As someone who has struggled with body image issues for much of their life, the level of gratitude that I have for the body positive community is impossible to articulate. With the help of activists, writers, and editors, I've been able to put the pieces of myself torn apart by negative self-talk back together again. Radical self-acceptance has helped me abandon destructive ways of thinking, and learn to love a traumatized and genderless body. But sometimes maintaining that positive body image is still incredibly difficult.
As with most grassroots activism, the rise and mainstreaming of body positive principals has been met with a lot of dissenting views beyond the fat-phobia and misogyny present in all movements that intersect with feminism. In my little corner of the Internet, this has manifested itself in the form of many queer people struggling with mental illness, and posts clogging my news feeds regarding how body positivity is obsolete.
As a queer person who deals with a plethora of mental and body image issues, I can certainly relate to the feeling of wanting to give up on self-love — because how can body positivity even begin to combat what can sometimes feel like institutionalized homophobia? However, having been through many ups and downs in my life, I would never condone forgoing body positivism. Here are some things to remember if ever you're considering giving up on it.
1. Positive Body Image Is A Process
Based on the many defensive Twitter rants I've come across from queer friends and artists, it seems like many folks have translated body positivity to mean "you have to love yourself." And if you don't, then you're just not trying hard enough.
When I implore people to explore body positivism, I'm not asking them to flip a switch and fall in love with themselves. I know this stuff doesn't happen overnight, and self-care can take months of practice before you actually start feeling the effects of your work.
I'm simply asking you to believe that you are worth trying to love, and that trying in whatever tiny way you can (be it by making yourself a good meal or going for a walk while listening to your favorite album) to bring a bit more peace into your everyday life is immensely helpful. Using friends, online resources, and the help of professionals (if you can afford that, and think it's a fit for you) can help further bolster any self-worth or love you are beginning to build.
I have a reminder set on my phone for every day at 2 p.m. that says "I am enough," which I repeat aloud before silencing it. It's simple and can feel silly. But I truly believe that a reminder as straightforward as that has the potential to turn your mindset around.
2. It's Normal To Have Bad Days
We're all prone to hitting bumps on the road. Even the fiercest body pos activists among us have bad days, or days when body positivity seems out of reach. We are only human, after all, and we live in a body shaming world.
Body positivity is all about patience, and no one should be penalizing you for not feeling yourself at all times. A big part of being self-loving is accepting even your most insecure state, and knowing that it's perfectly natural to feel badly sometimes. Remember it will eventually pass.
3. Body Positivism Can Help Mental Health
From my experiences, self-love and mental illness can coexist in the same body. I have an anxiety disorder, and am prone to experiencing bipolar-like mood swings. My ever-changing feelings and my crippling anxiety have made it very difficult for me to love the brain that constantly feels like a burden. But slowly introducing small acts of self-love to my external body through selfies and mirror self-talk sessions has given me some helpful tools for my mental health.
Deep into my work with body positivity, I slowly stopped getting angry at myself whenever I'd be too anxious or depressed to do something. I began taking care of myself when my symptoms were exacerbated. And although you cannot wish your illnesses away with the simple idea of self-love, I now know that I don't have to be in quite as much agony while dealing with disruptive and sometimes debilitating symptoms. My body positivity extends to my brain, so it no longer feels like the end of the world when my anxiety is heightened. I love myself and know that I am lovable in every mental state.
4. Your Routines Do Make A Difference
Setting little reminders or positive affirmations can be one of many small ways to show yourself some love. But other small acts of kindness towards yourself, like taking a bath, drinking tea, or painting your nails, can hold the power to spread body positivity into your day as well.
Since my mental health is heavily related to my body positivity, I rely very much on beauty routines to center me and get my day headed in the right direction. Sometimes it's hard enough to bring ourselves to carry out our daily routines, let alone the parts of our routines that are solely for maintaining self-love. However, I know that on the days I miss my morning skincare, my body positivity definitely takes a hit and makes it even more difficult for me to bounce back from a low self-esteem swing.
Reminding yourself that you're worth looking after and performing self-care routines on is crucial, especially when part of our apprehension about performing these rituals so often has to do with not thinking we deserve them. In the same way you sometimes have to muster up a ton of energy to even brush your teeth, try to force yourself to engage in your self-loving routine. It really does make a difference.
5. Body Positivity Is Realistic & Essential
I have a lot of friends and family who simply don't believe that loving yourself is possible, or even all that important. Many of us don't realize how essential self-love is for living life happily and getting things done. Even I'm prone to forget at times. But when you don't love yourself, it's difficult to feel motivated. And when you don't feel motivated, chances are you can't be creative, efficient, or present in your relationships with other humans.
I hadn't realized the impact of my body negativity until I started embracing the opposite. Then everything became easier. With the focus I place on loving my body, I've been able to take vitamins, do yoga on the daily, and start dressing in ways that make me feel most comfortable and fulfilled. Body positivity gives my life purpose, and makes me strive for more than just getting out of bed in the morning (even if sometimes that's all we can do).
I know that my white and straight-size body afforded me certain privileges in my younger body image-shaping years. But I was raised by people who hated themselves, and grew up rushing in that same direction. I loathed the shape of my body, and the way it was called "female" when I knew it wasn't. I detested the way my body was disordered and in constant pain in my teen years, endlessly ashamed by a life characterized by walking assistants, IV infusions, and my dark bedroom. But once I became aware of the body positive community, I threw myself into understanding it and applying its mantras to my life in any way I could. Having such a large group of people telling me that I was beautiful and worth loving, even with disabilities and a fluid gender identity, changed everything