Body image has always been something I’ve been interested in and at uni it took the guise of identity and styling, or the ways in which individuals dress themselves in order to assume an identity. In my last 10 years as a fat woman who has never felt ashamed of being fat, I have thought a lot about how anyone who isn’t slim manages to style themselves. It isn’t easy, but it isn’t impossible, and I’ve found it a kind of delightful challenge to style myself as a woman who fits into anything between an Australian size 20-24. I’ve had a particularly privileged journey to body acceptance, because I’ve had loving family, friends and partners along the way as well as access to incredible resources online. For many people, it’s not only difficult but upsetting, and when I’m asked how I can love myself or how I can help them love themselves… I’m often at a loss.
I figure though, that I’m in some kind of special position to help guide people to a place of contentment and, gasp, love when it comes to their bodies. In the past few weeks I’ve even begun to think that I could be some kind of coach – so this post is my first draft: A guide to loving yourself in 8 challenging but rewarding steps!
1. Talk about your body.
I think one of the reasons why so many people are ashamed of their bodies is because they aren’t really sharing what actually goes on. It’s all about normalisation – share all the fun stuff, the scary stuff and the downright weird stuff with your friends, family and children so we don’t treat ourselves like alien entities.
2. When someone compliments you, just say thank you.
Don’t have a ready-prepared quip specifically designed to disarm the compliment giver. A compliment will not hurt!
3. Question the things you used to take for granted.
When you hear a report on tv or the radio about the obesity epidemic, question where they got their information from. The American study that is so oft quoted figured the number of deaths from obesity at 400,000 but unfortunately none of the media agencies pulled their flailing arms out of the air when that figure was brought down to 25,814. That’s a huge revision, and while the CDC released the revised number, the media and marketing people clung to the hype (interesting article from the Skeptical Inquirer). Turns out, reducing the “Obesity Epidemic” to a load of bunkum doesn’t make anyone money. Question every thing you see and hear about the Obesity Epidemic OOGA BOOGA – you usually find that the people funding these studies have fingers in a few interesting puddings (eg: those nutrient devoid Weight Watchers desserts!)
4. Don’t assign good or bad values to food and exercise.
When you eat something because it’s “good” or exercise because it’s “good” you’re just punishing yourself. Do things that you actually factually ENJOY and the reward will be twofold. Listen to your body and it’ll tell you the things it needs to eat, and the activities it needs to partake in. This is one of the key parts of Health At Every Size – by “honouring your body” you’ll consume things that you’re absolutely besotted with, and move because it moves you.
5. Wear clothes that fit you and make you feel good.
Shame is the worst way to motivate yourself, and it will work against you by letting you down AND making you feel bad. And feeling bad is not the objective here – feeling fabulous is! Clean out your wardrobe and dump every single item of clothing that makes you feel bad about yourself. Do not keep items aside because you think you’re going to fit into them one day – give them to someone who can actually wear them! Hold a swap party like I did, donate to your favourite organisation or give special things away to special friends.
6. Think about activities you’ve always wanted to do but have been too scared to try – and do them.
Take joy from moving your body in ways that you actually take pleasure in, and get out of the rut of thinking that you only need to go to a gym or use home equipment. This is not about “having to” it’s about “wanting to”. By doing what you want, you’ve got an inbuilt motivational mechanism right there. So many people wonder why they end up wasting their gym memberships – it’s probably because they don’t actually enjoy it. So find something you absolutely love! Join a roller derby team or a synchronised swimming group, learn how to ice skate, or go rock climbing. Move in ways that make sense to you!
7. Don’t weigh yourself.
In Screw Inner Beauty, the authors sum it up perfectly: if your clothes fit the way they did yesterday, you don’t need to freak out. Throw out your scales – they are just little electronic demons squatting in your bathroom, making you feel rotten.
8. No negative self talk.
This is a hard habit to break, but once you tell yourself that you’re going to be on the watch for negative self talk, you’ll notice that you can usually flag yourself as you’re thinking terrible things. Tell your friends and family that you are a “negative self talk free zone” – and you won’t put up with negative self talk from yourself or from them! I extend this to “no diet or weight loss talk” but it depends how far you want to go. I consider weight loss talk to be incredibly harmful, and forbid it from my conversations.
9. Bonus (and compulsory) step: Tell yourself you are awesome.
Look in the mirror, do a little dance, and congratulate yourself for being fricking brilliant.
Never think that those who accept their bodies never have a moment of doubt, because it’s only human to have those low moments. What gets easier is bouncing out of those low times. I’m not even going to begin to kid you on this: changing the way you perceive your body is incredibly hard work. The alternative is the status quo, so you may as well start today because you’re just wasting time! I strongly believe that every person is capable of loving and honouring themselves and that we all have the right to at least give it a burl!