Conversations about body acceptance and diversity have been cropping up in my social media feeds over the past several years and I’m glad to see these conversations finally being had, especially between women.
Women (and men) are speaking out about how media, such as TV and magazines, has played an integral role in influencing our ideas about our bodies and what they should look like according to popular opinion.
Sadly, this popular opinion has led so many women and men to measure themselves against an unrealistic and unsustainable ideal—namely, the thin, pretty, big-chested, pale-skinned woman and the tall, slim, muscular, pale-skinned man—an ideal that represents only a small percentage of the population and excludes everyone else.
You may have heard various terms thrown into these conversations, such as “body acceptance,” “body image,” “thin privilege,” “body shaming,” “fat shaming,” and “fatphobia.”
Whatever terms you may want to use in your own situation, the fact of the matter is this:
Our society as a whole has insecurities about body image that runs deep within our collective consciousness.
These insecurities have gone so far as to elevate one body type and give it a “god-like” or “goddess-like” status, making it the ideal that everyone else is forced to measure up to and attempt to attain.
And because this ideal is impossible for most people to attain or can only be attained at great personal cost, many fail to measure up, which subsequently results in exclusion, isolation, and even despair.
Erica Leon, a Registered Dietition Nutritionist and Eating Disorder Specialist from New York, laments,
How sad that, in our culture, a woman’s relationship with her body is primarily not a loving relationship, but rather a relationship that causes insecurity, fear, self-doubt, shame, guilt, low self-esteem, and all too often, self-hatred.
And so continues this never-ending cycle of insecurity and self-hatred towards our bodies that we, as a nation, experience and even cultivate as we, intentionally or unintentionally, train the next generation to continue our work in striving to attain the “perfect body.”
Tap here to read my own personal story with “thin privilege” as an adolescent teen and how body shaming affected my self-esteem, self-worth, and mental health.
Leon continues, “Ours is a nation that starves, diets, purges, binges, and exercises to the point of creating serious health problems, sometimes even causing death.”
This is the culture we currently live in and one in which we continue to raise our sons and daughters. Do we really want our children to grow up in a culture that tells them that they’re not good enough, they’re worthless, they’re ugly, or they’re nothing if they’re not perfect?
If you answered no to the above questions, then it’s time we say enough is enough and put a stop to body shaming for once and for all.
But how do we do this? Where do we even start?
Some will argue that we should push for more body acceptance of all body types. Others will argue that we need to replace our negative body image mindset with a positive one. Still others will argue that we must learn to love our bodies just as they are and tell them so.
While I agree that all of these methods will help us as a society move towards acceptance of all body types, we must first recognize the role that our body perception and self-esteem play in how we see and perceive ourselves and others, and how important it is for us to cultivate a healthy body mindset before we can continue to move towards total body acceptance.
What is a healthy body mindset?
A healthy body mindset, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, is the ability to respect yourself and others, think realistically, and take action to cope with problems or difficulties in healthy ways.
In other words, your happiness is not so wrapped up in your body image or self-esteem that it influences your actions and/or responses to everyday life. It means your self-worth is not measured against what others might say about you or even how you perceive yourself in the mirror.
How do I cultivate a healthy body mindset?
First, let’s take the term “body image” and throw it in the trash bin. Why? Because your body is not an “image.” Your body is a vessel.
I love how Author, Blogger, and Podcaster, Mary Jelkovsky, describes our bodies:
Your body is not an image. So even the term “body image” is kind of deceiving because it still traps us into thinking that there’s a certain way the body should look. The body is actually an experience. It’s a vessel that allows us to experience life. Feelings, emotions, events. It lets us make a difference in this world. It lets us connect with people.
Our bodies are “an experience, a vessel that allows us to experience life.” I love this!
This is why I chose to omit the word “image” from the term “healthy body mindset.” It was not a typo on my part. I made the conscious decision to do this so that I can begin the process of perceiving my body as a vessel to experience life, not a reflection in the mirror or a picture on social media.
My body is not an image to be viewed, criticized, judged, or even worshipped. And neither is yours!
My body is the shell that houses my soul for the duration of my short life on earth. My body has various functions that make it possible for my soul to engage and interact with God and other living beings on an emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual level.
It’s the only body I will have in this lifetime, so it’s critical that I take steps to care for my body right now.
The day before I wrote this post, I had misplaced my glasses and when I found them in an unlikely place, I muttered to myself, “You’re so dumb.” Immediately after the words came out, I corrected myself and said, “No, you’re not dumb. That was a terrible thing to say.”
Okay, so calling myself dumb has nothing to do with my perception of my body, but it’s still related. How? It says something about my self-esteem.
How does self-esteem affect body perception?
My self-esteem demonstrates how I value myself as a person. So if I call myself dumb for making a simple mistake, like misplacing my glasses, you can imagine the terrible things I say to myself when I look at my body in the mirror.
“Look at how ugly that fat in your belly is!”
“Look at how old you’re starting to look! Even your breasts are starting to sag.”
“Your face is always red and splotchy. It looks awful!”
When those thoughts begin to hiss in my ears, I know I have to stop them immediately and replace them with things I actually like about my body. If I don’t stop these lies the moment they start speaking to me, they will get out of control and filter into other aspects of my self-esteem and self-worth.
That’s when I begin to say things like,
“How could you be so stupid?”
“You moron! Why did you do that?”
“Now everyone is going to think you’re a [insert adjective here].”
It’s important to catch these thoughts as they happen and immediately issue them an eviction notice. We should never allow them to take root because, once they do, they spread like a weed and will become extremely hard to uproot out of the garden of our minds.
I already hate my body, so how do I stop the hateful thoughts?
You may have heard of self-care and the important role it plays in taking care of your body. Often, there is great emphasis on the physical aspect of self-care, but did you know that self-care is just as important for your emotional, mental, and spiritual health?
Tap here to read about the four aspects of self-care and how you can start taking better care of your whole self today!
One way to demonstrate emotional and mental self-care is by repeating “self-love” affirmations to ourselves.
This is where we begin to drown out the lies and the things we hate about ourselves with truths. In my story above, when I caught myself calling myself “dumb,” I immediately replaced the lie with a truth, “You’re not dumb” and an admonishment for speaking the lie, “That was a terrible thing to say.”
I could have also taken it a step further and paid myself a compliment, such as, “You’re actually very smart and I love that about you.”
When I look at myself in the mirror, I can tell myself loving truths, such as:
“Your hair looks lovely today. I love the way it curls and frames your face!”
“That sweater looks great on you! It really accentuates your curves. Your husband won’t be able to take his eyes off of you.”
“Wow! Your skin has healed so well after that last bout of acne you had. You don’t have to wear makeup if you don’t want to.”
Not only do these truths remind me of my good qualities, but they also help me feel good about myself and stop me from body shaming myself.
Finally, when we stop body shaming our own bodies, an amazing thing begins to happen: We begin to see the beauty in everything around us, including the beauty in other people, and we soon find it less of a struggle to find something nice to say about ourselves and to the people around us.
Then, not only do we begin to treat ourselves with greater respect and love, but that love naturally extends to those around us as we begin to lift up the self-esteem and self-worth of others and help them move towards a place of self-acceptance and self-love.
Body shaming begins with us when we criticize our own bodies and then extend that criticism towards the bodies of those around us.
However, body shaming can also end with us when each one of us decides to embrace our own bodies in self-love and self-acceptance and then extend that love and acceptance to those around us, regardless of body type.
If you found this post helpful, you may also enjoy these posts:
- 40+ Quotes to Cultivate a Healthy Body Mindset
- Eating Healthy is Self-Love
- Scrawny: Reflections on Body Shaming
- 5 Tips to Eat Healthier When Life is Stressful
- Self-Care: That Thing You Do to Keep the Motor Running
- First Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask
- Choosing to Live a Contemplative Lifestyle
- Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division. “Body Image, Self-Esteem, and Mental Health.” 2015. Here to Help. <https://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/infosheet/body-image-self-esteem-and-mental-health>
- Jelkovsky, Mary. “9 Tips to Feel More Comfortable in Your Body.” April 15, 2021. Mary’s Cup of Tea. <https://maryscupoftea.com/?p=2110>
- Leon, Erica. “Moms and their Influences.” May 12, 2018. Erica Leon Nutrition, LLC. <https://ericaleon.com/2018/05/12/moms-and-their-influences/>
You are not alone.
You. Are. Loved.
I hope you find love, hope and peace in these words.