Watching Tight Trouser Tease got me thinking about bodies; my body, others’ bodies and just how much we are up against in terms of understanding and accepting our bodies. In this film, Pandora talks about the changes to their body during pregnancy and how delightful it has been. It led me to a few questions, the most challenging of which was: If loving our bodies is good for us, as we can hopefully all agree it is, why then do we appear to be in an almost global crisis when it comes to physical self esteem?
There is a lot of talk about bodies in media and culture right now, from censorship to sex work, to reproductive rights, gender autonomy, body image, and let’s not forget the age old debate of Fit v. Fat. Our bodies are constantly under scrutiny. One would think that with the world at large so up in arms about who can do what with their body, and the unreasonable “norms” we are expected to conform to, that we’d be kinder to ourselves in light of all that negativity. Sadly, these wounds run deep for so many, and getting out from under that systemic microscope can be a significant challenge.
Like many, I have personally been on a crusade to heal and improve my self-image of my body. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I have definitely picked up some jewels of wisdom along the way. Everyone’s path is different in this regard, but here are some reminders and strategies that I have found useful in navigating “body positivity”:
Habits are hard to change, but not impossible
Our words and actions are more powerful than we sometimes realize. One way in which this seems almost universally true is self-talk. If every morning while you brush your teeth you stare into the mirror and tell yourself how good, miraculous and worthy your body is, and how proud you are of all it accomplishes, you will inevitably be able to better embrace and accept your body than if you scowl and criticize and bully yourself.
But here’s the rub: that’s so much easier to say than do. It takes awareness, commitment and dedication to change those inner monologues. Be gentle with yourself. If you catch yourself being harsh, ask yourself if you’d say those same things to a friend or family member? You deserve the same respect you give others.
My body does an awful lot for me, and I bet yours does too. Sure, mine doesn’t rock climb or run very fast, it’s soft where it’s told it should be firm, but it’s mine, and I’m grateful for it. Health, disability, past trauma and how you were raised to feel about your body can all contribute to not feeling very grateful for the body you have.
An interesting and eye opening exercise is to literally take stock of your body and find all the reasons that it’s so great. Start at your feet and work your way up, finding positive things to say about as many parts of yourself as you can without solely acknowledging how things look. I don’t love the aesthetics of my legs, for example, but telling myself that they are too short and thick to be sexy won’t help me feel good about myself. Noting that they are strong and they take me places and allow me to do the things I love to do, makes me an ally of my legs. Suddenly we are on the same team - and I have bestowed value on them that is not just about how they look.
Bodies are ever-changing … and that’s a good thing!
If you stopped reading this article and looked at your body right now, you would find that much like all other bodies, regardless of size, fitness, wellness, etc, your body is constantly in flux. Our bodies are not static. They are ever changing, and forever giving us new and important information. It is easy to slip into thinking that the iteration of our body that we used to have when we were younger, or the body we could have if only we stopped eating dessert, are superior to the bodies we have right now. But if you wish that you could love your body more, you have to start loving it now. That sounds reductive and oversimplified, but it’s true.
How? Meet yourself, and your body, where you are.
If you want to make changes, do. Or not! But I can tell you this: it’s easier to change your body if you already love it before you ask it to change.
Take your body where it is appreciated
Working on your own body acceptance and celebration is a worthy effort, and something that can be very inspiring to those around you. But if you are met with hostility or resistance from others, or you’re simply tired of being caught up in someone else’s thoughts and feelings and projections about their own body, you owe it to yourself to manage your exposure to those sources of negativity. In short, don’t let anyone derail your efforts or convince you that you are any less worthy than you believe you are. If someone in your life is unable to be respectful and keep their negative comments to themselves, take your body where it is appreciated.
Being able-bodied, fit, thin, beautiful, etc. is not your cost of admission to a fulfilling life. You don’t owe anyone anything in terms of how your body looks or works. The more you believe that the less they can impact you with their own miserable agenda.
For most of us, it is a long and circuitous road to body acceptance and body love - but every journey begins with a single step, and only you can know what it is that you need to navigate in a world gone mad with impossible beauty standards and endless sources of shame. I’ll leave you with a quote from the groundbreaking 90’s African American girl group Salt-N-Pepa’s hit, I Am the Body Beautiful, that I have always found inspiring:
“There ain't enough words to express how I feel
I'm body beautiful, true, that's for real
Am who I am and that's all I can be
Open up your mind so your eyes can see”