By Karli Bigler
Main point/overview: It can be so easy to feel shameful about our bodies, especially for oppressed populations and communities. Here are some things American society doesn’t teach us about weight, diet, and beauty standards, and how to go against the current to celebrate ourselves.
*The information shared in this post was gathered from multiple sources created by both the community and from psychologists who have studied/worked with this topic. All tips and suggestions are food for thought and are never meant to be hard and fast rules. This post was also written by a white, able-bodied, and cisgender woman. *
You wake up, just like every other day. You take a walk to the bathroom and are face-to-face with your biggest critic: yourself. It can be so easy to let your mind wander, to begin noticing how you gained some weight here, how your scars aren’t healing the way you want them to, how you’ve lost that muscle definition that you worked so hard to gain. Perhaps you begin your morning by flipping on the TV or checking your social media feed. Have you noticed how our society has decided that thin white women are the height of beauty? Or maybe there are some acceptably fat bodies represented, but few of different skin tones, genders, or larger-fat people? The lack of representation and boxed-in body standards are a problem with the system, not the individuals that are pressured to look a certain way.
In 2021, half of all New Year’s resolutions in the US were based on fitness or weight loss. Many people (all genders and sexes included) can feel shameful about their bodies and internalize the fear of becoming fat. It can be challenging to accept your wonderful body as you grow older, often bombarded by others’ expectations and the media’s portrayal of the “ideal body”. Not to mention diet culture (AKA the set of “rules” that tells us we are good and worthy humans, but only if we eat and look a certain way).
Okay, so this all sounds horrible, right? How are we supposed to be able to celebrate or accept our bodies in a country that is set up against us? Here are some ways to start loving and accepting your beautiful body:
- Understand the history of the BMI. You might be familiar with BMI (Body Mass Index). Basically, medical professionals use it as a measure of health based on your height, weight, sex, and age. You’ve likely heard that a high BMI means that you’re not healthy. However, the BMI was created a long time ago by a statistician as a tool to assess weight distribution based on the “ideal man” and the study only utilized a small sample of male soldiers. There is no evidence that these studies are representative in terms of race, age, or gender, leading the BMI to be a medically-based form of discrimination.
- Tip: You don’t have to get weighed at the doctor’s office if you don’t want to. And if your practitioner insists, you can ask them not to share what the scale says.
- Fat doesn’t have to be a bad word. Fat is a word that many people, especially non-plus sized people, shy away from using. Many of us have been hurt by that word, thinking that it means we are lazy and unlovable. However, by removing that word from our vocabulary, we start to reinforce and accept all of the negative meanings associated with the word. For a long time, fat people have been proudly using the word to describe themselves neutrally and accurately! And if you need to describe someone’s body, ask them what words they like to use, including the word fat.
- Tip: Find media that challenges your perception of what being fat means, and perhaps think about what words feel more affirming or neutral when speaking about your own body.
- Think about the AMAZING things your body does for you. Your body is a wonderful thing! It is constantly working in the background to fuel you and keep you alive, with numerous parts all working together without a second thought from your brain.
- Tip: Instead of focusing on what your body looks like, consider how your body feels. Do you feel energetic? Strong? What can your body do for you – take you places? Dance? Breathe?
- Express yourself how you feel comfortable. If you are able, dress in a way that makes you feel authentic and excited. Get a tattoo or a piercing maybe, or perhaps change up the glasses you wear for a pair that more suits your personality and style.
- Tip: Think about the way you express yourself. How can you create more space for items or things that bring you joy and increase your self-love, and create less space for those things that don’t? We own our individual bodies, and body modification can be expressive and make us feel good.
Accepting our bodies can feel like a challenge sometimes, yet we all deserve to feel comfortable in our skin. If you are looking for a therapist to speak to about body acceptance, please feel free to contact us.