Every time I see a magazine showcasing how to “get a bikini body in 4 weeks” or lose weight for summer, I want to burn it. Not just hold a lighter to the edge, but to create a magnificent bonfire of body-shaming magazines and calmly watch them go up in flames.
Does this fantasy seem extreme? Perhaps the imagery is, but the sentiment is not. I am continually outraged how our society, culture, and media tells us only certain types of bodies (generally thin, cis-gender, and white) are allowed to be seen and showcased. Body-shaming media perpetuates the kind of toxicity which breeds low self-esteem, body image issues and disordered eating in our population. Unfortunately, the messages amplify in months leading up to summer.
Why should you care? When you are obsessed with losing weight, building muscle, dieting, or how you look, you are living in an imaginary future and missing out on the present. When you hate your body, you don’t have the energy to explore and enhance your gifts, which our world definitely needs. When your mind is full of self-deprecating thoughts about your appearance, it gets in the way of connecting with others in an open and authentic fashion.
I use the term “body neutral” in my title because going from hating to loving your body is a huge step for anyone to conceptualize. If you can’t imagine loving your body (yet), I encourage you to imagine what it would be like to call a truce on the body-hate and embrace a feeling of body neutrality.
1) Remember: It’s Not About Your Body, It’s The Culture
I give you the example of my beauty-magazine-bonfire fantasy to illustrate ways you can remind yourself the problem is not your body, it’s our society. The problem is not the shape of your body, but how you view yourself–which has been shaped by culture, upbringing, oppression, and the media machine (to name just a few).
It’s time to deconstruct those memories and messages to uncover how you truly want to relate to your body. Read body-positive media sources. Educate yourself. Diversify your social media feed. Surround yourself with body positive people. Join a meetup group or body-positive book club. (If there isn’t one in your area, start one!)
One of the quickest way to access the feeling of body love or body neutrality is to be around animals or babies. How do you feel when you are around beings with no concept of body hate?
Another way to access a feeling of body neutrality to to immerse yourself in something that takes all your attention and is enjoyable (i.e. writing, nature, singing, etc). What happens when you are feeling too happy/focused/creative to care how your body looks?
2) Enjoy Your Body Right Now – Just As It Is
What would you do if the body you had right now, in this very moment, was the one you would have forever? What if your body’s abilities could change, but the way your body looks right now would be the same for the next 50 years?
I ask you this because I want you to understand the following statement:
Your current body is your ideal body.
I challenge you to embrace this mentality whenever you believe that your body’s shape, appearance, or ability does not allow you to do something you truly want to do.
For example, if you wish you looked more athletic so you could feel more comfortable playing on a sports league, just join the sport league. If you wish your body were smaller so you could feel confident in a swim suit and finally learn how to paddle board, then go learn how to paddle board. If you think you need to get plastic surgery or a spray tan before you ask out the attractive co-worker, too bad, you better ask them out now. Are you not going to allow yourself to wear those neon tights you love until your legs are more toned? Either rock ’em or toss ’em becuase this is the body you will be having for a while.
Challenge: Make a list of all the things you would do once you have your “ideal body.” Then do them.
3) Wear What Feels Good and Right For You (a.k.a. The Goddess Test)
Even the most body-positive person is not going to feel comfortable in something too small, too large, or not their style or personality. Comfortable clothing which fits your body and style is going to make it easier for you to be present and feel good in your body. Consider investing in (or scourging thrift stores for) a few universal summer pieces which allow you to feel comfortable, authentic, and expressive.
Another Tip: envision the type of powerful, creative, or compassionate archetype you want to channel with your outward expression and allow this vision to guide your clothing or accessory choices. For me, I call this the “Goddess Test”. If I put on something that doesn’t make me feel like a Goddess (i.e. proud, feminine, comfortable), then I don’t wear it. You are not necessarily dressing like that archetype (although rockin’ a tiara isn’t a bad look), but dressing in a way that makes you feel like that archetype and embody its strengths.
Your image doesn’t have to be a Goddess – it can be Warrior, Explorer, Lover, Rebel, Protector, etc. What type of powerful archetype do want to embody when you get dressed in the morning?
4) Don’t Avoid Situations In Order To Hide Your Body
How many people do you know dread summer because they do not want to be seen in a swimsuit? How many times have you avoided situations because it brought up too much shame or body-hate to allow your body to be fully seen?
If we do not feel good about our body, it would make sense we would want to avoid situations which trigger feelings of shame, anxiety or self-consciousness. I hate to break this to you, but hiding from those situations actually doesn’t help in the long run. Avoidance feeds the fear.
Don’t let body shame get in the way of doing what you love to do.
Sometimes it’s simply a matter of doing exactly what you fear, such as going to the pool party, in order to realize hiding doesn’t help. Other times, you may need to progressively build up to doing what you fear so you can build up the skills and tolerance needed to combat the anxiety or body shame. For example, if you don’t want to wear a bathing suit in public, you might start with just trying on bathing suits at a store, picking one you love, then wearing it around your house. Next you might wear it in the locker room sauna, to a community pool early in the morning before anyone is there, finally rockin’ your swimsuit at that year-end river trip. Include a trusted friend or family member in this process to support or accompany you.
If your avoidance or body shame rises to the level of drastically interfering with your life, health, work, or social activities, please seek out professional support.
Loving your Body is a Radical Act
Loving your body, or even having just plain ol’ body neutrality, is counter-cultural. Every day we are told that we need to be thinner, fitter, taller, lighter, darker, sexier. It’s never ending. However, freedom is possible. You’ve already taken the first steps.
What is one thing that you can do today to foster body-positivity in your life? What are you willing to let go of in order to stop waging war against your body?
Arianna Smith, MA, LPC, EMDR