Did you know that 91% of women are unhappy with their body and turn to dieting or other means to make changes? That’s only a small minority who do feel content. For most of us, this ‘body love thing’ feels like a complete impossibility and can create pressure which is exactly the opposite of what we want to achieve. So, a lot of women and men ask themselves …. “How can I love my body when I am not happy with how it looks? And where do I start? Do I start with losing weight so I can love myself?” I am here to tell you that, no, this is not the answer (for the long term anyway).
‘Body image’ is our perception of beauty or body aesthetics. It relates to how we see ourselves compared to societal norms or expectations we place on ourselves. Undoubtedly, the media plays a huge role in fuelling body insecurity. It is filled with photoshopped and unrealistic images of bodies that we feel pressured to become. Even so, understanding how to deconstruct or critically view the media representations is only one piece of the puzzle.
We have all been guilty at one time or another of being overly critical of our bodies. Too big, too small, too round, too much, too thin. It is never-ending because none of us are perfect. Further, it can be incredibly destructive when these perceived ‘flaws’ take hold of our psyche and affect our confidence; stopping us from living the fulfilled life we deserve. Moreover, the reality is that we can not make long term change (in any aspect of our lives) from self-hate or lacking compassion. This will merely sabotage our efforts as the negative self-talk will fuel behaviours that do not serve us (such as using food for comfort and self-medication).
Body Love Empowerment
I believe that the aim for body love can be a hard thing to achieve at times. So, what if we aimed for self-compassion, self-respect, and self-kindness first? What would we do differently if we treated ourselves as if we fully respected ourselves? In this blog, I am exploring 5 empowering ways to cultivate self-respect. Ultimately, body love is a process that is birthed from self-compassion and love.
1. Compassion and Self-Respect
Self-respect and self-compassion are the key ingredients to cultivate body acceptance. For me, I used to believe that once I was thin enough I would suddenly love myself. A magic moment would appear and I would feel perfect enough and whole enough to be loved. Hint, this ‘magic moment’ never comes. The power is in meeting our body and ourselves where we are now. It does not mean we settle or give up, it simply means to see what is as it is, knowing we want to improve, feel healthier, be fitter, have more energy, etc. By meeting ourselves as we are right now, we can create a thriving environment for growth and improvement. Self-criticism does not create a motivating environment.
Imagine, if you went to a rugby game and the audience kept calling out to the team: “You guys suck! You might as well give up! You will never succeed!” Do you think the team will perform well under these circumstances? Well, this is what we are doing to ourselves in our own head!
Imagine for a moment if you started motivating yourself, cheering yourself up, celebrating your successes! What would you do differently? Would you show up in the world differently? Would you pursue your goals differently?
2. Protect Yourself from Comparison
We need to stop comparing ourselves to inaccurate representations, particularly on social media. If you follow someone on Instagram who makes you feel awful after viewing their profile, unfollow them immediately. They do not represent reality. We should not and can not live up to impossible standards. Everyone has struggles and bad days, and these are usually not voiced on these platforms. Consequently, why do we try and live up to impossible standards? Making these negative comparisons is very disempowering.
Come from a place of curiosity. If you overeat (for example), lovingly ask yourself ‘Why did I do that today? Maybe I felt stressed or tired? Was my blood sugar out of balance?‘. Compassionately ask yourself these questions and then ask yourself, ‘What can I do now to nurture myself? What do I need? Next time what will I do instead?’. This space of compassionate curiosity is not only self-loving but also nurtures future behaviours that are aligned with our goals.
4. Gratitude and Appreciation
Saying ‘thank you‘ to our body can feel challenging if we perceive ourselves to be flawed or withholding imperfections. But saying a loving ‘thank you‘ is an important part of our journey to self-acceptance and appreciation (and love, too). Let’s give thanks for our body performing the billions of functions it does throughout a day. We can give thanks for the seemingly little things. Take a moment to find what you are grateful for. A morning or evening gratitude ritual can be powerful. Research shows that we actually rewire our brain by practicing gratitude on a regular basis. It wires our brain to be happier and more content. These things can be something simple like ‘I am grateful for my working arms to cuddle my children’ or ‘I am grateful for my heart that pumps my blood’.
5. You Are Not Your Body
Your body is yours but it is not you. You are not the rolls, the cellulite, or love handles, as much as you are not the rock hard abs or seemingly perfect breasts. Without a doubt, making this distinction helps us remember that the body is a vehicle for something bigger and more powerful – your mission on this planet.
Ultimately, the issue is generally never our weight, what we look like or even our body; it is the conditioning from our society. You didn’t choose to feel that way, it is a byproduct of the environment we live in. If I was living in a country where curvy women were an “ideal”, I would feel “too thin”. If Given, I live in the western world where being small/skinny is a privilege, I feel more accepted. As soon as I go to a mall and see too many billboards with photoshopped faces and bodies, I start feeling inadequate and feel a coming up desire to change how I look.
Being aware that a lot of our internal views on ourselves are not our own, but a result of the environment, can give us a different perspective and hopefully self-compassion. Consequently, this might reduce the tendency of gravitating towards negative coping mechanisms. Thus, self love is born from a compassionate and curious inner dialogue.
For more specifics on self love, here is a video I have created to support anyone who struggles with this issue. Also, check out this podcast by Megan Crabbee about how to create a body-positive world for yourself (she is awesome).