Thinking about body positivity? Here are 5 tips that I find useful—maybe you will too!
1. Learn the facts
Often when people talk about body positivity it gets relegated to the world of emotions. That’s fine, but it’s also about stone-cold facts. Deciding to be body positive means learning a few truths we are rarely taught:
- 95% of people who intentionally lose weight gain it all back and sometimes more within 5 years. This is true for people who try to lose 5 pounds or 100. We’re not evolutionarily programmed to sustain intentional weight loss. This means we’re not to be able to control the size of our bodies, and the sooner we accept this the better (and healthier).
- Body diversity is real. We’re not all supposed to be tiny; bodies are meant to look differently.
- The BMI has been disproven as a measure of health. You can’t tell anything about health by looking at someone’s body size.
Learning to be body positive is about arming yourself with these facts and more. Next time you start to judge your own body and wonder if you should lose weight, you can remind yourself of the truth: there’s just no logical basis for weight loss.
2. Change the goal
Sometimes it’s about acceptance.
I am not the first person to say this, but you might not feel positive about your body all the time. That’s ok: that doesn’t have to be the goal. Some days you may look in the mirror and think, “Hot damn I’m a fox.” Other days—not so much. But the point is really that you have a body. Just notice that. Bodies are neutral, body parts are neutral. You don’t you have to muster up total adoration all the time. Try saying impartial things: “Oh look, it’s my stomach, my human stomach.” “I have legs: whaddaya know.” “Today my body is breathing easily.” “I notice my body is hungry.”
3. Take stock of your media sources
We are inundated with media all day long, and the majority of this media furthers the message that people (and women in particular) should be skinny, white, able-bodied, and have Eurocentric features. We are shown that people who look like this get rewarded with everything from love to power. The trick I learned from Isabel Foxen-Duke is to work to minimize how often you get this message, and to maximize alternative messages. True, you can’t hide in your house avoiding all billboards, TV, commercials, magazines, and music videos. But you can cultivate your social media: un-follow any celebrities, “health” experts, fitness blogs or other pages that trigger negative body talk. Replace them with body- and fat-positive bloggers, chefs, athletes, activists, models and dancers.
4. Remember: you were a baby once
Here are two more facts: 1) Body hate is not an inherent human quality. 2) If you’re struggling with body acceptance, you’re not the only one. Babies aren’t born begrudging their thighs or trying to “cut back on milk.” To me, babies look like they are fascinated by the features and functions of their bodies. You were a baby once too. You probably loved exploring the limits of your new body, grabbing your feet and flailing your arms. Then some messages wormed their way into your life. These messages may have said things like: bodies are bad, sinful, ugly, fat, wrong. You might have learned this from your caretakers or from friends. You likely learned from the media, the healthcare system, the education system and from many other places. It happened systemically. And when things occur on that widespread level, we call it oppression. Hatred of bodies was established by systems of oppression including: sexism, racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia and Christian hegemony (more on bodies and Christian hegemony here). These systems put together sent the message that “bodies are bad and should be controlled” and “some bodies are better than others.”
If you ever find yourself having negative body thoughts, remember that it’s not your fault, it was intentionally set up that way. The truth is that being body positive is really about a commitment to ending all forms oppression. Sometimes if I’m feeling bad about my body, recommitting to my activism also reconnects me to the truth that bodies are good.
5. Seek support & talk about it
The 4 tips I listed above are hard. But you don’t have to do it alone. Pick a trusted friend and do some research together. To arm yourself with facts, try reading Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size, or watch TED talks like this one together. Tell the story of what happened to you in order to remind your brain that you weren’t born with these thoughts: you learned them, and you can work to unlearn them. Talking about this might bring up feelings of shame, but keep reminding yourself that it’s not your fault. There are coaches, like me and many others, who can work with you to sort through both the feelings and facts, and who can support you to keep going on this body acceptance journey.
Talia Cooper is an anti-oppression trainer and activist. She provides phone-based body coaching to people looking to heal their relationship to food and their body. Open to people of all genders, all ages, in all locations. Email email@example.com for more information.