After struggling with depression and low self-esteem for years, I gradually learned to take deliberate action to escape the pit of low self-worth that was associated with how I felt about my body.
The realization that I am whole and complete as a human being, regardless of my body type, helped me on the journey to building a positive body image, and by extension, a healthy self-esteem. One of the first steps I made was believing that a happy life is attainable, regardless of whether I met society’s ideals of beauty.
I am complete. Nothing broken, nothing missing.
This helped shape how I saw myself, and I started to act accordingly.
And, it was while doing this that I understood I wasn’t the problem. My body also wasn’t the problem.
The problem was the beauty standards surrounding me.
Something I hadn’t contributed to, but something that had always been in existence.
BEAUTY STANDARDS AND THE MEDIA
Beauty standards have existed for as long as there have been humans, and they obviously haven’t stopped evolving- a flip through the pages of history shows that, once upon a time, larger women were favored, since size was a prestige symbol.
Fast forward to now and we constantly see images of thin women in the media. They are everywhere -you can’t miss them- in the magazines, product advertisements, on billboards, social media, and so on.
This constant exposure to images of these women means that we start to think that these body shapes are normal- and more common than they actually are. This contributes to our social norms and programming – we become conditioned to value one body type over the other, because of the exposure to these images.
These beauty standards mean that we compare ourselves and others to the images we see. We feel bad about ourselves when we feel like we don’t measure up. And sometimes, people say things- directly or indirectly to us- to convince us that we don’t measure up.
BODY SHAMING & BODY DISSATISFACTION
In one of my podcast episodes, I asked some of my listeners to share their body-shaming stories and how it affected their self-esteem. All of the responses pointed to the same thing:
Our minds have been conditioned to regard a particular body type and set of features as being more beautiful in comparison to the rest, and some insensitive individuals remind us of this.
Body image concerns are common- many of us are self conscious about the way we look- so what can we do about it?
1. ADMIT THAT THERE IS A PROBLEM
I’ll point out the first step towards achieving that through one of my favourite quotes from the character ‘Will Mcavoy’, in the HBO hit series ‘The Newsroom’ – and it goes,
‘The first step to solving a problem is recognizing that there is one.’
Sometimes, we try to downplay our concerns with body image. We portray them as nonexistent and as though none of the beauty standards, or body shaming has had an impact on our minds. But, you must be willing to acknowledge that you are currently dissatisfied with your body and do an inward study to examine what sequence of events contributed to it.
You may be able to put things in greater perspective by realizing that you are not the issue, but you must first acknowledge that there is a problem.
2. YOU ARE NOT THE PROBLEM
And neither is your body. The problem is that beauty companies capitalize on our insecurities and marketing goods to fix them.
“Hey, look. Your legs are so skinny. You can’t possibly be happy with that. Take this product to get bigger legs and then you’ll be happy”
I mean, they don’t all say it like that but I’m sure you get the point.
3. REALISING THAT YOUR BODY IS A VEHICLE
Taryn Brumfitt, says this best:”Your body is an instrument, not an ornament- it is the vehicle to your dreams”
Valuing your body for it’s functionality, instead of something to be looked at or admired is just so important. Our bodies are just so incredible- they enable you to breathe, move around, interact with others, and live your best life.
We know that people who appreciate their bodies are also more likely to look after them. Start to nourish your body, and move your body because you value what it does for you. Engage in self care. Do nice things for your body- because it does nice things for you!
Trying to change your body is really difficult, but also might not result in the popularity, attention, and success you imagine- and it won’t make you any happier. Beauty standards are always evolving, and if you base your self-worth solely on your physical appearance, you’ll spend the majority of your life trying to keep up, which will prevent you from experiencing true happiness.
4. LOVING YOUR BODY
There is the subtle pressure to claim that you love your body even when you don’t. You are continually told to make these affirmations, but affirming something that you don’t believe in is only counterproductive. It’s usually more realistic to feel appreciation and respect for your body rather than love.
Loving your body is not a prerequisite for leading a fulfilling life. The ultimate hack is realizing that your body does not define you and that your worth is independent of your appearance.
Whichever way you decide to go, you must know that you are not defined by your body.
Here’s hoping that you soon come to the realization of the beautiful human that you are, and when you do, don’t forget to do what stars do – shine unapologetically.