The people you surround yourself with undoubtedly have a hand in the way you perceive the world. This is especially true when concerning family, the people who've raised you and have seen you through your most awkward and formative years. So I definitely owe my journey to body positivity, at least in part, to my little sister. Jess, the beautiful young woman I had the pleasure of growing up with, has set a wonderful example for my own model of self love, and I'm sure she's affected others in a similar way.
Before I had come to terms with my gender identity and before I realized that most of the ideas I held about my body were damaging and unnecessary, self acceptance was not a personal priority of mine. But my sister, the person I spent almost all of my time with, was the first human who brought these ideas to the forefront of my mind. Her silent struggle with eating disorders and mental illness, the way she found ways to overcome adversity, and the little ways she's been body positive towards herself and others since she was very young heavily influenced my ideas about my own body, and helped me appreciate the need for body positivity as a whole.
Here are just some of the body positive lessons I've learned from her over the years.
1. Embrace Your Nude Body
Despite struggling with an ED, my sister has gone through stages of being completely comfortable with and celebratory of her nude body. Since she was a toddler, she would strip off her clothes at random times in crowded rooms. Approximately 17 years later, things really haven't changed much (except for her newfound knowledge of when and where this might not be an appropriate thing to do).
The ease in which my sister shares and appreciates her naked bod has been one of the biggest inspirations for my relationship with nudity. Her attitude has always made me more comfortable in my bare skin, and acted as motivation for when I'm not feeling so confident. She encourages me not to hide, and celebrates my own form by always giving me body positive compliments.
2. Honor Your Body Through Exercise
Jess and I have both had experiences that have discouraged us from pursuing many forms of exercise. Compulsive working out was one of the symptoms my sister suffered from when she was experiencing an eating disorder in middle school. The last time I had a very regular workout routine (consisting of cross country and dance class) my body was slowly deteriorating from a misdiagnosed chronic illness, which eventually left me bedridden for years. As a result, my relationship with exercise was also damaged.
My sister has since overcome a lot of her anxieties surrounding exercise, and now uses this practice as a huge piece of her work in balancing her mind and body. Today, she is captain of her school's cross country team, and is pursuing certification in Kundalini yoga instruction.
I still haven't gotten over my negative associations with my body triggered by exercise, but whenever we're together for longer periods of time, we make a point to do yoga together. Jess's positive relationship with moving her body, and the way in which she openly and non-judgmentally invites me to join her, is a manifestation of one of the body positive goals I'm determined to achieve fully someday.
3. Learn To Love Your Disabled Body
When I was home from school full time due to chronic illness, it came to my family's attention that Jess was developing a very severe case of scoliosis. Her doctors attempted to correct her S-shaped spine with a back brace, which left her with multiple cuts and bruises at the end of each day. However, it became clear that more extreme measures would have to be taken, and my sister had spinal reconstructive surgery when she was 13. She had to stay home from school with me for an entire winter as her body healed from the operation.
There were many times when my sister hated her body and lamented over how unhappy it was making her. But she quickly found ways to feel good about her body regardless of its limitations, and didn't stop moving it out of discouragement. This was a huge inspiration to me, since I was also incredibly limited in my body at the time. It prompted me to commit to a small daily workout routine for the many months I spent at home. Ultimately, she taught me firsthand how not to give up on my bod.
4. Cultivate A Healthy Relationship With Food
My sister's eating disorder and ongoing struggle with body dysmorphia have complicated her relationship with food. These days, however, she can balance the act of enjoying food while also being conscious of what foods make her feel best. My sister inspired me to become a vegan four years ago, and she encourages me to eat and enjoy food as much as I want.
She's taught me to appreciate my relationship with food, to feed my body mindfully, and not to make triggering comments or judgments about the eating habits of others.
5. Love Your Self(ie)
My sister is the absolute queen of taking selfies (see her Instagram). Her compulsive need to whip out her iPhone camera and snap a photo of us whenever we're together always makes me feel a little self conscious and hesitant at first. But (and only with her) I quickly fall into the fun game of "let's see how cute and silly we can be in under a minute," while posing for shot after shot. It's a huge ego boost, and reminds me to spend some quality time with my own selfies.
6. Don't Be Afraid to Be Silly
Jess always reminds me not to take myself too seriously, and how freeing it is to play and be silly. She reminds me that there is more than one way to be beautiful, and has helped me feel body positive about myself in silly and even traditionally unflattering photos.
7. Dress The Way You Want
From a young age, my sister has validated my gender identity and respected the way I like to dress regardless of our styles being vastly different. While harmful gender expectations did shape some of the way my parents would perceive me, my sister always encouraged me to be myself. Her own fluid style made me feel more normal in my queerness, and she was the first person in my family to properly use my they/them pronouns while also respecting my distaste for feminine compliments. She is the foundation of my body positivity when I visit home, as she's never treated my choices or preferences with anything besides admiration.
8. Self Care Is Important
On her own path to body positivity, my sister has never compromised her self care routines, and works tirelessly to manipulate her environment to always be one that caters to and reflects the needs of her mind and body. Her commitment to her own journey not only reminds me of the importance of self care, but also inspires me with ideas on how to make my own routines more effective.
9. Forget About What Others Think
A big part of maintaining body positivity is trying not to be concerned about what other people think. This is because the opinions and expectations of others — oftentimes originating from constructed beauty norms — simply don't matter. My sister's complete lack of self consciousness helps me let go of any insecurities, especially in social situations. She dances like no one's watching, she talks openly and candidly about her feelings, and she's never afraid of bringing attention to herself in public.
For these reasons and many more, my sister is endlessly cool, and her lifestyle rubs off on me a ton whenever I'm near her. I try to carry it with me as much as I can, and whenever I find myself feeling super confident in a social situation, I find that I remind myself of her. Personally, there is no greater accomplishment in life to me than that.
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Images: Meg Zulch