Let’s Talk Body Image: The Appearance Ideal vs. The Healthy Ideal
Body Positivity has taken the world by storm. Influencers, celebrities, and professionals alike have taken up the platform of loving and accepting your body. But Body Positivity can get tricky due to two different types of misunderstanding. Firstly, many people tie positive body image to unhealthiness. They believe Body Positivity promotes unhealthy eating, laziness, and inactivity. Secondly, many misunderstand the “positive” part of Body Positivity and it can quickly turn toxic.
Does Being Body Positive Promote Unhealthiness?
Simple answer: No, when it is done correctly. Body Positivity does not mean overindulging in unhealthy foods or unhealthy exercise habits that will cause our physical and mental health to decline. But it also doesn’t mean starving or overly restricting yourself to fit a certain image. Body Positivity is about learning to take care of your unique body. This means finding foods that make you feel good both physically and mentally, finding an exercise routine that not only keeps you active but doesn’t over-exert your body, and learning to accept the parts of yourself that you cannot change.
At its core, Body Positivity is about trust. Trust between you and your body. Trust your body to tell you what it needs. Trust that you will do what is good for your body. The body will always tell, so listen carefully. If you are over-indulging in foods that are not good for you, your body will tell you with feelings of lethargy, gut issues, and low endorphins. When you are being too restrictive, your body will tell you it is undernourished by making your stomach growl, making you feel grumpy, or feeling weak. When you are balanced, both your physical and mental health will reflect that. You will find joy in nourishing yourself rather than stress or obsession. After you eat you will feel satisfied and sustainably energized. And these feelings will continue for the long term, not just for a few hours.
In terms of exercise, unhealthy habits also go both ways. When we are too sedentary, we feel tired, grumpy, and have low energy levels. But if we overwork our bodies, we can fall into dangerous patterns of obsession and dependence on exercise as well as feelings of exhaustion, dissatisfaction, and stress. Do what feels right. It can really be anything: a daily walk around the neighborhood, a jog, a yoga session, weight training, or cardio. As long as it makes you feel sufficiently energized, fulfilled, and satisfied.
In simple terms, Body Image is about finding your Healthy Ideal rather than trying to fit an Appearance Ideal. Your healthy ideal is finding a balance of physical activity and healthy eating that is unique to your body. It is about listening carefully and fulfilling the needs of both your body and your mind. This is more sustainable than pushing yourself to fit society’s Appearance Ideal which is not only impossible to achieve but is actually the unhealthy option for both your body and mind.
Toxic Positivity: Love vs. Acceptance
Body Positive Influencers will often tell their followers that they have to love every single part of their bodies. While this seems great on the surface, this is actually very toxic and can lead to a decrease in mental health. The pressure of having to LOVE every little part of your body can lead us to feel stressed or insecure when we cannot genuinely achieve this. True Body Positivity is about accepting your body. This means that you don’t have to love your rolls or your wrinkles or your hair but merely accept that those are parts of the body that sustains you, nourishes you, and lets you live your life. Rather than having to love your imperfections, appreciate them and recognize that many of these things are unchangeable and out of your control. Do what you can to keep yourself healthy, but don’t stress over something you cannot change.
Implementing Body Positivity In Your Life and Fighting the Appearance Ideal:
Now that we’ve broken myths about body image and established what it really means to be Body Positive, here are a few exercises to improve your Body Image.
Stand in front of a mirror with as little clothing as you can. Write down 15 traits that you love or appreciate about yourself. These can be physical or mental/emotional. If you are struggling with finding physical traits, try focusing on what a certain body part does for you rather than how it looks. Here are some examples:
I love my legs because they allow me to run, jump, and dance with joy.
I appreciate my stomach because it holds the food that nourishes my body and gives me energy.
I love how empathetic I am because it helps me build stronger relationships.
Tip: put on some of your favorite music to help set a positive and safe mood for this exercise!
The Appearance Ideal, or society’s unrealistic expectations, can often lead us to not engage in activities or behaviors that we would like to do. We fear judgment or rejection from others, so we restrict ourselves. This can cause feelings of depression, stress, and anxiety. To combat this, choose 2 things that you do not normally do because of the Appearance Ideal and schedule a day or time to do them. Here are some examples:
Wear a tank top in public.
Wear a bathing suit at the beach.
Wear your hair up or down.
Go out without makeup on.
These activities don’t need to be large changes in your life. Start small and see how you feel.
Negative images of our bodies have often been engraved since childhood. Think of your younger self. Would you want to subject them to the negativity that society puts on us and that we often put on ourselves? Write a letter to your younger self of encouragement and acceptance. Commit yourself to taking care of that inner child and teaching them to love and accept themselves.
Finally, don’t be afraid to seek help. Speaking to a counselor, nutritionist, or therapist can help us to see where we are going wrong. These professionals can help you create a plan for increasing physical and mental health, provide you with helpful information, and serve as a knowledgeable and valuable resource. Getting the help you need will alleviate stress in your life and open the doors for a happy, healthy, and sustained life.