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Body Positivity

Many of us only truly learn to love ourselves and our bodies fairly late in life. Prior to that, we tend to spend time and energy judging ourselves about things we cannot change. Self-love is a skill made difficult to attain by the very impractical beauty standards that are popular today.

Celebrating Every Body: Nurturing a Positive Relationship with Your Unique Self.

Body positivity is not only about being able to appreciate your appearance, but about seeing your body as a vessel you enjoy living in, which goes hand in hand with being the person you want to be.

The grass is greener on the other side

Or in this case, the hair texture, complexion, and proportions we want for ourselves are on the other person. Most of us grow up feeling some dissatisfaction with our bodies as social expectations and advertising drive us to compare ourselves to some polished aesthetic we would like to inhabit instead. This is convenient for those in the beauty industry, because it gives them the opportunity to sell us temporary ‘fixes’ for our dissatisfactions.

The beauty industry makes a lot of money. This isn’t a bad thing in itself. What makes it sinister is that the industry profits off of vilifying the expressions of natural processes we all go through, such as stretch marks, wrinkles, and body hair.

To break these examples down:

  • Stretch marks are a sign of a rapid change in body proportions. Having stretch marks just means that your body did what it needed to do to keep up with a change in weight distribution, just like it’s supposed to. Let me repeat that: stretch marks are evidence of your body functioning like it’s supposed to.
  • Wrinkles are a sign of aging. Although aging is, in a sense, a form of deterioration, it isn’t inherently bad. Limiting the idea of beauty as something inherently youthful implies that being old is inherently ugly. Does that sound healthy to you? There is beauty at every age.
  • Hair is simply part of the human body. Unless you have a medical condition that prevents it, your body will naturally grow hair, and you can do with it what you like. While there is nothing wrong with liking smooth legs and armpits, choosing not to shave doesn’t make a woman any less of a woman (nor does choosing to shave make a man any less of a man).

You may not know that razors were sold pretty much exclusively to men until King C. Gillette had the idea of expanding his company’s target audience to women, and subsequently created ads with the purpose of convincing women that having too much body hair is embarrassing and shameful.

There are plenty of products out there that help us take care of our bodies (something we should all strive to do), but it’s not a stretch to say that the world is working against us when it comes to seeing ourselves as beautiful in our natural forms.

Femininity & masculinity

Stereotypes play a disproportionate role in the way people see themselves and are seen by others. ‘Not being man enough’ is a source of insecurity for a staggering portion of the male population, and women are constantly judged for their wardrobe choices to the point that ‘she was showing a lot of skin’ is used as defense for sexual assault.

Both men and women suffer from feeling they have to bridge a huge gap in order to be seen, not only as valid representatives of their gender, but as human beings with the ability to think for themselves. (Not to mention discrimination against those who do not adhere to binary gender.) But this is not an exclusively modern problem—historically, people have been blamed, ostracised, even killed for no other reason than the way they look.

If this seems shallow to you, thank you for knowing that humanity is better than this. You can be a part of the positive change we need through the way you treat yourself, and the way you treat the people you encounter throughout your life.

Empowerment in Action: Inspiring Positive Change Through Self-Treatment and Interpersonal Connections

Representation (and the lack thereof)

The beauty industry is all too often guilty of failing to represent minority groups, as well as inaccurately representing the majority. If an alien was learning about Earth exclusively from beauty magazines, it would probably think that 90% of people on our planet were young, toned, caucasian models with straight hair and a fair complexion.

The world around us is constantly telling us what is ‘good’ and what is ‘normal’ through ads and movie casts and magazine covers. When we don’t fit that description, we feel like there’s something wrong with us. When a certain body type or skin colour is nowhere to be seen in the world’s definition of beauty, it sends a message that the people in these categories are ‘less than’. Sadly, a lot of people genuinely think this way, as demonstrated by the persistence of racism, fatphobia, ageism, and ableism.

All these hateful ‘isms’ are not only incredibly hurtful to those on the receiving end of discrimination, they are also damaging to our society. The time and effort a person has to spend combating hate is time and effort they might well have voluntarily dedicated to bettering society instead. It’s high time we recognize bodies of all kinds as valid.

There have been notable improvements over recent years—you may have seen models with visible disabilities, extra weight, more years behind them, or a different cultural background than you would usually see. They are there because they deserve to be there just as much as those young, toned, caucasian models with straight hair and a fair complexion.

The world is diverse, and the beauty within it is diverse, too. ❤️

Loving yourself is the right thing to do

The biggest lie we have been told about beauty is that it is perfect. That we have to be perfect to be beautiful. In reality, true perfection doesn’t exist, and it doesn’t need to, either. You are allowed to be as you are. Please recognise the beauty in your imperfection.

Although this is relatively easy to understand in theory, it can be difficult to apply in practice, especially if you’ve spent years of your life despising the shape of your nose, or the rolls on your belly. Start small, give yourself time. You may have been taught to have compassion for others, but do you have compassion for yourself?

If your body is still developing, know that one of the reasons some adults can look so together is that they’ve had time to figure out how to look the way they want to look. They may have spent energy taking care of their bodies, or tried many different looks to find what represents them as a person and compliments their physical shape.

Your body doesn't exist for the viewing pleasure of others.

Ultimately, no one but you has the right to dictate how you should look or how you should feel about the way you look. ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, and the only beholder that truly matters when it comes to your body is you. That said, your own confidence in the way you look influences the way others perceive you. You can create your own positive feedback loop!

Liberating Freedom: Breaking Free from Self-Judgment

Detach yourself from judgement

So, now that you are ready to silence your inner critic and focus on the positive aspects of your body, what are some practical tips you can apply to the process?

  • Shift your focus.

The media you consume has an effect on your internal narrative. Take a moment to reflect on what you have been reading and watching, which people you have been following. How much of it is inspirational, and how much is simply depressing?

Reducing the amount of time you spend online can help a lot, and so can tailoring your feeds to a more body-positive mindset. Following people who are open about their imperfections can make a big difference in how judgemental you are about physical flaws.

You can also shift your focus to something entirely unrelated! Perhaps you’d like to learn to knit, or adopt your very own sourdough starter?

  • Initiate gratitude.

Appreciating your own body can start with appreciating the bodies of others. Dedicate a day to appreciating physical aspects of the people around you. If you are used to looking at the world through a negative lens, this might feel disingenuous to begin with—but the more you do it, the better you get at spotting things that are pleasant to you.

You can even arrange a body appreciation therapy session with your friends or loved ones. Share with them, completely honestly, what you like about their bodies. Then ask them to tell you what they like about your body. It might open your eyes to beauty you already possess, but hadn’t noticed before.

Since this exercise is body-focused, we would like to remind everyone not to be weird about it. Keep it platonic unless you have express permission to do otherwise! You can be appreciative of someone’s physical appearance without feeling sexually attracted to them. Those who have trouble understanding this have some serious self-reflection to do.

  • Recognise what your body can do.

Your body has some very practical functions. It’s not a bad idea to give it some gratitude.

Think about how your senses allow you to experience wonderful things, be it tasting delicious foods, or holding the people you love close to you. Think about your skills. Maybe you are good at cooking, or writing, or have an eye for arranging a room in a way that it feels open and welcoming. Maybe you can imitate voices, or cut perfect slices of bread, or fill two glasses with exactly the same amount of liquid. No skill is too small to appreciate.

If you feel inspired to do so, you can write your body a letter of thanks for the ways it has served you throughout your life and continues to serve you today.

  • Take care of yourself

You will feel better about yourself if you treat yourself well. Health is attractive (be it of the mental, emotional, or physical variety). Science says so. Plus, the energy for all this self-compassion won’t appear out of thin air! You need nourishment, and rest, and love, as well as fun and interesting and challenging things—just like anyone else.

Mental illness

Try as we might, not all of us can learn to love our bodies without help. Society’s focus on visual appearance sometimes manifests in related disorders.

Body dysmorphic disorder (better known as body dysmorphia) is a condition that severely affects a person’s self-image to the point that they are obsessed about a minor or imaginary bodily flaw, causing them significant distress. If the flaw is eliminated, about half of people with BBD develop a new obsession with a previously unaffected body part.

Problems with self-image can also develop into various eating disorders, such as:

  • Anorexia nervosa, characterised by an intense fear of gaining weight, wherein the affected person restricts calorie intake to the point of being severely malnourished.
  • Bulimia, characterised by an intense fear of gaining weight, wherein the affected person binge eats and then purges.
  • Binge eating disorder, wherein the affected person eats excessive amounts of food and feels little control over their actions. They are often overweight.
  • Pica disorder, wherein the affected person craves substances that aren’t food.
  • Rumination disorder, wherein the affected person voluntarily regurgitates food, then chews and swallows again or spits it out.
  • Avoidant/restrictive food disorder, wherein the affected person either has a lack of interest in food, or an intense dislike of the smell, taste, or texture of certain foods.

If you know someone who fits any of these descriptions, or fit any of these descriptions yourself, please seek professional help. None of these behaviours are solutions.

There is nothing shameful in admitting you need help. Self-acceptance isn’t just something that magically happens—it’s a demanding process that can involve working against years of beating down on oneself, sometimes against negative onslaughts from family, peers, or strangers. But know this: you deserve to heal, and are worth the effort it takes to get you to a healthy place.

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