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Embracing Body Positivity

Dami Elebe, Latasha Ngwube and Temi Aboderin-Alao for The Guardian Life

Body positivity isn’t only about the way society sees people based on their physical appearance. It also recognises that judgments are usually passed based on race, gender, sexuality, and disability and it helps people understand how the media’s messages can contribute to the way people see their bodies, including how they feel about food, exercise, clothing, health, identity, and self-care.

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Body positivity can mean different things to people. It could be:

  • Feeling confident about your body
  • Self-love
  • Accepting and appreciating your physical appearance regardless of any flaws

Body positivity can also mean not beating yourself up over changes that may happen naturally due to ageing, pregnancy, or lifestyle choices.

Body positivity is designed to promote acceptance and love of your body, but it can be a struggle that adds another element of pressure and impossible standards to live up to. The body positivity message is that you should change how you feel about your body.

Body image refers to a person’s subjective view of their own body, which may be different from how their body really looks like.

Feelings, thoughts, and behaviours related to body image can have a major impact on your mental health and how you treat yourself.

Having a healthy body image helps in how people feel about their bodies and even how they judge their self-worth. A negative body image can be associated with an increased risk for some physical and mental issues including depression, low self-esteem and eating disorders.

Criticisms
Body positivity strives to address various issues by helping people recognise things that contribute to negative body image.

The idea is that people will then be able to adjust their body expectations and feel more positive and accepting of their own bodies. Such acceptance may then help combat the toll that poor body image has on mental and physical health.

Although body positivity messages are focused on helping people feel better about themselves, it isn’t without its problems and critics.

A model for Savage X Fenty

One problem is the idea that body positivity implies that people should do whatever they want in order to feel positive about how they see themselves. However, the messages passed across to people is usually the idea that thinner, fitter people are happier, healthier, and more beautiful. This idea may result in people engaging in unhealthy activities which include excessive exercise or extreme diets under the guise of feeling body positive.

A criticism of body positivity is that it can be non-inclusive. Depictions of body positivity messages tend to exclude people of colour as well as those who have forms of disability, as such quite a number of people don’t feel included in body positivity.

Another criticism of the body positivity movement is that it makes the appearance of a person’s body the most important element in self-perception. It neglects all the other elements of a person’s identity that are more important than how a person looks.

So what can you do to maintain a healthy body image?
Whether or not the body positivity movement speaks to you, there are ideas from this approach that may help you feel better about your body and less obsessed with chasing “perfection.”

  • It is fine to admit that you don’t necessarily love everything about your body and feel neutral or even indifferent about your body. Your worth and value lays beyond your body shape or size or in any other aspect of your appearance. Body image plays a part in self-concept, but it isn’t everything. There would be moments where maintaining a positive body image would be tough. These are moments when you feel weak, when you dislike aspects of yourself, and when you compare yourself to others. The key is to find a new way to prevent negative thoughts that can contribute to poor body image.
  • Self-care focuses on doing things that make you feel good about your body. Show respect for your body, eat healthy meals to fuel your mind and body and exercise because it helps you feel strong and energised, not because you’re trying to change or control your body.
  • Wear and buy clothes that make you feel comfortable and good in your present body, not a future planned body. You might be holding on to your “thin clothes” because you plan on losing weight, but such habits can make it hard to feel good about yourself today and it’s best to get rid of or give out those clothes. Your body may change in size and shape in the future, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be able to look and feel good about yourself now.
  • Get rid of social media accounts that make you feel less than good about yourself and follow accounts that spark your interests and that leave you with positive feelings. On Instagram in particular, many accounts are focused only on portraying perfection or an idealised image of the body.
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