As Benjamin Franklin said, “the only things certain in life are death and taxes”. I’d like to add one more to the list: having a body. It’s kind of a non-negotiable part of being human, right? Our bodies allow us to experience life through hugging loved ones, smelling coffee, tasting pizza, running 5ks and all the other good things in life. Despite everything our bodies can do, though, many of us have had the experience of looking in the mirror and feeling disappointed by what we see. However, a movement to promote positive body image has been gaining momentum over the past few years.
How to be body positive:
1. Understand what is body positivity.
The body positivity movement advocates for reclaiming the aspects of our bodies that society tells us we shouldn’t love. We are constantly being fed images of the “ideal”: smoothed-over cellulite, evened-out skin tones, slimmed-down waists and the like. Meanwhile, advertisers try to sell us products to “fix” problems that we didn’t even know we had (Pink Nipple Cream? Really?). The body positivity movement aims to break down these socially-entrenched ideals, welcoming people of all body types, sexes, ages, skin colors, abilities, etcetera. There are no limits to who is allowed to be proud of their body.
2. Understand what isn’t part of body positivity.
Now that I’ve explained what body positivity is, let me tell you what it isn’t (this is where people seem to get confused). Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign is not body positivity (this article discusses why it’s problematic). Further, posting on Facebook that “real men like curves, dogs like bones” is not body positivity, nor is saying that dark-skinned people of color are more beautiful than light-skinned people of color. While you may believe that these statements are body positive because they diverge from traditional ideals of beauty, all they’re doing is criticizing another group. It’s fine to have preferences, but a personal preference that curvy women are more attractive than thin women is just that: a preference. It’s not a universal truth.
3. Practice loving your body until it’s an inherent feeling.
There’s no better retaliation against traditional standards of beauty than a person who doesn’t fit the ideal but loves themselves regardless. It can be a long and difficult process, but anyone can get there.
It’s normal to have days when you just don’t feel great about your body. For me, it helps to remember how much mine has allowed me to do. I jumped out of an airplane, hiked the Grand Canyon and went bobsledding in the Alps. My body has allowed me to do all of this and more, yet I’m going to fixate on the number on the tag of my Levi’s? That’s ridiculous.
It has also helped me to recognize that the only reason I sometimes feel negatively about my body is because of how I’ve been socialized. In the media, men and women typically have specific types of bodies, are almost always able-bodied and cis-gender, and usually have white or light skin. There are very few exceptions. The further you are from this ideal, the more difficult it might be to embrace your own body. But, if you take away the power of the media you consume by viewing it with a critical eye, it will be easier to accept your own unique beauty.
Next, treat yourself well! My personal philosophy is this: eat things you love, do things you enjoy and body positivity will follow. If you hate the elliptical, then don’t spend an hour on one every morning. Instead, find activities you genuinely like to do. Along the same vein, don’t force yourself to choke down spinach smoothies if you think they’re gross. Instead, fill your plate with nutritious foods that you actually enjoy and that make you feel good. If you focus on how you feel rather than how you look, or how much energy you have rather than the number on the scale, you’ll be much closer being truly happy with yourself.
4. Mind your own beeswax.
Just because that’s my philosophy, though, doesn’t mean it has to be yours. It’s up to you to decide what “treating yourself well” means. It doesn’t have to be about eating healthy food, going to the gym five times per week, plucking your eyebrows, lightening your skin or any other number of things people do to change their bodies. It can be about those things if you genuinely enjoy doing them, but it’s important to realize that you don’t have to do them to feel beautiful. Disclaimer: it’s also important to respect other peoples’ choices about how they choose to present themselves. Not your body? Not your business!
All of this might seem very “fluffy” and unimportant in the scheme of things, but body positivity is very powerful. If we can embrace this healthy mentality rather than constantly trying to “fix” things about ourselves that aren’t broken, then we can all leave a little more time for the truly good things in life.