Body positivity is a phrase or hashtag that you may have come across but what exactly is body positivity and is it positive for all bodies?
In the most simple terms body positivity is the appositive of celebrating or promoting the “perfect body”, it celebrates all shapes, sizes, colours, genders and forms. It celebrates the human body. Body positivity assumes that there is NO IDEAL body and that we should embrace all bodies and most importantly we should embrace our own body regardless.
Sounds good right?
This movement has good intentions but it doesn’t resonate with everyone. I say this from personal experience and from working with many people over the years, this movement didn’t resonate with them because the focus remains on the physical body image.
Since my youngest daughter was born I have struggled to be positive about my body. I have cared for it and I have loved it most of the time and I have gratitude for it but at the same time I can look in the mirror and dislike parts. This created a sense of dissatisfaction with my body image as a whole. My weight has fluctuated more than it ever has over the last 7 years due to health conditions and I am now at my heaviest weight but I am also healthier. At my slimmest I was my most unwell. Neither body image gave me satisfaction.
There is still a big part of me that would like to fit into some old jeans, however, I accept my body now but I am not singing from the roof tops and in a space to be super positive about it. I am more… body neutral.
I accept my body. That doesn’t mean I don’t seek to be fitter or healthier but I accept where I am at now and I do not punish my body, it has been through enough!
The Body Positivity Movement
The body positivity movement started back in 1960s and focused on ending the culture of fat-shaming and discrimination against people based upon their size or body weight.
Then in 1996 the term “body positive” emerged after a psychotherapist and an individual who had been through treatment for an eating disorder and together founded a website designed to help people to feel good about their bodies and not to place focus on dieting and excessive exercise.
In 2012, with the help of social media, Instagram more specifically, “body positivity” as it is more commonly understood today was established with the primary focal points:
- challenging societal views on the body
- promoting the acceptance of all bodies
- helping people build confidence and acceptance of their own bodies
- addressing unrealistic body standards
Body image is our subjective perception, it’s how we think we should or shouldn’t look. Our body image then influences our actions and behaviours and becomes how we treat ourselves based on how we look.
If we have a negative body image we are at an increased risk of an eating disorder or disordered eating, mental health conditions such as anxiety and/or depression, we are more vulnerable to quick fad fixes and possibly develop an unrealistic mindset around exercise and nutrition.
Mental Health Matters
Mental Health challenges that can emerge when we are dissatisfied with our body image that include:
When we feel that we should look a specific way and are constantly striving to achieve that, it can get you down emotionally and mentally. A constant feel of dissatisfaction takes its toll leaving you feeling drained and fatigued.
Constantly striving for something else and not allowing yourself to enjoy the present moment can create anxiety. When the dissatisfaction of where you are persists long term, the flight and fight part of the brain is constantly firing and anxious feelings can become overwhelming.
Body dissatisfaction is associated with poor self-esteem regardless of their gender, age, weight, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.
Constantly feeling dissatisfied leads to low self-worth, a feeling that only when you look a certain way you will be worthy of a specific outcome.
Body dissatisfaction leads to eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.
Disordered eating may show up as yo-yo dieting, anxiety around certain foods and/or meal times, using exercise to offset foods.
Please note that the most significant difference between an eating disorder and disordered eating is that the term disordered eating is a descriptive phrase, not a diagnosis. For example, I personally have experienced disordered eating whilst unwell. I would control what I ate and when but it was unrelated to weight and body image. Having said that you may also have disordered eating that is related to weight and body image such as sticking to very rigid routines and rituals around eating.
Research suggests that between 1.25 and 3.4 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder.
It is important to recognise that many people go undiagnosed.
The Shadow Side
So, back to body positivity that seeks to highlight the influences that maybe contributing to body image dissatisfaction and support people’s mental and emotional wellbeing with the focus still very much so on body image.
For me, body positivity doesn’t go without its shadow side.
Body positivity tends to disregard other aspects of a person and still remains image based. The movement still portrays beauty as unflawed, making some feel flawed!
Body positivity is simply mission impossible for some people so why not move towards self-compassion and body neutrality?
Whilst I acknowledge that body positivity does promote self-acceptance it is through the love of how your body looks and it just isn’t that easy when you don’t like how you look!
Body acceptance that comes from a more neutral stance is more achievable.
My Body, My Thoughts
Talking openly and honestly is a start, I admit I don’t love everything about my body, I appreciate and love it as a whole. I recognise it as my human vessel that allows me to experience the world. I am not my body, I am not my colour, gender, race, I am not even my mind!
My body image rides up and down, through pregnancies and into my 40s, I change. My view in the mirror changes but each step I accept and what I don’t initially accept I work on accepting. That for me is body neutrality. It is what it is and that is okay. I practise self-compassion.
I work with clients to move in to this space and accept their bodies because as they grow and evolve emotionally and spirituality, they realise their body is star dust. You, me, we, are living breathing vessels of magic!
Connect with your essence, align with your higher self and do things that make you feel good.
Your body shape has NOTHING to do with your WORTH, NOTHING!
There is magic to be had in the middle lane. Focusing on being dissatisfied or satisfied with our body image is exhausting mentally and emotionally. Whereas in neutral we can accept it with more ease.
Yes, I am heavier than I have been in a long time, yes I have wobbly parts and thinning hair and less than perky boobies!
I look in the mirror and I see it all and I remain neutral first then I move towards self acceptance and compassion with a side of self love.
I am healthier than I have been in a long time, I am mentally and emotionally in a good space too. Being healthy is the most important thing to regardless of size. I am not without momentary thoughts of “Your thighs are too big” but I challenge the thoughts each and every time, I tend to reframe with “You are so healthy, you gorgeous beast” or something along those lines!
Sometimes we hold more weight to support us to be more grounded…that’s a whole other blog but my point is I accept my current weight and maybe, just maybe, it helps me to be a better holistic therapist and the trade off ultimately is worth it because I seek to be the best version of me which looks like this.
Self-Care is Essential
Self-care has played a major part in my healing journey. I walk daily, do yoga, pilates and I love the trampoline (rebounder) not because I feel I have to but because I enjoy it all and I know I feel better in mind, body and spirit being active.
Moving the body is essential for an empath to release energies and create shifts. Staying still creates stagnation and that has nothing to do with body image but everything to do with my spiritual wellbeing.
I buy myself clothes and I have just donated several bags of a smaller size to charity. It wasn’t serving me to hold onto them. I could go through a gruelling exercise programme and reduce my calorie intake but I know I eat well and I feel strong. If this is you, get them gone. Buy clothes that you feel good in, that support your confidence and IF you want to lose weight to feel better in specific clothes that’s OK too. The idea is that we accept where we are alongside having wellbeing goals. We have to accept first even if it’s neutral acceptance!
Do the ground work and make the changes whilst accepting where you are at today.
Meet yourself where you are at.
I hope this blog helps you to accept that you are not your body and your self worth is not tied up in your body image. Your body is a blessing and should respected and taken care of, it is a gift. Body neutrality recognises that you can accept your body warts n all and that is worth celebrating.
This is me! Perfectly Imperfect.