Body shame can cripple our self-confidence and keep us from pursuing our dreams. It can cause depression, anxiety, body dysmorphia or eating disorders…and we all suffer from it.
We grow up being inundated by messaging that tells us our bodies aren’t good enough. That we need to be thinner, curvier, more muscular, leaner, taller, shorter, more done up, more natural… the list is never ending. We can’t win and we know we can’t win. So why do we keep buying into the idea that we’re not good enough?
Wanting to fit in and be desired is biological. We want to be accepted by the pack. When we were less evolved, this was a matter of life or death. If we were ostracized, we may not survive. If we weren’t desired, our lineage would end.
These biological drives are still very much alive within us and advertising can take advantage of that fact. By constantly telling us we aren’t living up to the standards of society, advertising can set off these panic alarms in our brains. We feel like we need to buy products to fix ourselves, but even when we do purchase the items, the messaging remains. “You aren’t worthy of love.”
So, how can we overcome these negative ideas that are being fed to us and reclaim our minds and bodies? It takes a lot of unlearning, but it is possible.
Curate Your Media
Start being mindful of the media that you choose to consume. Notice who you follow on social media. What you watch on Netflix. What articles you read and websites you visit. Are they making you feel good about yourself? Or are they leaving you feeling drained and wondering why your life doesn’t match up?
The things you consume for entertainment should leave you feeling inspired, happy or should educate you on things you’re passionate about. You shouldn’t feel like your life isn’t good enough.
Start following more body positive accounts. Follow more people who have bodies similar to yours. Follow real bodies with fat, cellulite, ‘imperfections’ and who are “sick and tired of the photoshop.” Conversely, unfollow anyone or anything that leaves you feeling depressed, self-conscious or depleted. If that person happens to be a friend or family member that you’re not ready to let go of yet; put them on mute.
You may not be in control of the ads you see, but you can control who shows up in your feed and you’ll be surprised at just how much of a difference that power can make.
Start Seeing More Bodies
A lot of our lives take place online now. Which means, we see a lot of photoshopped bodies. People who identify as female are bombarded with images of the ‘ideal body.’ Even curating your feed won’t stop the endless stream of bikini models and fitness influencers used in ads and movies as the ultimate goal of feminine beauty.
While there’s nothing wrong with people who have bodies in this category, having one idea of what is accepted as ‘beautiful’ is extremely damaging to those who don’t live up to that ideal. The overwhelming majority of the population doesn’t fit into this very narrow mold of physical attractiveness, but it doesn’t always feel that way.
The fastest way to realize that your body is a completely normal, functional and beautiful body is to start seeing more bodies.
Next time you’re in a locker room, at a spa, in a sauna, at a pool. Look around. Really take in all the different shapes and sizes a body can be. See the beauty in all the different variables.
I know staring at people in a locker room sounds kind of creepy, but don’t be a weirdo about it. Just bring more awareness to the different body types around you.
If locker rooms aren’t really your thing, try to bring more diverse bodies into your life in a different way. Check out a local burlesque show. Burlesque has become a champion of body positivity and depicts body types all across the board. It’s a great way to see real bodies in their element and even walk away feeling more empowered.
Normalizing the idea that all bodies are different is a great starting point for overcoming body shame, but the real results come from inner work.
We have to unlearn all of the negative, self-deprecating things we repeat to ourselves everyday. Mirror work is a way to rewire your brain to start thinking more positively.
When we repeat things to ourselves, whether negative or positive, we create neural pathways in our brain. Our brain loves repetition, so the more you do something, the more your brain will want to do it. When we say self-deprecating things to ourselves every day, our brain accepts that as part of it’s routine and will continue to run those thought patterns, whether you’re consciously aware of it or not.
We can re-train these thoughts by changing the messages we are telling ourselves through Mirror Work.
Every day, when you look into the mirror, find a body part to show love to. Compliment that body part. It can be something as small as your pinky finger. Each day, choose a new body part.
The real work happens when you run out of body parts that are easy to compliment. When you have to compliment the parts of yourself that you don’t feel 100% in love with, that’s where the growth happens.
Be playful and gentle with yourself. Tell yourself that you love yourself. Find new reasons to love yourself every single day and don’t stop until it becomes a habit.
If Self-Love Seems Worlds Away
Sometimes our darkness can feel overbearing. It can feel like the idea of self-love is impossible. That’s ok too.
The idea of ‘self-love’ is thrown around a lot. It can feel overwhelming to those who aren’t ready to love themselves. You don’t have to be madly in love with your body. You don’t have to consider yourself the sexiest person alive. You just have to stop actively hating yourself.
To do that, we want to get to a place of neutrality with our bodies. We can appreciate our body for the physical pleasures and experiences it gives us, without being in love with it.
During Mirror Work, try thanking parts of your body for the different things they do for you. Thank your mouth for being able to enjoy delicious meals. Thank your legs and arms for being able to dance and express yourself. Thank your stomach for being the strength that keeps you upright.
Body shame is deeply ingrained into us, but we can take back the power. When we stand up against the outdated idea of one type of physical beauty and we create deeper connections with ourselves, we control the narrative and we reclaim our bodies.
ARTICLE BY Jennifer Doan
Jennifer Doan is a sex educator, coach and the host of the podcast Taking Back Slut. Jennifer is committed to helping people connect to their sexual power in a way that feels safe and comfortable to them. Connect with her on Instagram @jenn_doan for sex rants and unapologetic nudes.