Loving Your Body 101: The 3 Questions of Positive Body Image
The comments section of anything body image-related proves there is LOTS of confusion around the idea of “loving your body.”
Some jump to the panicky conclusion that promoting positive body image is promoting obesity — like we’re telling people to forfeit positive health choices in favor of “loving” their bodies to death with lounging and food. Others assume it’s all about teaching people to flaunt what they’ve got — showcasing their physical attributes for all the world to behold. Those two rage-inducing assumptions will fuel comment wars online until the end of time, but neither of them represent what we mean by “positive body image” or “loving your body.”
Here are 3 questions we encourage you to ask in order to find out if something/someone is promoting positive body image, as opposed to just promoting love for a particular look, or their own appearance-“enhancing” products or services, or any other pseudo-body-positivity.
1. Does the message encourage all girls or women to feel good about themselves, or do the words or images elevate one set of features or body type above another? A message that trashes anyone else in order to make something or someone else look better is never truly promoting positive body image. Lots of fitspiration is guilty of this. You’ve seen it — the stuff that says “because no one wants to cuddle with a stick” or “bones are for dogs; meat is for men” in an attempt to say “curvy girls are hotter than skinny girls.” Not cool. We understand where that backlash against thin ideals is coming from, but it’s woefully misdirected at the wrong target. We tear down unrealistic ideals, not other people. Similarly, the stuff that figuratively high-fives women with any particular physical attribute for being healthier, sexier, or whatever-er than any other kind of woman is also never truly teaching people to love their bodies — it’s just telling people with that attribute to love their bodies at the expense of everyone else. Again, not cool.
2. Is the message being used to sell a product or service that is intended to “enhance” or “improve” a person’s appearance? Skills for media literacy, or the ability to understand and deconstruct why messages are engineered the way they are, are crucial in answering this question. Though it’s easy to say “well, a good message is a good message!” and take it at face value, we must recognize the ways corporations use the burgeoning trend of “girl power” and faux feminism to keep us buying products that stand in opposition to what they’re claiming to advocate for. It’s problematic for a company to advertise a “bolder, sexier you” with marketing that perpetuates one extremely narrowly defined idea of “sexy” that makes viewers feel significantly less “bold” by promoting constant self-objectification. Similarly, it is problematic for a corporation to use “real beauty,” “pro-age” and “redefine beauty” as its feel-good marketing strategies while Photoshopping like crazy and selling products to “fix” all those flaws they tell people to reclaim as beautiful — from skin bleaching creams to skin-firming solutions and anti-aging creams. Be aware of the real, bottom-line intentions behind these highly produced, emotion-tugging marketing tactics. If you don’t like what they’re selling, or why they’re selling it — both figuratively and literally — you can take your money and support elsewhere. If you do like it, then buy away!
3. Does the message take the focus off of appearance, or does it emphasize looks as the primary feature of a person? This seems counter-intuitive, since “body image” sounds like it implies a focus on what our bodies look like, right? Instead, “body image” refers to the way we perceive our own bodies — an internal perception that often has nothing to do with others’ perceptions or even what we really look like. Promoting positive body image relies on the idea that we must expand the way we perceives ourselves and others by taking the focus off appearance and encouraging a more holistic view. People who self-objectify, or perceive themselves from an outsider’s perspective, are less likely to feel good about their bodies. On the other hand, people with a broader perception of themselves — one that doesn’t depend on how they think people perceive their bodies — are more likely to feel good about their bodies. And here’s the clencher: people who feel OK about their bodies, no matter what they look like at the moment, are more likely to take good care of their bodies through healthy lifestyle choices. People who feel really self-conscious and experience body shame are more likely to be sedentary and engage in disordered eating. That’s where the “promoting obesity” idea fails, since improving body image is inherently about improving health, both mentally and physically. To sum it up, in order for something to truly promote positive body image, it must promote a holistic view of a person — not just as appearances or bodies, but capable, dynamic humans.
Our brand of positive body image is research-driven and backed by mind-blowing results of what happens when girls and women begin to love their bodies. What might surprise people is that the greatest part about seeing people improve their body image is that their focus shifts from “appearance, appearance, appearance,” to anything and everything else more important. Health. Happiness. Contributing to their families and the world in meaningful ways. Becoming more fully present and capable in any situation. It’s a game-changer, and anyone can start RIGHT NOW to get in the game of positive body image.
Regardless of how you feel about your body, what you look like, or what your health is like, you can improve your body image in small ways or big ways — depending on your willingness — by learning to recognize the messages you’ve internalized about beauty, health, and your own body; redefining your perceptions; and continuously resisting harmful messages about bodies. You can follow the links above to posts that highlight important information and resources to guide you through each step. Everything we do is centered in body image resilience, or the ability to harness innate or learned skills to rise above painful experiences and use them for our benefit. This post can give you a good look at that idea, using the incredible example of Elizabeth Smart as a case study in resilience.
Learning to love your body can be a difficult process for many women who have believed their whole lives they are worthless or abnormal because they don’t live up to physical ideals upheld as normal and attainable in our profit-driven culture. We want you to know it is not an impossible feat, and the process is incredibly rewarding. One of the easiest and best things you can do for your body image right now is to consider the ways your body is amazing. Appreciate what it has allowed you to do, regardless of your abilities or health status, and acknowledge your strengths and gifts.
Actress Melissa McCarthy illustrated this idea well, saying, “I’ve been every size in the world. Parts of my 20s, I was in great shape, but I didn’t appreciate it. If I was a 6 or an 8, I thought, ‘Why aren’t I a 2 or a 4?’ Now I feel like I have two great kids and the dreamiest husband on the planet, and everything else is just a work in progress.”
Take a moment to reflect on what you do have, and you’ll have a running start on the path to loving you[r body].