We live in a body-obsessed culture. If you consume any media, it’s nearly impossible to ignore the conversation around what is conventionally considered beautiful. Sadly, the definition of beauty that is perpetrated in the media is narrow and excludes most of the variety that exists in reality.
The body image discourse has been on repeat for years. When I bring it up to friends and family, it mostly generates a “not again” eye roll. Despite sounding like a broken record, change is slow to trickle into the media. Yes, some great advertisement campaigns have begun to slowly shift the conversation, but breaking out of this mindset will take time, while the pressure to conform to unhealthy and unattainable prescriptions seems to only increase.
In my opinion, having a positive body image consists a bold political statement. In a world where we’re constantly reminded that we are not enough, loving yourself is taking a stance against unrealistic ideals, and against the objectification and hyper sexualization of bodies. The best place to start promoting a positive body image is to change the way we talk about our own bodies.
By gently challenging negative statements and shifting our language into one that celebrates beauty, diversity and confidence, we can change the popular discourse.
Here are six things we should start (or continue) saying to promote positive body image:
1. “Thank you!”
While humility is an admirable quality, it’s also important that we recognize our beauty. It can feel much easier to deny compliments when they’re given, but rejecting a compliment can sometimes serve to acquiesce with the pressure that is placed on us to dislike our bodies.
Instead, try flashing a big smile and give a heartfelt “thank you” when you receive a compliment. Some days it might be, “Thank you, I really needed that,” or “Thank you for being so kind.” Whatever you respond, try move away from the “Thank you, but …”
I’ve found this small change — taking a compliment to heart without deflecting — makes me integrate into my life and psyche the qualities and traits others find beautiful about me.
2. “I like doing ____, and I feel great!”
We’re drilled to punish ourselves for the tiniest pleasures. Whether it’s “indulging” in a decadent dessert, swapping the gym session for a spa day ortaking time to explore our sexuality, we have a tendency to focus on the harm done rather than enjoying the benefits.
Our bodies can be a source of immense pleasure; isn’t it a shame to not be fully present in those moments? Take the time to relax, give in to things you like to do once in a while and encourage others to do the same. Sharing these experiences serves as a reminder that it’s great to enjoy and discover the amazing ways we can feel.
Moreover, spending time with our bodies in a positive frame of mind helps reinforce those body positive thoughts and attitudes. Indulge in a nice moisturizer, go for a massage, get that lower back pain checked out, have sex … and talk about it!
3. “Exercise makes me feel energized/strong/happy.”
In most conversations (and most exercise studios) physical activity is sold solely for its weight loss benefits. It’s often hard to remember — or even notice — the exhaustive list of benefits provided. Exercise keeps you in good health, physically and mentally, and we need to refocus our definition of health to include things other than physical appearance.
Sure, that rock climbing class has toned your arms, but have you noticed how much stronger you are now? And regardless of how many calories you burn during Zumba, you always leave with a spring in your step.
Find activities that nourish your body and mind. Carve out time for them. Help reframe the conversations to include all aspects of wellbeing, not just your pants size.
4. “I’d rather not talk about this.”
Sometimes, it’s hard to ignore conversations about body image. Next time someone says something that strikes you as negative body image, share how important it is to resist giving in to popular discourse. By doing this, we take back the power in the discourse and minimizing the importance of those features that are glorified in our narrow discourse.
5. “The women on TV and in magazines don’t represent me.”
Acknowledging the lack of diversity in media is the first step in creating change. While there have been some body positive campaigns, the truth remains that the majority of what we see in the media is monotone: white, able bodied, thin, fit, Photoshopped models.
If you know of an alternate, body positive source of information, share it. For example, I have begun following Instagram accounts that illustrate diversity. Seeing them on my feed is a welcome change every day and reminds me that beauty can present itself in a million other ways than what’s fed to me in fashion magazines.
6. “I understand.”
Developing a positive body image is hard work! These pointers are meant to encourage you and bring you on a journey that will take time and will likely be filled with moments of defeat. Many of us have begun the journey toward developing a positive body image, and it’s always nice to know that we’re not fighting this fight alone.
Deciding to reject beauty standards is hard, and there will be constant reminders to steer us back to where you started. But if we can support each other, it can be done!