We’re in the midst of a change in how we view body image. More celebrities are calling out airbrushing, and brands are finally catching on to the fact that not all bodies are white, slim and function in the same way. We’re seeing an increasingly diverse representation of the human body across media outlets which may be outrageously overdue but, as the old adage goes, better late than never.
But this new wave of representation has a lot of ills to undo. If, like me, you came of age in the J-17 generation of teen magazines, you’ll remember the articles that only seemed to want to destroy any hint of a positive body image within its’ readership. We took on these ideals in an osmosis-fashion, absorbing them into our belief systems and learning the art of self-criticism in our teens. Now with the rise of social media, we’re subjected to a barrage of impossibly filtered body images that have reinforced our skewed perception of how we “should” look, creating ideals that don’t exist in the real world.
So it’s worth us all taking stock of our relationship with our bodies. Surveying any damage that might have been done in the past, acknowledging any negative internal dialogues, and working on building a more positive perception of our physical selves.
This years’ Mental Health Awareness Week theme was Body Image. I came up with a few practical tips to help us on the road to liking our bodies that little bit more and shared them on Instagram throughout the week. Here’s a summary:
Liking your body as a whole might not come easily to you, and it might seem like an overwhelmingly large challenge. So we’re going to start small. Pick a part of your body, one you’ve not been that fond of in the past, and write down some of the brilliant things it does for you.
Wonky teeth are just as good as chomping on food as straight ones.
Chunky calves can run for the bus just as well as skinny ones, perhaps even better.
Big noses can breathe in just as much seaside air as button ones.
Shifting the focus from how something looks to how it functions can be a great first step in changing your internal dialogue.
It can be hard to establish a more positive relationship with your body on your own. Creating a supportive network to build up some good practices can be a great way of encouraging a shift in your thoughts.
Try this: set up a group chat with some friends. Everyone writes a thing they like or admire about each other’s bodies. “Sam, I love how your eyes sparkle when you smile.” “Alex, your knees are the cutest things in the world.” The aim isn’t to compare or envy, just to celebrate.
When you have a negative body day, write something nice in the group chat about someone else. Pay it forward. Keep all the joyful comments as a reminder of how other people see you, it might help you improve how you see yourself.
Kind actions are just as important as kind words. By showing your body some kindness, you might inspire kinder feelings towards it. Simple things like putting on a face mask, using a great smelling moisturiser when you’re getting ready or giving yourself a head massage when you wash your hair are a great place to start. A kind touch goes a long way.
Social media can be a source of inflammation for any pre-existing body image issues. Without realising it, you might be following account that are doing nothing for you. If your social media activity is leaving you feeling body-negative, it might be a good idea to carry out a social media audit.
Have a look at your feed and register how certain posts make you feel. If you notice that any particular accounts cause you to question your shape, size, colour or physicality, or enforces a stereotype that you don’t wish to conform to, hit the unfollow button. If unfollowing is tricky because the account belongs to a friend or family member, you can mute instead.
Aim to fill your feed with images that leave you feeling uplifted, engaged and inspired instead.
Remember: your body is an amazingly complex structure capable of incredible things. We are so much more than how we look. I hope that these tips help you develop a more positive relationship with it.