Having a positive body image is incredibly difficult for both women and men, though usually body positivity is seen as only a women’s issue. People of both genders are affected by eating disorders, self esteem issues and other problems related to the society’s obsession with an ideal body.
Loving yourself is generally really hard, and loving the way you look may be hardest part of it. We consume media that tells us that only certain types of bodies are acceptable or desirable, despite the fact that most people don’t have those and still live meaningful, loving, exciting lives. But we believe the lie — we obsessively count calories, we hide the parts of our bodies we’ve been told to be ashamed of, we spend an inordinate amount of time worrying that we don’t look the way we’re “supposed to look.”
But all hope isn’t lost! You can be a body positive god/goddess, whether you have a six-pack of abs, flabby arms, love handles, a flat chest — whatever! It’s time we all stop hating ourselves, because it’s pointless. You only get one body, and your life doesn’t start when you lose weight — you’re living your life right now, and any moment that the way you look keeps you from being happy is wasted.
Here’s the thing — admitting you deserve to be happy is one thing, but actually living that is hard. I’m speaking from experience. Logically, I know that my body is awesome and let’s me do great things, but sometimes I can be pretty unhappy with it. This is an experience you might be familiar with.
But just because you have bad moments doesn’t mean you can’t be happy. Here are my tips for being body positive, whether you’re fat, thin or somewhere in between.
Recognize negative body talk.
Sometimes this is really obvious. You might look in the mirror and think something bad about yourself. A friend might make a comment about someone in a bathing suit, a magazine might dissect a celebrity’s cellulite, or your parents might comment on you gaining the Freshman 15. But sometimes it can be a lot more insidious. It’s a comment about how something isn’t “flattering,” how you might want to think about working out more, or how “some people shouldn’t wear skinny jeans.”
Once you’ve recognized the comments that work to make you feel awful, you can realize why they’re happening. A magazine wants to make you feel bad about your body because then you’ll invest in diets. Your friends or family members might be projecting their own insecurities. When you realize that these comments usually aren’t really about you, you can distance yourself from this hateful speech.
Don’t talk about “health” or “fitness” to shame people.
Sometimes people will talk about being “healthy” or “fit” when they actually don’t care about how much you work out or what you’re eating. They often are just talking about being thin. Don’t fall into the trap. Some thin people eat junk food all the time and some fat people run marathons. Both those groups of people are awesome, for the record.
Don’t criticize others.
Besides the fact that this makes you a mean person, being critical of other people’s bodies will only make you more critical of your own. It will also make it hard for your friends to feel positive about their bodies. Ever gossiped with friends about someone who wasn’t there and then wonder if they gossip about you when you’re not there? Shaming other people’s bodies is just like that — it leaves people wondering what you say about them.
Related: Don’t project your friends’ insecurities onto yourself, which is something I’m often in danger of. Sometimes when a friend is talking about wanting to be thinner, he’s just talking about himself and not you. Don’t drive yourself crazy.
Don’t talk about “real bodies” or “real women.”
There was a time when “Real women have curves” was a very popular slogan in the body positivity movement. It was well meaning — those who said it wanted fat and curvy women to be considered beautiful too. The problem is the slogan excludes those who lack curves, who are still obviously “real women.” We can’t put down other people to make ourselves feel better. Body positivity means all bodies, not just ones that look like yours.
Don’t tolerate negative speech.
This means negative words from you, your friends, your family and the media. When you’re saying or thinking something negative about yourself, try to stop. Calling people out for their behavior can be really difficult so don’t feel badly if you can’t bring yourself to do it. But you can try to tell your friends that what they’re saying makes you uncomfortable, explain to your mom that you don’t like when she talks about your weight, or use social media to chastise companies that use problematic messages.
Say positive things.
This one is much easier. When you look in the mirror, instead of thinking you look too fat or too thin, think about how nice your hair looks, how pretty your eyes are, or how much you like the shirt you’re wearing. Or do yourself one better, and think about what a good friend you are, how much you like the essay you’re working on, or something else that has nothing to do with your appearance. Also say positive things about your friends. When you put those things out there, everyone will feel better.
Surround yourself with people who are body positive.
This doesn’t mean abandoning all your friends and making new ones. But if one of your friends or acquaintances happens to exude a confidence that you’d love to have, try to spend more time with them.
This is exceptionally easy to do on the Internet. Read fashion blogs of people of all shapes and sizes who are happy with the way they look and celebrate a diversity of sizes and shapes. If Gabi Fresh can be confident in a bikini, so can you!
Don’t beat yourself when it doesn’t work. Realize everyone goes through this.
This is actually the hardest part. Some days I know that I am super cute and awesome, and some days I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror and want to hide in my bed for a few days.
You’ll feel better about these moments when you realize that everyone has these moments. Your size two friend whose body you envy probably envies how big your boobs are. Your bootylicious friend might wish she could buy pants as easily as you can.
When you realize that everyone has these insecurities, you’ll slowly start to stop being jealous. When you see that other people who you think are beautiful and lovely have trouble seeing it, you’ll realize that your friends aren’t lying when they say you’re beautiful and lovely.
I’ll end with a quote from blogger Mara Glatzel, who probably says it best:
“It is hard to be a fat girl. No matter how much you tell yourself how sexy, talented, amazing, worthy, fabulous, and genius you are, there is a pretty serious backlash that you are facing … And I absolutely guarantee that inside every phenomenal kick-ass fat positive role model is the tiniest inkling of doubt and fear, and every once and a while, when you are feeling a little vulnerable, even the toughest, most awesome girl can be tripped up, even if they refuse to admit it. I’ll even go out on a limb and say that I believe this so wholeheartedly – anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. This is not to say that we should just succumb to the cultural standards and get all weak in our knees when someone calls us fat – we will keep fighting and loving ourselves no matter what and becoming role models for other women to follow in our example, BUT there has to be some room for honesty in the equation. And honestly? It is not always easy to be a Body Image Warrior.”
And being one is possibly even harder at Georgetown, which isn’t exactly known for it’s size diversity. (I’m one of few fat people on campus, and it really sucks sometimes.)
Hopefully now you, whether fat or thin, curvy or stick straight, male or female, are on your way to being a confident, amazing Body Image Warrior too. But for the days when you don’t want to take it anymore, remember that you’re not alone.