What is Body Positivity?
Body image is the way we perceive our bodies. It includes how we think about our bodies as well as how we think other people think about our bodies. In the United States, the rate of negative body image is a highly concerning manner because of the negative effects of having poor body image. Negative body image can be combatted and prevented by teaching and practicing body positivity. Body positivity is the act of thinking kindly towards your body and others’ bodies. Essentially, it is the act of self-acceptance as well as being accepting of bodies in general, not just your own.
Why Body Positivity is Important
Body positivity is essential to self-acceptance and it helps us to live our best lives. If we are always dissatisfied with our bodies, we spend a lot of time, energy, and money thinking about our dissatisfaction and trying to change our bodies. That is time, energy, and money that could be used to live our best lives, chase our dreams, and contribute to the world in a meaningful way. Negative body image can also contribute to depression, self-harm, eating disorders and other harmful behaviors and thoughts. One study showed that adolescents who had negative body image were more likely to be depressed, suicidal, and anxious than teens without negative body image, even when compared to teens without negative body image issues who had other psychiatric conditions. Obviously, practicing body positivity is an important skill when living in Western cultures which tend to idealize unachievable body types and associate happiness and success with achieving that body type.
...So How Do You Practice Body Positivity?
Step 1: Get Rid of Preconceived Ideas of Beauty
Western culture promotes a beauty ideal of being thin, white, tall, blonde, with curves. Our culture promotes this ideal of beauty and it is reinforced in our media and by the people we know, who often criticize their own bodies if they feel they aren’t living up to their idea of beauty. In order to be body positive, you have to stop conforming to this narrow-minded, difficult-to-achieve beauty standard and realize that all bodies have the same value. This includes bodies of all colors, sizes, appearaces, and functionality.
While a lot of people understand that beauty can come in different shapes and sizes, a lot of body positive advocators often overlook the importance of recognizing that bodies of different functionality levels all need to be appreciated and loved in the same way. People often have negative body image because their bodies don’t function the same way that others do. People with disabilities, chronic illnesses, amputations, deformations, infertility, and other conditions, often have a negative body image because their bodies prevent them from living a “normal” life or from doing all the things they wish they could do. It’s important to realize that our bodies have immense value regardless of any limitations they may have.
Step 2: Understand the True Value of Your Body
The value of a body is that it allows you to exist in this world. As wisely stated by Rosie Molinary, author of Beautiful You and my Body Image professor at UNCC, “Your body is your vehicle through this world. You get to experience this world because you have a body.” Without our bodies, we would not be experiencing life on earth. Given the immense gift our bodies give us, they absolutely should be accepted and celebrated. They certainly should not be something we hate or have immense negative feelings over because of how they look or function when they are doing the most miraculous thing anything can ever do- exist.
Step 3: Don't Criticize Your Body (Especially in Front of Others.)
Negative body image is a learned behavior and one of the biggest influences isn’t media, it’s actually the people in our lives and how they talk about their bodies. Parents talking badly about their own bodies has a huge negative impact on how their children judge their own bodies, especially in the mother, daughter relationship. The relationship dynamic between girlfriends is also very influential. Intentionally refrain from criticizing your body and talking about anyone else’s body when you’re hanging out with your girlfriends.
If you want to encourage positive body image among your loved ones, the best thing you can do is to talk well about your body or refrain from body talk altogether. And if you find yourself being hard on your own body, evaluate the people you spend a lot of time with. Start a conversation with them if they have become a negative influence on your body image. Tell them that how they talk about their body and others' bodies has made you think negatively about your own body and that you wish they would be kinder in how they talk about themselves/others. You can even share this page with them if they want the link of resources at the bottom which explain the research done to show how negative body talk is a toxic and influential behavior. (Or share it with them if you think they'd love a dose of body positive tips!)
Step 4: Compliment People (and Yourself!) on Things Not Related to Their Appearance
Lastly, you can compliment others on things other than their appearance. By complimenting others on their appearance, you are telling them that you notice their appearances and you give importance to how they look. While giving compliments about a person’s appearance isn’t bad, it can become bad when it’s the other thing we compliment them on. This is again, especially powerful in the parent to child relationship. Give compliments based on their character or efforts. Some non-appearance based compliments are “You are so hardworking,” “Your creativity inspires me,” and “You are so smart and dedicated to your studies!” This conveys that you notice and appreciate various aspects about them and that their value in this world isn’t solely based on how they look to others
How Will You Practice Body Positivity?
Being body positive is easy once you know the action-steps required to get there. Practicing these steps will improve not only your life and attitude, but also the lives and attitudes of the people you interact with. When we are at peace with our bodies, we set a powerful example for others to also have that same peace. When we are at peace with our bodies, we can get on to the most important work we can do in the world, chasing our dreams and contributing to the lives of others.
"All bodies are beautiful and all bodies have value. Including Yours."
Resources for Body Positivity Information and Body Image Studies
Western Commercial Influences on Body Image
Beautiful You Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance