This is my first post really reaching out beyond anorexia and eating disorder sufferers to women in general, encouraged by my recent thinking and blogging on the need to forge a bigger identity. Enough of making myself smaller!
Poor body images affects so many women. Those of us who have been or should have been diagnosed with eating disorders are only the extreme manifestation of a form of self-hatred and despair that most, if not all, women struggle with at some point. Many of us struggle for our entire lives.
So this post is all about beauty and body positivity for women from my point of view, and how important it is to #FreeOurBeauty from the media and societal prison that still seems to exist.
Body Negativity: What Is It?
First up, we need to know what we’re fighting against; what we’re trying to change. I haven’t come across the concept of body negativity during my recent research, but if we’re going to recognise and call it out we need to know what it is.
Body negativity is all about quantifiers: “too” and “not enough”.
Let’s start general – too fat, too thin, too old, too short, too tall, too mousy, too spotty. Not pretty enough, not sexy enough, not feminine enough, not toned enough.
Then let’s get down to detail and lots more excesses and deficits. Here are a few of mine – hair too fine, teeth too big, lips not full enough, boobs not big enough…aaggh!!! Shall I go on?
Now I feel too sad to do anything. So I put my head down and struggle on with my routine life. I really hope no one looks at me.
Is this a way to go about things?
Who Cares? Why Does It Matter?
There are those who claim that some of us don’t need to feel beautiful. There are also those who argue that if every woman is beautiful, then beauty loses its value. So does this mean many of us should be content with feeling ugly or plain, to preserve the value of beauty for the chosen few? Is there a risk that beauty will run out, like oil or water?
I believe we really ARE all beautiful and we all deserve to feel it. But not only that, it’s actually really important that we do feel it. During the darkest days of my anorexia, I remember being told it didn’t matter how I looked. Of course, anorexia is about far more than poor body image, but that has definitely been a part of it for me. In a bid to help me, I was told that my looks didn’t matter. I’m not a model. I don’t make money from how I look. So why care about my body image and looks?
My answer: yes, I might not make my money from how I look, but I do make my life in my body and behind my face. We all do.
If we hate how we look, or despair at ever feeling beautiful, or if we lose all connection with our physicality as I did during my eating disorder, then we are missing a part of ourselves, a part of who we are. That stops us from doing everything we deserve to do in life – from the little things to the serious ones.
How many of us can’t go swimming because we’re terrified of wearing a costume? How many of us are too scared to join those colleagues heading out for lunch because our body hatred means we can’t eat in front of others? How about the person on the morning commute who we’d love to chat up but we don’t dare because we think we’re not attractive enough? And the course/job/promotion we’d give anything to go for but our self-esteem has fallen too low to apply? Body negativity steals opportunities from all areas of life.
But it’s not just our lives. The negative feelings affect our relationships with those around us. We might miss out on intimacy with our partners, social occasions with family or friends, or simply be too caught up in these feelings to notice when a loved one needs help.
And let’s take this wider and think about how it might stop us from reaching out and connecting with the world around us, or limit our ambitions in what we can do for others. If we feel beautiful and connect with our whole selves inside and out, then we feel empowered. And when we’re empowered we can raise awareness, create campaigns, raise money, and drive change for any cause we believe in.
So, What Can We Do To #FreeOurBeauty?
I’ve been following body positive social media and reading news articles on beauty, fashion, lifestyle, and wellness for months. I find much that I agree with and much that I disagree with too. From all this thought and research, I’ve crafted my own message to help myself and hopefully help others. It’s taking shape in my Body Positive Manifesto – a manifesto to #FreeOurBeauty. So far, I have four key messages that I’d love to share.
1.Define Our Own Beauty
We ARE all beautiful, but no one else will see it until we do. This means we need to define what our beauty is to us. We need to turn the negative self-talk into positivity. This is tough, especially in a social climate which often feels designed to make us feel the “too” and “not enough” I’ve talked about. I work every day to fight my body dysmorphia and see all the great things about how I look and what my body can do. I do it by dealing with one negative idea at a time and questioning who told me that, where did I read that, and why is their view more valid than my own. And I’m getting there.
One of the most powerful tools in this is how we consume media. I’m very careful whose messages I trust and I’m on the lookout for harmful media, diet industry and any so-called wellness messaging that will encourage body negativity. Be aware of commercial aims and don’t let magazines, diet companies, or those wellness influencers who make you feel bad define beauty. It’s only their definition. Why can’t you have yours?
Crafting our own definition means we have more choice in how we look. We can wear the clothes, make-up and hairstyles we want rather than be dictated to by fashion “rules”. We can choose what fitness means to us and what its place is in our lives. And we can ignore the diets and food fads, so many of which cause us physical and mental harm. Then we start to hold our heads high, feel our own beauty, and show it to the world. And that’s empowering.
2.Don’t Take Away – Add Something
Think about it – positivity means adding, creating more “+” signs in our lives. So much beauty messaging instructs us to take things away.
No carbs. No dairy. No wrinkles. No cellulite. No bikini, no bright lipstick, no dancing, no fun until you’ve spent long enough at the gym and cut out enough food groups to fit someone else’s definition of beauty. Once we’re “perfect” we can have things. But not until then.
Rubbish! Let’s define how we want to be ourselves. So instead of taking things away, let’s start adding things. How about a new hobby? A new sport that we’re actually excited to try? A haircut? An outfit that we really like, not just the one we feel we’re “allowed”? Let’s start actually doing the things we dream of. Little by little we can get bold enough to try them all.
3.Know The Cost
Is there a price on beauty? On feeling good? This is an interesting and important question. Some of the things I’ve mentioned above are free. Challenging our own negative self-talk doesn’t cost money – it’ll cost some effort, but it won’t cost our finances.
But other things do have a monetary cost. Most of us can’t add many of the things above all at once. But many of us can add things little by little. If we can, we do deserve to spend something on ourselves. So let’s not feel guilty.
However, there are many of us who can’t afford many or even any of these things. So if you can, reach out to another woman and offer her something to get her started on the adding. It might be giving our make-up or clothing voucher away to a friend we know is struggling. Or it might be donating some clothes to a charity shop or community project.
4.Be A Spokeswoman
While doing our own daily positive self-talk, as we get bolder why not vocalise? When we hear our mothers, sisters, friends or colleagues talking negatively about their bodies or looks, or quoting the latest diet fad, let’s turn the conversation. Pay a compliment, question what they say, give a different viewpoint – put a positive out there!
And if we’re even bolder, let’s call out body negativity in the media whenever we see. Tell the people around you that you disagree. Comment on your social media posts. Contact the publications and share your views.
And for those of us who are social media active, let’s be responsible. Let’s think before we post. Does this feel right? How will our image or words affect others? Are we excluding people?
I’m working on these ideas and implementing them in my life right now. I’d love to hear your views and comments as they take shape.
In the meantime, I’m going to #FreeOurBeauty starting now!
My Body Positive Manifesto
I will #FreeOurBeauty by finally defeating the remnants of my eating disorder to realise my dream of feeling my body dance again. And to spread the positivity as far as I can, I’ll start by telling the women around me how beautiful they are, helping them to own theirs.
So that’s two things I’m going to do to get started. How about you?