We live in a society that sometimes gives us very harsh guidelines and lessons. One such lesson is: “Skinny is pretty.” According to society, we all need to look like Barbie dolls. The problem is that most of us don’t. In fact, it’s physically impossible to have a Barbie or Ken Doll body. This is why beauty standards need to change in our society. But change starts with the individual. If we want societal beauty standards to change, we need to first change our own outlook on beauty and accept the undeniable truth: We are beautiful. We are beautiful because we are unique. We are beautiful because there will never be anyone like us, ever again, physically or otherwise. In other words, we need to accept and love ourselves as we are. And there are two buzzwords that can help us with that journey: “Body Positivity” and “Mindfulness”.
Body positivity has been everywhere lately. Newspaper articles, Instagram posts, tweets, Hollywood movies, talk shows… but what is body positivity, exactly? First, it’s accepting your body as it is, with all its imperfections, and nevertheless feeling genuine joy in it. You only have one body. You will never have another one. Yes, it may not be a “perfect” body. Yes, you might have days where you don’t necessarily feel the best. But that doesn’t change the fact that your body is beautiful and miraculous, no matter what shape or size you are. Beauty is subjective and transient. Over the years, the definition of beauty has changed drastically, and it continues to change. Our personal belief is what matters, and accepting our bodies is the path to body positivity.
Second, body positivity means accepting people of all sizes as beautiful and unlearning the idea that only some bodies are worthy of praise and acceptance. It is acknowledging that beauty isn’t just one specific body type and embracing that not just in ourselves, but in everyone around us.
Body positivity is an outlook on life that aligns with positive psychology. The concepts of acceptance and self-love lie at the very center of the idea. Because of this, it can be a difficult concept to grasp for those of us who may sometimes have problems with self-acceptance and self-compassion.
So, if we want to be body positive, then we first have to learn to love and accept ourselves as we are. Well, that’s easier said than done, isn’t it? After all, if saying “I’m beautiful” or “I love and accept myself” were enough, then we wouldn’t have any issues—personal, societal or otherwise—when it came to beauty. But the thing is, acceptance and self-compassion aren’t elusive traits. In fact, they are ways of looking at the world and ourselves that we can learn through self-compassion and acceptance meditation.
Let’s start with self-compassion. We said that body positivity is about loving your body, in all its imperfections. Take a deep breath and concentrate on your body. Try to feel the firmness of the ground beneath your feet. You have two wonderful feet and legs. You are able to walk wherever you want, whenever you want. So what if they’re too thick or too thin? Those legs are ready and willing to carry you as far as you want to go. They give you the miracle of movement. They give you the ability to conquer the world.
Next, focus on your hands. You can do anything you want with those hands. You can write, paint, clap, drum. You can feel all sorts of wonderful textures and sensations with those hands and fingers. Keep focusing on your body and the senses of your body: What are you grateful for in your body? What are you thankful for? What do you love about your body? Try to name at least one thing. Meditate on them, and afterward write them down. Exploring your body like this is a way of rediscovering its beauty, uniqueness and in a sense, the joy of being alive. That’s because your body is wholly yours from birth. It enables you to do anything and everything that you want. There will never be anyone else who looks like you. So, why not feel and express the joy and gratitude of having that body? Why not feel the joy of being alive? And in any case—why care about what anyone thinks about you or your body? You are beautiful, just as you are. You are with your body until the end of your life and it’s only your view matters.
A very important thing to remember is that body positivity is not some exclusive club open to only some body types. It acknowledges the beauty in all body types: Skinny, fat, tall, short… it doesn’t matter. A good way of cementing this belief is thinking more about acceptance. Not just self-acceptance—though that’s certainly a part of it—but acceptance of others as well. Unlearning beauty concepts that we’ve been inundated with since childhood takes time and conscious effort. It requires us to re-examine all the messages we’ve been given about beauty, body, and food throughout our lives.
Let’s think about this for a moment: What messages have you been taught about beauty thus far? Which messages have you been taught about people’s relationship to food, to their bodies, to themselves? What about your relationship with your body? How connected or disconnected do you feel to it? When you look in the mirror are you able to accept the beautiful person that you are? Or is it your imperfections that you see first? What about when you look at other people? Is it their beauty you see first? Or is your first reaction the desire to reject that beauty? Do you think “She/he would be so pretty if…”?
You might be a bit uncomfortable answering these questions. But change, particularly internal change, is not usually comfortable. So, push yourself a little further. Why do you think these are the first reactions that you may have when you look in the mirror or at others? What have you internalized about beauty that causes you to have these reactions? Noticing these thought patterns is the first step to breaking them down and changing them. By becoming more aware of them through mindfulness practices and acceptance meditations, you can actively begin working on them. In time, you can unlearn the messages that you’ve internalized and begin to change your outlook on yourself and the world around you. Slowly, you’ll begin to notice the beauty that surrounds you, and that lies within yourself.
All that being said, you have to remember that body positivity isn’t an excuse to not to give ourselves the care, love, and attention that we so richly deserve in the form of healthy or mindful eating, exercise, and dressing in a way that makes us feel beautiful. In other words, body positivity is projecting the beauty that we feel and see in ourselves for the whole world to see.
Body positivity also doesn’t mean ignoring any health issues that we may have. Yes, we must love and accept ourselves as we are. But part of that is caring for ourselves in the way we deserve. If you had a severe cold, you wouldn’t go about your day ignoring it—you’d take a sick day, make some soup and take care of yourself. So, if our bodies are telling us that something is wrong, we need to learn to listen to that. Our bodies have a myriad of ways of alerting us that something is wrong. If we’re constantly dizzy or nauseous, maybe our body is telling us that we’re not eating enough and our blood sugar is low. If we have shortness of breath when we walk, maybe that’s our body trying to tell us that we need to exercise or get more physical activity in throughout the day. If we feel “off” in some way, maybe our bodies are telling us that something a bit more serious is going on and that we need to get checked out. Whatever signals our bodies are giving us, it’s imperative that we be mindful of them. We, therefore, need to take a deep breath and listen to what they are telling us, so we can give our beautiful selves the tender love and care we deserve.