We're now in the middle of April (how did that happen — wasn't it just New Years?), which means that the body shaming, dieting, and negative self-talk are only going to go up from here. We're in the midst of the biggest dieting season of the year, which can make cultivating body positivity really, really difficult, even for the most activism-minded of us all!
I know that all of the articles on "how to get bathing suit ready," (which you already are, for the record), get a flat stomach, and look hot in your booty shorts, really make me feel like everyone must be judging me for wearing short shorts and not being thin — but such a mentality only breeds self-consciousness! I think a lot of this messaging can be even more difficult for those of us who are eating disorder survivors — talk about triggering. Personally, I will usually read something along these lines and feel guilty for eating anything that has fat or sugar in it.
That's lead me to write this guide to loving your body during this Super Bowl season of dieting, to hopefully help you get through it while still feeling confident in your skin. Since body love isn't a linear journey, this is going to be written in a "stages" of format. Hopefully, this will also eliminate the pressure of getting to the next phase as fast as possible, since there is no right or wrong way to go about this. Everyone is different, just like everybody is different. And that's as it should be.
1. Guilt And Shame
This is probably the worst of all of the stages of body image during the peak of dieting season (and also probably the most common). The entire premise of getting ready for bikini season is that our bodies are not good enough as they are and we need to change them in order to be able to wear a bathing suit on the beach. This is really ridiculous, and not to mention shaming, but we probably all believe it to some extent, because of the power behind these marketing and advertising campaigns.
This stage is really hard to get past or work through, because of how woven this body shame is into our culture — and too often, our own psyche's. There are a few good remedies you can try, though, which include changing your media consumption habits, engaging in positive self-talk, and practicing self-care.
2. Media Consumption
Since the average American consumed 15.5 hours of media per day in 2013, we're constantly surrounded by potentially harmful messages around body image. We do have control over what we consume to some degree, though, so if you're constantly seeing thin bodies and being exposed to body shaming messages, try changing the channel — literally! Surround yourself with empowering media that makes you feel good about your body and shut off the stuff that doesn't.
3. Positive Self-Talk
One of the best ways to change your own perception of your body is to change how you talk to and about it. Treat your body like you would a best friend, because she should be your best friend! If you find yourself being overly critical or judgmental of yourself, stop in your tracks, take a deep breath, and say something positive in its place. If you can't think of anything nice to say, then say nothing, but don't go back to judging. Soon enough, this will become a habit if you enforce this rule enough.
4. Practice Self-Care
According to the University of Kentucky, self-care "includes any intentional actions you take to care for your physical, mental and emotional health." This is obviously broad and can look different for different people — maybe you feel rejuvenated after taking a hike, baking a cake, or reading a good book. The key to good self-care practices is to do things that nourish your body, mind, and spirit and not numb them. A Netflix binge might be nice, but ask yourself if you're trying to escape your emotions, or cultivate more positive ones. Chances are going for a run or creating a work of art will make you feel better in the long run than reruns of Keeping up with the Kardashians (I know it's hard to believe).
At some point, you'll probably find yourself being curious as to what body positivity can look like for you. If you drown out the negativity enough, the positivity naturally seeks you out. For me, this happened once when I was in NYC in the middle of the summer and ready to buy my first bikini. I felt intimidated but curious and went to H&M to try on some styles and walked out with two! This is a really exciting phase, as you can see yourself starting to accept and love your body.
This can wax and wane, though, and I personally think nourishing this curiosity is what will bring you closer to full-fledged body acceptance. If there's something you want to do or try, do it or try it! If you don't like it or discover it's not for you, you can always quit or put that clothing item back on the rack. Think about some body-loving activities you'd like to try, like taking a yoga class, buying a crop top, or going to the beach, for instance, and plan out how you're going to do them. Trying things and finding that you can do them and feel good about your body in the process will help you to reaffirm body positivity.
6. Being Triggered
I'm just going to say it — being triggered really sucks. For those of us with eating disorders, mental health issues, or for anyone who has been through an emotionally traumatic situation involving their bodies, being triggered can set back years of progress. It can feel like all of your hard work was for nothing or like you should stop trying altogether. A diet commercial, insensitive article, or incident of personal body shaming can all be triggering, and the tough part is that it often happens unexpectedly.
If you're being triggered, remove yourself from the situation ASAP. If you've just been triggered, address the situation immediately and do what you need to to practice self-care. This can be something as simple as taking a bubble bath to something as complicated as distancing yourself from a friend who constantly ridicules your body.
Sometimes taking care of ourselves can be difficult, since we often don't believe we are worthy of being nice to ourselves. This is when it's most important to fight against your self-sabotaging impulses though, to ensure a triggering setback doesn't set you up for even more destruction. Also, talk to a therapist or mental health professional if need be or call a hotline to talk to someone who can help you through the issue(s) you are facing.
7. Trial And Error
Loving your body doesn't usually happen overnight and can take a lot of practice! You may try some things and realize that they don't work for you or make you feel good, and that's perfectly okay! Our society is often judgmental of those who are okay with imperfection, but making mistakes is a part of learning and growing. Yes, you might go on another diet or make a snarky comment about someone's body, but that doesn't make you a failure. In fact, each and every time you get up and try again will make you stronger.
Also, it's okay to take a break — sometimes I have to shut myself off from the world of body image, both good and bad, for a while. Talking about body positivity is a lot harder than you would think, so don't feel like you need to be a walking billboard 24/7. It's okay to take a mental vacation!
When you can accept and love your body exactly the way it is, you've reached the stage of acceptance! Now, it should be noted that this goal may never be achieved and probably isn't achieved by 99.9 percent of us — even I'm not all the way there! There can be a lot of pressure to say you accept your body and not show insecurity, as our culture often views that as a sign of weakness. But the fact is that until we live in a world that tells us we should love our bodies, where we don't need to fight against body shame, this is probably impossible. It's not your job to solve this problem single-handedly, and admitting that you aren't there yet is better than setting yourself against an impossible standard.
Remember that no matter what those magazines and advertisements are telling you, your body is already perfect just the way it is! I know you can get through this dieting season more empowered than you started it and I believe in you — and me!