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Do you constantly feel insecure about your body – you are too fat, too thin, too short, too tall…. the list goes on and on?
If this describes your experience, you’re not alone. Approximately, 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies and resort to extreme dieting and exercise to achieve their ideal body weight. This can take a serious toll on both your physical and mental health.
In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of body positivity, association between body image and health, and tips for overcoming body shame.
What is the body positivity movement, and why is it important?
Body positivity is the idea that everybody deserves a positive body image, no matter what society or popular culture says. In addition to discouraging unrealistic body ideals, the movement also recognizes that judgements are often made based on race, gender, sexuality, and disability.
The movement is important as it addresses many societal issues that weigh heavily on both our physical and mental health. Key issues the movement addresses include:
- Unrealistic beauty standards
- Fatphobic advertising
- Ostracisation of LGBTQ+ communities
- Glorification of whiteness, thinness and toned bodies.
By addressing these issues, the movement helps people, in general, feel more at ease. It leads to less depression, positive self-worth, life satisfaction, less anxiety, and also reduces susceptibility to eating disorders.
How can you develop a positive body image and boost your self-esteem?
Now, it is important to note that developing a positive body image is not easy – it is a long, hectic journey, but unapologetically rewarding. The reason why the journey is long is because our bodies are constantly changing. As we grow older, our body changes – we lose muscle, put on weight, and may not be as energetic as we were before. These can take a toll on our self-esteem.
Hence, creating a positive body image involves changing how we think and feel about our body. Specific steps to boost body image include:
- Understanding the strengths and limitations of your body.
- Confronting delusional thoughts related to your body.
- Accepting your imperfections.
- Practicing positive affirmations and adopting a ‘can-do’ attitude.
These are some basic tips that one can follow to practice body positivity. But, it is easier said than done. What if you are currently struggling to accept your body? To overcome shame, we must first understand the barriers that impede us from accepting ourselves.
What are some common barriers to body acceptance?
In today’s era, there are several factors that contribute to a negative body image:
- Appearance or weight-related bullying in school, college and/or workplace.
- Dieting and body dissatisfaction among family and friends.
- Imagery in the media and advertising that promotes particular body ideals.
- Your own tendency to internalize society’s appearance or body ideals.
- Public health campaigns that urge people to lose weight.
- Holding a rigid ‘black and white’ mentality, where achieving the ideal body means being perfect
Role of social media in shaping body perception
Everyday, we receive a ton of messages about unrealistic body standards and how to achieve them – try this or try that and achieve that perfect ‘bikini body.’ There are many ways by which social media platforms shape our body perception:
Comparison and Competition: Social media platforms foster a culture of comparison and competition, in which one compares themselves to others. Misalignment between one’s own body and that of others can create a sense of alienation, and a negative self-concept.
Cyberbullying: Social media channels are also a breeding ground for cyberbullying where people are attacked for their body size, shape and/or appearance. This can create negative body perceptions. In fact, a recent survey has shown that 59% of teenagers in the U.S. have experienced some or the other form of cyberbullying.
Worsening eating disorders: Apart from targeting healthy people, social media also preys on those who are already struggling with eating or body image disorders. In fact, many platforms showcase images with hashtags of thinspiration, fitspiration, and bonespiration. As the name suggests, these encourage people to become extremely thin and fit. These images feed into the disordered thinking of people with eating or body image issues.
What are some body positivity tips for those who are struggling to love their bodies?
Change your following in social media platforms: Instead of feeling insecure from toxic posts, intentionally surround yourself with body-positivity Instagram reels, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. You can also follow celebrities that promote body positivity like Ashley Graham, Serena Williams, Demi Lovato and Anne Hathaway.
Change your mindset: One of the biggest factors that limits acceptance of your body is your mind. You must recognise the voices in your head that pull you down, and dissociate yourself from them. Give these voices a separate identity, and challenge them by permitting yourself to feel better. Believing in yourself is one of the best ways to fight shame.
Make yourself visible: A common way by which people cope with body insecurity is hiding themself – an oversize sweatshirt, droopy pants, a pair of gigantic shades to cover the face and you’re good to go. After all, ‘out of sight, out of mind’…. right? However, by keeping yourself in hiding, you are only feeding into your insecurities. Instead, take small steps – start by wearing clothes with less coverage at home and see what happens. If you feel comfortable, proceed with going to your local cafe with the same clothing style. Although the process will be difficult, it will definitely push you in the right direction.
Practice gratitude: It is definitely hard to respect your body and yourself, when you feel ashamed of it. However, there are always things about your body to be thankful for. Your body provides you with the necessary fuel to live. It nourishes, protects, and handles a lot of stress for you. Instead of condemning it for not giving you what you want, love your body for what it has already done.
How can embracing body diversity and size inclusivity improve mental health?
For decades, social media has portrayed an unrealistic standard of what is considered beautiful – a tall, thin, white, cis-gendered able-body. When only one body type is placed at the pedestal, countless others are left alienated.
By embracing body diversity and size inclusivity, harmful comparisons with one ideal can be avoided. Indeed, research has shown that women that are repeatedly exposed to thin models in the media experience lower self-esteem, worsened moods, and overall body dissatisfaction. By being more open to different shapes and sizes, one can avoid going down a negative spiral of eating disorders and build a healthy body image.
By celebrating different body types, you feel more included, comfortable, confident, less pressured to practice unhealthy changes, and more happy in general. All these factors ultimately improve mental health by boosting confidence and improving self-esteem.
How does building self-worth contribute to a healthy relationship with your body?
Having a sense of self-worth not only enhances mental health, but is also conducive to physical well-being. It helps you build a healthy relationship with your body by promoting positive body changes and a ‘can-do’ attitude. People who gauge their self-worth are more likely to feel confident about their body’s capacity to step out of the comfort zone – they are more likely to exercise, challenge themselves and achieve positive health outcomes.
In fact, the link between positive self-worth and improved health has been validated by extensive research. In one study, Janet Tomiyama, a health psychologist from the University of California, Los Angeles, investigated the effect of weight stigma on physical health. She pulled out participants from what they believed was a ‘shopping study’, and told them it was because they wouldn’t fit the designer clothes set up for the experiment. These participants had much higher cortisol levels than those in the control group who were not fat-shamed. Cortisol is a stress hormone which, if released for long periods of time, promotes abdominal fat and weight gain.
Hence, by being overly critical and not feeding your self-worth, you can trigger processes that ironically make you more unhealthy. Learn to love yourself and you will definitely feel better both physically and mentally.
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Hormone University was created as an educational platform with the mission to improve hormone health through accessible knowledge and to advocate for social impact in our communities.
You’re not alone.
80% of the adult female population has experienced hormonal imbalance at one point in their life that affected not only their physical health but also their mental health. Coping with pain, infertility, anxiety, depression, body image issues, and, on top of this, judgment is the heavy load most of these women have to bear each day and an important problem we need to tackle as a society.