Beauty Redefined Blog

Your Body is Powerful. Use it as an Instrument, Not an Ornament.

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Our research points to one particularly awesome way to experience real empowerment, decrease self-consciousness, and embrace your body as your own – not as a decoration for everyone else to gawk at.

It is through the power of your body.

… But not the way the rest of the world tells you your body is powerful. We are constantly sold the lie that makeup, weight loss, new clothes, cosmetic surgery, etc., are empowering for women. The thing is, they’re not. We’re confusing “empowerment” with “feeling beautiful” or, more specifically, “feeling like other people think we look good.” Empowerment has to be so much more dynamic and encompassing than that. “Power” cannot be minimized to something that is gained and wielded through appearance or beauty. “Power” from beauty is cheap. It is fleeting and can be consumed and discarded at any moment. Your power isn’t just in your beauty; it’s in who you are and what you do. It is in your physical power – the power to be, and do, and live, and move. Physical-Power-Title-Beauty-REdefined1-1024x141 The fact that you have a body — regardless of your appearance or ability level — means that you innately have access to physical power. Your body is an instrument to be used for your benefit, and not a burden to drag around, hiding and fixing along the way. Want to develop positive body image? When you learn to value your body for what it can do rather than what it looks like, you improve your body image and gain a more powerful sense of control. The truth is, regardless of what you look like, or what you think you look like, you can feel good about yourself because you are not your appearance.

Value your body for what it can do by engaging in physical activity. It will change your life and boost your body image in a way you never thought possible.

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Health and body image experts teach that you can resist the soul-sucking place of constant self-consciousness by participating in non-aesthetically-focused sports (like competitive team sports, rather than activities that rely on the way you look while participating) and other kinds of physical activity. (Read about the problem with objectification in dance, cheer, and pageants here.) Three Harvard women’s rugby players are speaking our language on this piece about how physical activity is the most empowering thing you can do for your self-esteem. Let’s just quote a bit of their genius: “Loving one’s body is an inherently political act. Maintaining pride in having a body that is ‘too big,’ ‘too small,’ or ‘not ideal’ is a political statement against the many voices that tell us our bodies are problematic. Mainstream culture normalizes the flawless bodies that dominate every kind of mass media… At home, girls are taught to cross their legs in public and take up as little physical space as possible. They are taught that being beautiful is much more valuable than being smart and strong. Magazines preach the gospel of constant diet and exercise to achieve ‘bikini bodies’ that are meant to lounge poolside and be gazed upon. It is a true testament to the misogyny of our culture that women are encouraged to whittle away their bodies and maintain postures that make them as unobtrusive as possible.” So how do we fight against the all-out war against us and our bodies? Physical activity. Physical activity is shown to lead to body satisfaction when girls develop an appreciation of what their bodies can do, rather than how they appear to others. When women exercise to increase their fitness, rather than to improve physical appearance, they are more likely to feel positively toward their bodies. So, exercise! Play sports! Use your body as an instrument to experience life, and enjoy fantastic health benefits like increased cardiovascular health, improved blood sugar, lowered cholesterol, healthy blood pressure, and countless other internal health benefits in the process.

The Harvard Women’s Rugby team encourages you to consider their sport as a route to positive body image. Here’s why:

“Rugby is a source of empowerment. Women players are taught to use the strength of their bodies in ways they had never even conceived. Where society appreciates the meek timidity that is supposed to accompany female beauty, rugby encourages women to be a dominating presence—fearless in pursuit of her goals. …The ten separate rugby positions provide every kind of physique the opportunity to play a role on the field—tall, short, broad-shouldered, curvy, thick-legged, tiny. Each girl uses her unique strengths to make a significant contribution to the team. …Imagine the relief of taking a breath of fresh air after being drowned for so long in the pressure that society places on women to fit some unrealistic mold. …Although it is extremely difficult to maintain a constant state of positive self-image in our culture, every time a woman celebrates the beauty of her own body or of another woman she is making a political statement. She is saying that she refuses to accept the messages spread by mainstream culture, and she is refusing to accept that her body is only valuable as a visual object.” 

swimmer-white-backgroundLindsay wants you to strongly consider taking up swimming. Here’s why:

After a few years of refusing to wear a swimsuit, our junior year of college Lindsay got an invitation to go cliff-jumping with a bunch of friends. With peer pressure, beautiful weather, and the memory of how much she loved to swim all pushing her to accept the invitation, she very reluctantly did. Here’s what happened: “The feeling I got when I jumped in the water and started swimming across the reservoir is almost indescribable. It sounds so cheesy, but I swear it was almost a spiritual experience. I felt incredible, and powerful, and was still a strong swimmer after all those years, and no one gagged when they saw me in a swimsuit. By throwing aside the fear of being invited to “be seen” in a swimsuit, I gave myself an opportunity for wonderful change. Without confronting my shame, I would never have experienced the overwhelming fulfillment of swimming again. The results of that decision have been life-changing. Seriously. Since that day 7 years ago, I have not missed an opportunity to go swimming. I regularly swim laps for exercise and some of my happiest memories of the past several years include fun summer days in the water. Use your body as an instrument – you’ll be so happy you did.”excercise-white-background

I, Lexie, want to put in a plug for walking, jogging, or running:

A couple years ago, I was talked into running two different half marathons and I was terrified – not only is running really hard physically and mentally, but I was possibly more terrified of being looked at while running. I spent the first few weeks on a treadmill at my gym, so self-conscious that my face got really red and that people might be looking at me. I felt self-conscious that I wasn’t wearing the right outfits for running. (Is spandex a necessity?!?!) I felt self-conscious that the runners next to me were going faster and farther. But as I trained and built up my endurance, something inside me changed. Instead of picturing myself running, I started just running. I stopped worrying about being a good vision of me and I gave myself all of me instead. Running now makes me feel really happy because I can set a goal and get there, and working toward that goal allows me to release all those happy endorphins, feel more energy and motivation, and see what my body is capable of. 

For more first-hand accounts of bR fans who found positive body image through volleyball, weightlifting, biking, etc., click this button: 

More experiences with physical power

If you’ve held yourself back from running, biking, swimming, etc., because you felt self-conscious about what to wear, how much you “jiggle,” how red and sweaty you get, (the list goes on), it’s time to set a goal and fight to achieve it!  Make this goal about your abilities and you’ll be much less inclined to worry about what you look like doing it. Run a certain distance without stopping. Swim a bunch of laps faster than ever before. Do a certain number of crunches, new dance classes, whatever you can do and enjoy doing. Use your body as an instrument and you will learn some uplifting truths in action: You are more than a body. You are capable of much more than being looked at. You are not a decoration. Your physical power is not in your appearance; it is in your actions. The world is more beautiful because you are here and it has nothing to do with your looks.

Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.

  1. Dorothy
    Dorothy12-18-2014

    Abuse and advertising and so many factors can make a woman become painfully self conscious and self critical. For me, as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I have found The Course in Miracles to be more helpful than exercise because it take the focus off the body and puts in on the spirit. When we are spirit identified rather than body identified, the body seems to do just fine in terms of health. It is much more a matter of what we think and perceive than what we do.

  2. Niki Jones
    Niki Jones12-18-2014

    I started Crossfit fir this exact reason. I have always had body image problems. I have spent my life trying to cut calories, and workout to burn those calories I actually consumed. After having a baby girl I decided to end the anorexia prison. I am now very successful at olympic lifting, something I would have never tried before, and I eat a lot to help my body build muscle and recover. I am so strong, and my daughter thinks that’s awesome. I agree %100 with this article.

  3. Tiffany
    Tiffany12-18-2014

    I love this article and physical activity has done wonders for my self esteem/self worth. I wish the article had mentioned that changing to view your body as an instrument/tool can be more than just physical exercise though. It can be empowering to see your body for the other amazing things it can do like: carry a baby, birth a child, breastfeeding, hard physical labor, service to others, providing for our families, etc. Thank you so much for the good work you do here. Keep it up!

  4. Emma
    Emma12-19-2014

    When I was a child, my parents weighed me every day and checked my school work every day. Misguided as it was, they thought they were doing the right thing. They were and are imperfect. They never encouraged me to play sport, but in my late teens I took up exercise for fun. I look back on those days with mixed emotions. My family taught me to hate my weight and that my work must be perfect. As I got older my sister put me on diets (screaming hysterically at me that I MUST eat two cups of lettuce at every meal), and my parents-in-law bought me a diet book. My husband had two emotional affairs with women younger, taller and thinner than I am.
    Exercise is my only source of self-esteem. I am proud that my body carries me without complaint and without aches and pains. I don’t think my body looks great, but I’m glad my pelvic floor is strong. I’m glad my physiotherapist can tell that my abs are strong under all my fat. I can do push-ups on my toes and I can plank for a minute. I still hate how my body looks, but I’m proud of what she can do.

    • lizzie
      lizzie02-05-2015

      Emma…..I can “hear” and “see” how beautiful you are……find ways to celebrate this and enjoy who you are…..love yourself in as pure a way as possible…..not in an Ego sense, but in a pure way….our bodies are treasure boxes, not instruments, you treasure who you are inside, don’t hate your body find a way to love yourself and cherish your body……it will respond beautifully…..Let your treasure shine forth Emma <3 I witness the jewel of who you truly are! Sparkling and shining brightly

  5. Jenn Hansen
    Jenn Hansen01-05-2015

    I’m a runner, a little over weight, but I run and I love it. I used to be very careful about what pictures of myself I allowed to be post on social media. My hair had to be right, make-up was a must, and of course the right angle so that I didn’t look big. Now almost all of my pictures on facebook are of my friends and I running races together or just group selfies from training runs. No make-up, red-faced, sweaty, and in spandex and I love it! This is me, this is what I can do, and I’m so proud of it!

  6. Heather
    Heather01-06-2015

    This is a really interesting piece. I am curious, though — how does it intersect with the issue of disability? Not all disabilities are the same, of course, but I have intersecting disabilities that makes my body simply not powerful. Quite the contrary — my medical issues often contribute to me feeling weak, achy, and without stamina. This leads to a frequent inability to engage in the physical activity recommended in this piece. For instance, I am highly reluctant to join a gym or to commit to a regular class or group because my disabilities make it impossible for me to know when I will be able to do those things. I don’t want to spend money on a gym membership that I frequently cannot use, or let people in a group down when I am so often unable to attend.

    I would love to engage in physical activity, and having seen its effects on others, I agree that it often “is the most empowering thing you can do for your self-esteem”. But people with disabilities are out here, and we need to improve our self-esteem and body image, too. But how are we to do this when the biggest tool we can use toward accomplishing these goals is so frequently denied to us?

    • BR Admin
      BR Admin01-06-2015

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Heather. We tried to be conscious of those with physical disabilities, but understand that the examples we used are generally difficult for some people who have medical issues that don’t allow them to participate in such physical activities. Like we wrote though, “The fact that you have a body — regardless of your appearance or ability level — means that you innately have access to physical power. Your power isn’t just in your beauty; it’s in who you are and what you do. It is in your physical power – the power to be, and do, and live, and move.” And that means that you can use your body in lots of ways to be more — when possible you can use your hands to make dinner for someone that needs it or hold someone’s hand to support them, you can write poems and letters and songs, you can sing and offer kind words, you can walk or go for a drive, you can do even the most simple of exercises, etc. Regardless of your ability level, there are things each of us can do to step outside of the demeaning, limiting posture of self-objectification. ANYTHING that keeps you from just picturing yourself being looked at and working to better decorate the world is awesome and important for your body image and self worth.

      • Heather
        Heather01-06-2015

        For example, taking pride in the ability of one’s hands to knit a warm hat for a loved one, or plant a flower seed. I like that! Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

      • BR Admin
        BR Admin01-06-2015

        You know, I honestly wrote and then erased “knitting a hat for someone in need” because I didn’t think people could relate to it, but then you suggested it!! Yes. Exactly. There are so many ways our bodies are powerful — they allow us to be, do, live, breathe, move, and serve.

  7. Velda
    Velda02-01-2015

    I loved this article and the comments. We are here to enjoy life and make a difference, and this article is about both. Thank you for what you do! You are amazing.