I asked the women in my Facebook group to complete the sentence, ‘My relationship with my body is….’
To summarise the answer from the 25 respondents, it’s complicated.
The relationship we each have with our bodies is unique to us, complex and borne out of our individual experiences. But, I also feel that there is a great deal of shared experience too. Particularly when it comes to ideals.
For context, in the middle of lockdown 2020, the Women and Equalities Committee conducted a survey into body image. The results were frankly, heart-breaking. 61% of adults reported feeling negatively about their bodies most of the time and young people, women, people with a disability and transgender people were reported as being most at risk of experiencing negative emotions around their appearance.
So why is this happening?
I’m going to get straight to the point. Appearance is not the problem. Our bodies are doing what they should be doing keeping us alive.
The problem is the brutal cultural standards that we are exposed to every day and the beliefs and assumptions we project on ourselves because of them. Unrealistic body and beauty ideals wreak havoc on our happiness, leave us feeling like we’re not enough and rejecting the bodies that sustain us.
And, in the same way as appearance is not the problem, trying to change it is not the long term solution to our happiness.
Being ‘slim’ or paying out on treatments to prevent ageing might bring us short term happiness – don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the first in the queue for the pedicure after lockdown – but, it’s important to differentiate between the things that make you truly happy and the things that are causing you pain, expense and stress.
Improving your relationship with your body is a journey. There are no quick fixes. I didn’t go from diet cycling to where I am now overnight. It took days, months and years of re-learning how to think and behave towards myself and it is something I still work on every day. The one thing I can assure you of is that it’s a worthy pursuit.
If you struggle with your relationship with your body, these are some of the things I share professionally and I practice every day:
1. Create a healthy media landscape:
The images we are exposed to via the magazines we read and the social platforms we hang out on have a huge impact on how we feel about our bodies. Ask yourself, do the people you see in those spaces look like you? Are the things that you see providing you with positive inspiration, or causing you to compare yourself or feel like you need to do and be more? You get to choose who you follow, what you watch and read. Clue: before and after images are not that helpful. Seek out the places where you feel reflected, inspired and illuminated.
2. Think beyond your body:
Think about the things that bring you joy and fulfilment. What makes you happy? It sure as hell isn’t all about fitting into a pair of skinny jeans. Your work, your family, your hobbies, your pets, your quirks, your achievements, and all of the other wonderful things that make up your world, are worth so much more than your dress size. If you need reminding of them, write them down.
3. Wear clothes that make you happy:
Getting dressed can be a trigger for a bad body image day. But so much of the pain around getting dressed has more to do with our clothes than our bodies. If we are trying to get into clothes that aren’t comfortable it has a way of making us feel like we need to be fixed. Wear the stuff that makes you feel good. Colour, comfort and creativity are great words to bring to mind when you are thinking about dressing.
4. Acceptance over resistance:
Understand that acceptance, not resistance, is the starting point for a better relationship with your body. When you can come from a place of acceptance, and maybe even kindness, that’s when the good stuff can happen. No good ever came from bashing yourself. Trust me, I am speaking from experience. A little self-compassion goes a long way when it comes to creating positive change.
I’d love to read what words you would put in the blank space. Maybe you’d like to drop into the comments and let me and other women know. ‘My relationship with my body is…..’