Many of us struggle to accept our bodies as they are. Every time you look at social media or switch on the television, you are likely to see images of celebrities, influencers, or athletes whose bodies might appear very different to your own. When bombarded with images of tall, slim, toned, or muscular people, it’s no surprise that many of us start to question the worth of our own physicality.
In the USA, a staggering 50% of women use unhealthy behaviors to control their weight. Similarly, 43% of men said they are dissatisfied with their body. If you are struggling with your feelings around body image, you are certainly not alone.
Luckily, there are many ways to change the way you feel about your body. In this article, we will look at the body positivity movement and nine key steps to positive body image.
What is Body Positivity?
Body positivity is a belief that everyone can feel good about their body, regardless of how they may have been made to feel about their weight, size, shape, or appearance in the past.
Body positivity challenges outdated societal views about what a “good” body is. It promotes the acceptance of your body because of what it enables you to do, rather than what it looks like. Rather than focusing on, or chasing, unrealistic body standards, becoming body positive is a way of embracing your body rather than working against it.
What is Body Neutrality?
Body positivity and neutrality are sometimes incorrectly assumed to be the same movement. Although there are many similarities between the two, body neutrality places less emphasis on how your body looks. Rather than using forms of self-care to love the way your body looks, the focus is on acceptance and encouragement to appreciate your body simply for existing. In general, you are discouraged from spending too much time thinking about your body, and instead to simply get on with living.
How to Practice Body Positivity
Changing the way you think takes practice and perseverance, and the same is true when you take your first steps towards having a positive body image. We’ve put together a list of the best, and most enjoyable, ways to start a new relationship with your body. Finding healthy ways to love, appreciate and respect your body for what she can do is the start of your journey to accepting that you are worthy of your own love.
1. Positive Affirmations
When you repeat affirmations every day, a process of re-wiring, or neuroplasticity, occurs within your brain. Repeating your affirmations can give you more strength to resist negative thought processes in upsetting situations. This may be helpful in banishing negative self-talk if you get anxious about wearing a swimsuit at the beach, for example.
If a negative thought comes to mind, try to banish it with an affirmation. The affirmation does not have to be related to your body or how it looks. Counteracting a negative thought with “I am kind” or “I am loved” can make you feel stronger and more confident in who you are.
2. Don’t Make Comparisons
Your body is unique. Just as your eye color, skin tone and fingerprints are unique to you, you will have many physical characteristics that differ to those of others. If we all looked the same, we would be unable to appreciate our individuality.
When you compare yourself to others, you may find that you end up feeling inadequate. However, when you focus only on yourself, you can start to appreciate your body’s strengths without putting yourself in second place to anyone else.
3. Be Aware of Social Media
If you find it difficult not to compare yourself with others, one of the biggest culprits for feelings of inadequacy might be social media. Facebook and Instagram are great ways to stay in touch with friends and family, as well as allowing you to keep up-to-date with what others are doing. But they can also negatively impact your emotional well-being.
In fact, a study in 2011 found that there was a correlation between the amount of time adolescent girls spent on Facebook, and their chance of developing a negative body image and an eating disorder. A similar correlation with eating disorders was found in girls who viewed “gossip- and leisure-related television programs such as ‘Gossip Girl’”.
The study found that when the girls’ parents were involved in their media usage, and conducted critical discussions with them about what they were viewing, the girls showed more personal empowerment. This guided critique of media portrayal was seen as a protective shield against eating disorders.
Take a Break
As an adult, you are responsible for what you consume digitally. Adults are not protected from the unrealistic body standards set by the media, and so if you feel that the images you see of friends, models, or celebrities are lowering your self-esteem, it may be time to take a step back from social platforms.
Whether you log out for a day, a week, or completely uninstall an app, having a break from viewing images that do not support your feelings of self-worth can be one of the simplest ways to free yourself from external pressure.
If logging out isn’t for you, or you feel ready to try social media again after a break, make sure you surround yourself with positivity. Unfollow any pages that have previously brought you down, and replace them with people or pages that will lift you up. Inspirational quotes and body positive bloggers are good places to start. Finding your tribe of women who feel good about their bodies can help you to feel good about yours, too.
Be Conscious of Others
Just as others’ social media posts can rock your self-esteem, what you share can have an impact, too. When you plan to post something, try to consider whether it will empower others before you do so.
H3: 4. Think Healthy, not Skinny
In the Western world, our view of what health is appears to have become blurred with being skinny. However, being healthy does not have to mean becoming obsessed with the scales or losing weight. Weighing yourself can be misleading as muscle weighs more than fat, and so even athletes will be heavy but lean.
Additionally, your body can still be perfectly healthy, even if you do not perceive yourself to be skinny. A heavier body can still run a marathon, raise children, and enjoy a healthy sexual relationship. As part of body positivity, celebrating what your body can do is far more important than giving yourself a hard time because of your weight or what your body looks like.
5. Use Your Body
You are more than just a body. Your body’s purpose is to allow you to do things in life. As part of body positivity, it is time to get out and do the things you love! If you have lacked confidence in your body for some time, don’t let it hold you back any longer.
When you embrace your body as a vessel, rather than your identity, it frees you up to get the most out of life. Take up a new hobby, meet a friend for coffee, or book a vacation.
If you want to get out for a walk, don’t worry about getting hot and sweaty, or how you might look. Your body is doing everything it needs to support your goal, and getting sweaty should be seen as a badge of honor for feeling good about exercising.
6. Be Comfortable
If you’ve always limited your wardrobe because you feel self-conscious, make the effort to stop. Find clothes that feel comfortable and suit your shape, rather than selecting items that are in fashion but don’t make you feel great.
Wear shorts or dresses when it’s hot, and stop worrying about how your body looks when you do. Forcing yourself to cover up when it’s 35oC will make you feel miserable. If you wear clothes that make you feel comfortable and cool, you’ll enjoy life so much more.
Receiving a compliment can make your day. Try to add a little sunshine to someone else’s day by giving them a compliment. When you are kind to others, you may find it easier to be kinder to yourself, too.
If you receive a compliment, thank the person giving it, rather than denying it or shrugging their words off. Accepting a compliment can help you to start believing that their words are true, building your self-confidence.
8. Treat Your Body
Your body deserves to be treated and respected regardless of how it looks, so make time to give your body some love. Take a luxurious bath, enjoy a meal in a restaurant, book a massage or get into bed at 8pm. Do whatever feels right for you, and celebrate all that your body does for you.
If you want to improve your relationship with your body but are struggling to become body positive, online therapy sessions could help you to start thinking in new ways.
A therapist can help you explore your feelings about your body, and make tailored suggestions of ways to cherish what you have.
How to be Body Positive and Healthy
Although being body positive involves accepting and celebrating your body exactly as it is, remaining healthy is also important. If this sounds like a slippery slope to dieting, exercising, or feeling bad about your choices, don’t panic. Supporting your wellbeing when you switch to a body positive outlook is different to what you may previously have considered healthy.
If high school gym has left you with a fear of exercise, take time to rediscover why moving feels good. You don’t have to run a marathon or invest in an expensive bike. Get out for a walk in beautiful scenery (or even just round the block), feel the wind rushing in your hair on a gentle cycle ride, or swim in the cool ocean. Rather than seeing movement as torture, choose a form of exercise that feels so good.
Aside from the physical benefits, scientists have proven that movement or exercise “improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function”. It also minimizes social withdrawal. Little beats the rush of endorphins you get after exercising, which experts have said reduces the perception of pain and triggers positive feelings similar to that of morphine!
Change Your Perception of Health
Forget weighing yourself or counting calories as a measure of health. Choose fresh foods that give you the protein, fiber, and carbohydrates your body needs to function well, and enjoy treats, too. Measure your health not in your appearance or weight, but in terms of your happiness, sleep, emotional security, physical strength, or the absence of physical pain.
Nurture your mental health by writing in a journal, arranging in person or online therapy sessions, taking up a new hobby or prioritizing getting enough sleep. If you have negative feelings about your body, these can quickly affect your mental health, manifesting as depression, anxiety, or even resulting in eating disorders. Ring-fencing time to cherish your mental health can therefore naturally reap benefits for your physical health.
Being slim and being healthy are not the same thing. If you struggle with body image, becoming body positive can be a successful way to restore both your physical and mental health. Being positive about your appearance allows you to celebrate your body for all that it allows you to achieve, without becoming obsessed by dieting or the bathroom scales.
If you would like to explore becoming body positive with a therapist, you can book a virtual appointment today.
Hannah England is a freelance copywriter with a medical degree. After working as a doctor for several years, she now writes medical and well-being articles. Hannah endeavors to empower people by providing informative content that allows them to make healthy choices for improved physical and mental health. Hannah is part of the LGBT+ community and an inclusion expert, allowing her to write copy that is relevant to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or identity. Hannah lives in a village in the South West of England.Read more