Loving your body is easier said than done. Like anything you want to learn, you have to put in the time. You have to stick around when things feel hard, and you have to keep trying. Most importantly, you have to be patient.
The body positive movement, while a huge deal, is just one message attempting to counter about a million other ones. Bigger, louder ones that we learned in our formative years. Yet, loving and accepting ourselves is essential to our sexual health. Studies have shown that our attitudes about our bodies directly affect our capacity to enjoy sex. To orgasm. And body image issues take us out of the very moment we must relax into in order to experience arousal.
Body image issues even make us avoid sex altogether. They make us believe that we must hide parts of ourselves that we’ve learned, somewhere along the way, are unlovable.
Critics of the body positive movement say that demanding women to love their bodies in a cultural climate that has poised them to do the opposite is setting them up for more distress. That in order to combat body hatred and shame, we must hold the society that has created the shame accountable.
Others suggest that body acceptance is a better avenue. The truth is, we don’t always love our bodies. We don’t always feel positive. And that’s okay. Can we be okay with not being okay all the time? If so, we’re well on our way to acceptance.
What Does It Mean To Be Body Positive?
Body positivity has its origins in the fat acceptance movement of the 60s. Fat positivity activists organized to eliminate discrimination based on body size. Since then, organizations like The Body Positive have emerged from questions like: how will we raise girls to love themselves? How do we stop cultural notions of body shame from becoming violent?
Today, cis and trans female thought leaders are asking new questions. Are loving yourself and wanting to change yourself mutually exclusive? Can you be body positive and still want to lose weight? Or add weight?
It’s up to you to decide what body positivity means for you. Here are our two cents: body positivity is a practice of acceptance, curiosity, and self-reflection. It doesn’t ask you to adhere to a beauty standard. It doesn’t ask you to always be satisfied with yourself. It doesn’t ask that you never change.
What it asks is that you practice, every day, developing your capacity to accept yourself where you are. It asks that you recognize that self-hatred and shame aren’t going to help you get where you want. It insists that there are cultural messages that don’t belong to you but are influencing what you see when you look at a picture of yourself. And once you identify them, you get to decide whether you want to keep them or put them down.
Simply, it asks you to accept your body as it is, and accept other bodies as they are.
How To Start Practicing Body Acceptance
The work of accepting your body is a lifelong practice. It’s more than an idea; in order to counter toxic cultural messaging, you must begin practicing new ways of relating to yourself. Think of yourself as a student of self-love.
Adorn your body.
First, commit to making choices based on health, curiosity, and adventure rather than on the need to change your body to fit a certain standard, ie. to be skinnier or have a bigger butt. Practice adorning your body (as it is now) with clothes, jewelry, new hairstyles, and fabrics. In other words, play dress up! In the privacy of your own space, can you find a look that you think is sexy, cute, fun, or playful?
Teach your body a new skill.
Another way to reacquaint yourself with your body is to teach it something new. It’s amazing the things you can teach your body to learn. Try tennis, yoga, basketball, gymnastics, rock climbing, roller skating, hula-hoop, tap dance. Teach your hands to play the guitar or piano. Learn that Beyonce dance-combo you think is so cool.
Learning something new that has nothing to do with sexuality is a great way to remind yourself that your body is a fun place to be.
Purge your social media.
Use social media for good, not bad. Purge your feed of images and accounts that trigger self-hatred and body shame. Follow accounts that represent bodies like yours. Follow accounts who have made it their mission to be at peace with themselves.
Study people who are unconventional but you admire. What is it about them that you love? What strategies are they using to embrace themselves against all odds? How have they taken what’s different and made it beautiful?
Plug into helpful social media.
Take the 30 Day Body Positivity Challenge on the Emjoy app to help yourself take self-loving actions every day. Or take our course, Body Acceptance Series, which shows you how to identify and challenge cultural messaging that feeds into body image issues.
Learn about your body.
Sometimes acceptance and love come from understanding something or someone better. Learn about your anatomy. Look at yourself in the mirror, even if it feels scary. Get to know your body.
You Are What You Surround Yourself With
The company you keep will influence your experience of body acceptance or shame. If you surround yourself with people who participate in negative body talk about others (or themselves), or demonstrate that they value certain body standards, you’re more likely to have body image issues.
But if you surround yourself with people who accept their bodies as they are, don’t seek to change them based on values that have been imposed on them, but rather their own curiosity about the world and themselves, then you’re more likely to be body positive as well.
Rome Wasn’t Loved In A Day
It’s true: the outside world has opinions about our bodies. Opinions that are often reframed as rules. If we are a student of loving ourselves, and we accept that this is a lifelong practice, then part of the curriculum must be examining these messages. Where do they come from? How did our mother feel about her body? What messages are we getting from the media? From past partners?
When we can connect our internal dialogue to an external cultural message, it’s a relief to find that what we once interpreted as the truth is nothing more than an outside idea. And it doesn’t have to be your idea.
Being asked to be positive about our body can be frustrating. It’s just not that simple. It’s the kind of ask that requires us to counter everything we’ve learned up until this point, and that’s no easy feat. Conditioning can’t be unlearned in one day.
The first step towards acceptance looks like this: “I’m not happy. Can I make room for that? Can I accept that I won’t always feel my best, and be gentle with myself? Just in this moment?”
And then keep practicing. There’s always more to learn.