We’ve all heard the term many times before: body positivity. We’ve seen it in our Instagram feeds with captions about loving our bodies and the importance of positive self-talk. Perhaps we’ve even used the term ourselves in reference to how we feel (or wish to feel) about the body we live in. Nonetheless, we can’t escape it. These days, everyone is talking about body positivity. But what is it, really? And how do we get there?
Personally, when I see Instagram posts or blogs about body positivity, I have a pretty mixed reaction. As a therapist focused on eating disorders, I find myself both admiring the new wave of positivity towards our bodies, and also being really skeptical about how it’s presented. Learning to love ourselves is a wonderful goal for all of us; but learning to love our bodies can be extremely hard, and we don’t always talk about it. It’s not as simple as looking in the mirror, whispering to yourself a few positive affirmations as you head off to start your day, and then simply just feeling completely accepting of yourself. Heck, if it were that easy, we’d all feel positive about our bodies all of the time.
It’s hard to stop the comparison game
The reality is that we don’t feel body positive a lot of the time. And when we see pictures on our feeds of girls with huge smiles plastered across their faces in their matching athleisure talking about how much they love themselves, it can really make the rest of us feel shitty if we don’t feel the same. It becomes incredibly difficult not to compare and feel like something is wrong with us if we’re not feeling as confident as someone else on any given day. But really, we don’t actually know what that person feels like. They might have put up the picture to try and make themselves feel better because they’re having a bad day, and their caption about loving themselves is about how they are striving to feel. But we take it at face value: the image and words we are seeing is the person’s current truth. And it’s hard not to in this day and age of social media and comparisons galore.
It’s not as simple as looking in the mirror, whispering to yourself a few positive affirmations as you head off to start your day, and then simply just feeling completely accepting of yourself. Heck, if it were that easy, we’d all feel positive about our bodies all of the time.
Body positivity isn’t a linear journey
Body positivity isn’t something tangible you can tell yourself you’re going to have by the end of the week and suddenly snap into. You can’t put it into your Thursday to-do list and expect that after your coffee run, you can put on your body positivity. It’s a journey and a process, as is anything else you are trying to personally achieve. There’s no magic formula to it. Yes, of course there are steps and exercises you can practice to introduce more self-acceptance and love into your daily life—reframing negative self-talk, meditation, and self-care are all some of these. But before we even take these steps, it’s important to put into perspective that body positivity is something we continually practice over and over again, and that it is a journey full of highs and lows. Some days we might be feeling it, others not, and that that is OK.
So what’s it all about?
The goal of body positivity, as I see it, is really to be kind and gentle with yourself. It’s about loving and accepting your body, flaws included. It’s about being grateful for all of the things your body does for you every day to help you achieve your goals and live your life in the way that you desire. It’s learning to reframe negative self-talk more easily (note how I say reframe, because we cannot realistically eliminate it altogether; we all have our days). It’s about comparing ourselves to others less, and when we do feel like we are comparing ourselves, to learn how to gently come out of that headspace and practice more self-care.
You can’t put it into your Thursday to-do list and expect that after your coffee run, you can put on your body positivity. It’s a journey and a process, as is anything else you are trying to personally achieve. There’s no magic formula to it.
When we make body positivity seem like it’s something that’s simple to achieve, we start to form the idea as a society that you’re failing if you’re not feeling it. Then you start to beat yourself up for not feeling that way, and then you’re even further away from loving and being kind to yourself. There’s no race to loving your body; in fact, loving our bodies is such an individual process. We all have different bodies and different histories with our relationship to them. Let’s start a more realistic conversation around body positivity being a difficult, yet attainable and rewarding process. Let’s realize that the days that we don’t feel positive about our bodies doesn’t mean overall we still can’t be working on our body positivity, we just might be having a rough day and feeling out of touch and we can get back to it when we feel better.
So, what does body positivity mean and how can you achieve it? It’s the practice of loving our bodies, accepting ourselves, and the decision to continually work towards those things—even when it becomes very hard to do so. It’s the commitment to always come back to a place of inner peace and gratitude, even after we have a rough day (or three).
There’s no race to loving your body; in fact, loving our bodies is such an individual process. We all have different bodies and different histories with our relationship to them.
You can get there, one step at a time
One concrete step you can take if you’d like to begin your body positivity journey now is listing out three things you like about your body. Read these aloud to yourself every morning, and consider putting them on your bathroom mirror if that will remind you of them. As you think of more things you like, add them to the list and make it a running one. In addition, get rid of any articles of clothing that make you feel uncomfortable in your body. Wearing outfits that make you feel discomfort will not enable you to feel better about your body, and will not serve you or your journey in any way. Also, compliment at least one person a day. Seeing the positives in others will widen the space of positivity within yourself and the ability to see others in a favorable light can help you show yourself the same kindness. If you’re even trying to love your body more, then you have already begun the practice of body positivity. It’s just about the decision to embark on the journey, and be your own cheerleader along the way.