5 Body Positive Tips

Thinking about body positivity? Here are 5 tips that I find useful—maybe you will too!

1. Learn the facts

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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

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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

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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

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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 talia.cooper@gmail.com for more information.

The 7 Jobs Capitalism Asks of All of Us

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The 7 Jobs Capitalism Asks of All of Us:

1. Measure Self Worth by Work: Don’t believe in the inherent goodness of people. Instead decide that everyone’s worth is only as much as they achieve.

2. Accept that Oppression is the Norm: This starts with adultism the moment we are born and conditions us to accept that all other forms of oppression and privilege are just a fact of life, for the rest of our lives.

3. Believe the Dream: Believe that to be American means that your success is eventual, and that any failing is your own individual fault.

4. Get Numb and Numb-er: Close off your feelings and just suck it up. Find a form of addiction that is either secret enough or socially acceptable enough so that you can get by. Then tsk tsk anyone with a less hidden addiction, blame them for the problem and offer them no support.

5. Isolate: grow increasingly more distant from people and community. Develop a nuclear family from whom you may attempt to get all of your needs met, and lash out at them when it doesn’t work.

6. Disassociate from your Body: Make your mind and body separate entities. Find pieces of yourself to love and pieces of yourself to hate. Attempt to buy things to close the gap. Tell yourself that you only deserve rest, pleasure and play when you’ve worked for it.

7. Assimilate: Strive to look like, act like, and be like the typical white U.S.-er you are supposed to be. Forget your history, forget your religion, forget your ancestors: they are no longer a part of this narrative. Stop trying to pursue the art, community and visions you once had: they no longer matter.

The 7 Forms of Resistance All Around Us:

1. Movements: Collectives, groups, organizations, neighbors and friends can get together and learn about oppression and envision liberation. Organizing has worked over and over again throughout history and will continue to.

2. Self Care and Community Care: We can decide we are worth it and we are vital just because we are alive.

3. Tell Our Stories: We can tell our personal stories and the collective story about the white supremacy, colonialism, patriarchy and christian hegemony that founded this country. With our stories we can refuse to be lied to.

4. Healing: We can use therapy, support groups, co-counseling, somatic practices, art therapy and more to get ever bigger, bolder, stronger and more powerful. We can use the wisdom gained from our healing to create better policy and support communal healing through practices like reparations for slavery.

5. Connection: We can dare to cry, laugh and share our real feelings with all of the people in our lives without placing a limit on the number of people our hearts can love.

6. Love: We can refuse to buy into the idea of spreading self-hate. Even in our hardest moments we can remember we are a human with a human body and we deserve the goodness all humans deserve.

7. Art and Culture: Artists can rise up everywhere all the time to say we will not accept this world, we will build a better one. We can choose to learn about our ancestors, their histories and traditions and find ways to reclaim them afresh for ourselves.

I believe that we will win.

Love,
Talia

Your Feminist Guide to a Body-Positive Holidays

originally posted on Ma’yan’s blog on November 24, 2015
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If you’re a human living in the U.S., you’re probably starting to see a particular variety of advertisements, blogs & headlines at this time of year, all containing one basic message: “How to eat nothing and exercise constantly while you cook the most perfect feast so that this holiday season you can shrink down to a size zero and finally (FINALLY) be the powerful, loveable person you always thought you could be (and if you fail it’s your fault, you disgusting pig)!” Or….something like that anyway.

Sound familiar?

The holidays can be a confusing time for everyone, but especially for us feminist, self-loving, non-Christian, anti-capitalist type folks.

So here are ten tips to help you navigate body-positivity during this holiday season:

1. Remember that YOU are not the problem


Diet-culture is the problem. Diet culture will have you believe that anyone can be skinny if they try hard enough. Meanwhile capitalism will make you think you are never good enough and will encourage diet companies to sell sell sell, even though they know their products don’t work. Write yourself a note, make up a song or mantra, or do whatever you need to do to remember that nothing is wrong with you/your body.

 

2. Do a little research

Learn about how diets don’t work, how size-diversity is a real thing (and a good thing! Wouldn’t it be boring if everyone looked the same?!), and how our body type is at least somewhat predetermined and out of our control (see: set point weight theory). While you’re at it, check out some thinking about intuitive eating and how it’s okay to trust yourself. Then sit back and bask in the reality that your body is fine and awesome exactly as it is. You don’t need fixing.

 

3. Know your limit

 Know how much body, diet and exercise talk you can handle before you need to just get up and leave the room (or put sunglasses on and start humming “F*ck You” by Cee Lo Green). Know when you want to engage and when you want to change the subject. If you start feeling anxious, take a deep breath and ask yourself what you need. You can engage by using facts, such as: “Hey! Did you know that at least 90% of diets don’t work?” Or with humor, like if someone says, “Oh, maybe I’ll have a piece of pumpkin pie….I’m so bad!” You can respond, “I didn’t realize our virtue was now based in our consumption of squash-based treats.”  Or you can change the subject with a quick, “Water on Mars, eh?” Or, “So what do you think we can do today towards ending white supremacy?”

 

4. Remember that health and eating are not connected to morality


Do you know about the Christian hegemonic roots of our diet culture?! It’s weird stuff. First of all, what is Christian hegemony? Besides being an excellent topic of dinner conversation, Christian hegemony is the system that privileges Christians and Christianity, and labels all other religions and peoples as not-the-norm, weird, exotic. For more on Christian hegemony, read Paul Kivel’s excellent book on the subject.

But back to our story on the origins of diet culture: Reverend Graham and Doctor Kellogg could be called the first “clean eating” fanatics. Yup, the inventors of the graham crackers and corn flakes. Except back then they may as well have been called “Taste-Free Crackers & Flakes.” Why? Because Reverend Graham believed that food should be purely for fuel, and sex should be purely for reproduction. He believed eating bad foods led to bad things like masturbation. Any enjoyment of either act clearly showed a lack of morals. And it sort of makes sense why he thought this: if Christians believe that the body is the source of sin and is the vehicle through which humans are tempted by the devil, then it follows as true that only through abstinence from all temptation can one be pure. So Reverend Graham thought he was on a Christian mission from God to save humanity with his Blandy McBland diet, which would encourage self-discipline.

A lot of people thought those guys were extreme crocks, but the concept of food being connected to morality remains: we judge people as good when they eat salad and yogurt and chia seeds, and bad when they eat donuts and burgers. We turn this inward on ourselves too. And we don’t have to. Instead we can adopt the belief that we are just inherently good, that we never need to be perfectionisty about anything, and that health and eating are not connected to morality.

 

5. A few more suggested dinner conversations

With your tablemates, discuss how crappy it is that racist, sexist, European, white beauty standards have dictated that the ultimate female look is thin, white, fair, weak. Talk about how awesome it is to resist this by loving every inch of ourselves and refusing to assimilate. While you’re at it, might as well mention that thanksgiving is originally a racist, Christian hegemonic holiday in and of itself… (see video example).

 

6. Decide to trust and adore yourself


Eat the food you want to eat, wear the clothes you want to wear, move when you want to move. Don’t count calories. Don’t obsess. Don’t follow rules.  Don’t swear you’ll go on a cleanse when this is all over, as that will make you more food-crazed in the meantime.Trust that your body knows what it wants and knows how to take care of itself. Don’t punish yourself. If you eat a lot of food and feel really full say, “Wow that was really good! Now I’m going to lie around and rub my belly until it feels all better.” Would you punish a child for getting too full? (I HOPE you would NOT!) So don’t blame or shame yourself either.  And if you read this and feel like you’re already “messing up,” don’t use this blog as another way to feel bad. Every minute is another opportunity to show yourself some love.

 

7. Think about what all babies inherently know how to do 

Babies know how to eat when they want to and stop when they want to. It’s not your fault that society taught you to unlearn these skills via self-hate, but trust that you can re-learn what is an innate and inherent skill: how to listen to your body.

 

8. Start following a bunch of body-positive bloggers

Un-follow anyone who makes you doubt your inherent awesomeness. Fill up your social media feeds with people who love themselves. A few good places to start are Virgie Tovar,Everyday Feminism, The Body is Not an Apology, Isabel Foxen Duke, Fattitude andRachel Marcus (many of whom were the inspiration for this blog post). Or just quit social media for a while.

 

9. For an all ages activity, watch Ma’yan’s film

Last year’s interns co-produced Pretty Sexy Sassy, a film about the media’s impact on girls. Watch, discuss, and come up with a family action you could take together (ie writing letters to a company asking them to stop promoting unrealistic and harmful beauty standards).

 

10. Find buddies you can talk to

Find the kind of buddies who are all about the love, not the kind who will give you the side-eye for a second helping.  

You got this! And let me know if you need any extra support.

 

Talia Cooper is the program director at Ma’yan in Manhattan, where she leads anti-oppression workshops for educators, parents, and high-schoolers. Contacttalia@mayan.org for more information on writings and trainings. She can also be found playing music on Facebook and YouTube.

More on Kellogg & Graham:

http://knowledgenuts.com/2014/03/24/the-creepy-origins-of-graham-crackers-and-corn-flakes/

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/01/looking-to-quell-sexual-urges-consider-the-graham-cracker/282769/

Posted in Feminism, Power, Oppression & Privilege