the National Eating Disorders Association website (nationaleatingdisorders.org) have information and resources on body image and eating disorders. Crisis support is also available via text message by texting ‘NEDA’ to 741741.