There is no need to explain the cultural epidemic gripping women around the world today: Body shame.
Taking back appreciation of our bodies is a matter of urgency.
I recently found myself in a hard spot when a stranger unintentionally said something that sent me into a self-shaming spiral. Without meaning to, she highlighted the stark difference between the woman the media presents, and the woman standing in her shop.
It was tough. I cried, and I said some nasty words to my body.
They were familiar.
I have hated my body to the point of self-harm as a young woman. Abuse, bullying and misguided faith in pornography and media birthed repulsion and inner turmoil. Why did I look different to the women on screen?
And yet, this week, despite my puffy, tear glazed eyes I saw with clarity for the first time.
I realised this painful moment had actually been beneficial to my ‘Self-Love-Garden’. Her short, simple statement was the manure that stank like Hell, but nourished the seed that had been growing in my heart for some years. It was the seed of genuine self-love and body positivity. I emerged from this shocking encounter with a fresh sense of how wonderfully, uniquely and beautifully I have been created.
I am blooming.
I am no proponent of shaming women into self-love. This was a unique experience for me, in that I was brought face to face with the voice of culture, and the much quieter one of positive body image.
It was a crystallising moment where two beliefs I held deeply, that of personal inadequacy and radical self-love came into sharp conflict. Happily, and rightfully, love came out on top.
How did body positivity come out on top? And how can you overcome body shame, too?
1. Surround yourself with friends who love themselves.
I am thankful to have a handful of girlfriends who are passionate about appreciating their bodies at any weight, body fat percentage, bra size or body hair status. I have been blessed by their courage to love themselves relentlessly against the tide of culture.
Mind you, I find it an absolute atrocity it is considered ‘courageous’ to love and appreciate our wonderful bodies. But that is what it has come to, and that is what I have seen modelled by my companions. They showed me another way of living.
Immerse yourself in communities that breathe this positive life. Be the friend who instils an inner courage and sense of worth by reckless self-kindness. Live in a way that promotes freedom.
2. Get involved with the movers and shakers of feminist culture.
As well as those gems who happily answer the door to me in their underwear, with unmade faces beaming confidence, I have been blessed to know advocates who radiate body positivity.
There are organisations that focus on combating the sexualisation and objectification of girls. They serve to remind us that the media only presents one woman for us to aspire to. She is tall, blonde, skinny, sexy, big breasted, symmetrically faced and hairless.
She is ‘perfect’ and symbolises an unattainable image.
3. Think about how you want to raise your daughter.
Picture a little soul you love. Perhaps she is your flesh and blood; She may be someone you care for or part of your community. Maybe it is your future daughter.
Visualise her small lips forming the words you so often say to yourself.
When I walk this mental exercise through, my heart breaks envisaging my future little one staring at her body in defeat, muttering self-depreciating comments.
If you wouldn’t let her say those things, why is it okay to verbalise those words in front of your own mirror?
We have the privilege of helping shape the next generation’s understanding of the world and their place in it. She will learn from you. Please, model the love you want her to encapsulate within herself.
There is nothing better to cultivate in ourselves for our future babies, than radical self-love.
4. Own it, girl.
I feel so empowered by women who ‘own’ their bodies. When I see an Instagram account where a woman shows off her soft belly, celebrates her petite breast size, appreciates her sloping nose and just generally ‘owns’ those attributes culture doesn’t value, I am reminded that we are all worthwhile.
Don’t you just crave to see another woman with the same ‘unsightly’ trait as you? Someone who proudly shows you’re not the only one with cellulite in that spot, a snail trail, lopsided boobs or something else? When we are exposed to other bodies in this way, it is a healthy dose of reality. The media poisons, reality heals.
By ‘owning’ our individual bodies, rolls and body hair included, and not hiding ourselves away, we say ‘Its okay to be who I am!’
This confidence will catch like fire as women begin to feel safe being proud of reality, rather than ashamed of not being the unattainable goddess.
Confidence is contagious.
I am not advocating we cram our true emotion and insecurities into a hidey-hole and ‘fake it’.
I am not disregarding very real struggles.
I am advocating rather, that everybody is worthy of espousing the brilliant, magnetic confidence of fully ‘owning’ their body.
Be a woman who is unapologetically herself.
5. Appreciate others in ways they can’t.
There is a you, you will never see.
It is you, quietly smiling to yourself remembering something funny; you, appreciating a glorious sunrise; you, trembling with nerves but facing giants anyway. It is you, engaged in unique mannerisms, with eyes brimming with passion over your favourite subject or pondering quietly.
There are angles to you invisible in mirrors and even photographs. These are a faint glimpse into a moment in time. You are a whole person, you fill a space in a way only you can. This cannot be captured, but only admired by those around you.
When I admire my friends unawares, I cherish the overflow of beauty and individual flare that pours from them. Even in the ugly moments of life, their unique and powerful characters and bodies shine in luminescence.
Capture these sacred moments as you watch your friends and family. Appreciate the absolute glory in moments that will never happen again. The way her hair flicks and shines in the sun as she looks to cross the road safely or the joy in her eyes as she laughs.
There are those who are doing the same for you.
Marvel in your existence.
It takes time.
Replacing shame with genuine self-love is far easier said than done. Self-love culture is shockingly unfamiliar to women. It is a new world that will take time to explore and become concrete.
Every day, the chatter of body shame and weight phobia thrives. Women are desperate for self-acceptance but remain firmly held down by the iron hands of culture. The noise echoes through shopping malls, gyms, social media and our beautiful minds. This is considered ‘normal’ for women.
But we cannot live like this.
There is much to be done to fight this cultural assault on women. There must be education on the harms of the media and pornography for men and women, a radical change in advertising standards and objectification, and women empowered enough to stand above this mess and own their beautiful, capable, magnificently unique bodies and beings.
It may seem an overwhelming task, but start with yourself. You have the power to change the world by doing something radical…loving yourself.