"I love my body," is something you'll hear a lot of people say, but perhaps without any real substance behind it — because, you know, figuring out how to love your body is actually really hard. But these days, there's a lot of social pressure to say that you love your body and that you aren't one of those people who feels insecure or struggles with aesthetics.
Since a lot of media puts out these shallow "love your body" messages without really understanding the words, there exists a kind of pressure to pretend that you're not struggling with body image. The problem with this is that while it's great that we're collectively more encouraged to love ourselves, it often results in stigma associated with those of us who aren't quite there yet. Not loving your body doesn't make you a bad person or less worthy of respect, though, and is in fact perfectly legitimate — since we live in a culture still permeated with body shame.
Loving your body isn't something that happens overnight or in a linear fashion — there is no roadmap you can use that will lead you in the right direction. Instead, finding positive body image is a journey filled with highs and lows and can often change day-to-day. Our relationships to our bodies can be very complex and can't be boiled down to a marketing campaign or slogan telling us to appreciate our thick thighs. Body image is so much more than this.
It's important to address the realistic feelings you might have about your body, and to know why they're sometimes OK. No one is going to love themselves 100 percent of the time, after all. Even if life would be easier if we did. Just think of when you feel angry or sad — sure, those are negative feelings, but they can be essential in helping us to process what is happening in our lives. And that is precisely why not feeling so hot about your body isn't something to belittle.
1. Your Body Image Journey Is Yours Only
I have such a problem with people who think it's okay to criticize other people's bodies and in the same way, I have a problem with people who criticize others' body image. How you exist and feel within your body is your experience; no one can take that away from you. Those who try to shame you for feeling a certain way about your body or give you unhelpful, unsolicited advice about "how to love yourself more" are a part of the problem.
An example of this would be telling someone who has battled with an eating disorder to just accept their "flaws," as though it's such a simple task — and as though characterizing things as "flaws" to begin with helps anyone.
2. All Feelings Are Valid
You might feel bad, sad, or mad about your body sometimes, and it's perfectly valid to feel that way! Our bodies let us down sometimes and that really sucks. For some reason, it seems to be OK to express feelings of all types, as long as those feelings don't relate to your body. If they do, you're often bombarded with people telling you that what you feel is just based on media perception or that you're not being confident enough. In turn, that can make you feel bad for having those negative feelings, which produces shame. You never need to feel ashamed for feeling however you do about your body — we all have bad days.
3. Our Bodies Can Betray Us
Like I mentioned, sometimes our bodies do us wrong. We might get sick, become injured, or be in pain for something that is of no fault of our own. As such, you might feel negatively about your body and not be so in love with it when you have the flu or just broke your leg.
4. Body Love Is Hard Work
Loving your body is not as simple as just declaring "I love myself!" That can be a good start but effective, sustainable body positivity takes a lot of hard work and dedication. In fact, you could devote your entire lifetime to the practice and still not understand it all! But try to look at these experiences as opportunities for growth and remember that body love is a praxis and a practice.
5. Body Positivity Isn't A Linear Journey
There is no exact path to cultivating body love and everyone's journey is going to be different! This means that your experience of and in your body is yours alone, and how, if, and when you love your body is going to be different from how other people did things.
Have you ever heard the saying that "comparison is the thief of joy?" It's true and you shouldn't compare your body image journey to anyone else's!
6. Negative Feelings Doesn't Necessarily Equal A Negative Mindset
If you are having a bad body image day or not feeling so hot about your body at any given time, that doesn't mean that you feel that way all of the time. Negative feelings don't always equate to a negative mindset and it's important to remember that — both for your own body image and for when you feel like commenting on someone else's.
7. You Can't Love Your Body Overnight
Despite all of the social media campaigns that suggest otherwise (think Victoria's Secret "Love Your Body" campaign), you can't just declare body love and suddenly wash away all of the years of social conditioning that taught you that your body is wrong. Body love doesn't happen overnight. It is a process, even if campaigns often suggest that body positivity is easy.
8. Body Positivity Involves A Lot Of Unlearning
Finally, body positivity involves unlearning the toxic messages from society that tell you that fat is always bad, that your body needs to look a certain way, and all of the other conditioning that happens as a part of your socialization.
In order to love ourselves and learn to accept our bodies as they are, we need to consciously practice unlearning what we've been taught by our culture. Unlearning can be a lifelong endeavor and is one of the most difficult things to do. As such, you're going to slip up and have times when you fall back into the messages of society; this doesn't make you a bad person or a failure! It makes you human.
Images: egghoff/Flickr; Giphy