The body positivity movement has been around for some time, but is gaining particular traction on social media as influencers and “regular” users alike encourage others to love their bodies regardless of size, appearance, physical capabilities and society’s standards. For many, this can feel unrealistic and even difficult to truly live by.
As a result, the new wave of body neutrality offers a slightly different perspective – your body is the least interesting thing about you, and instead of trying so hard to love your body, focus on loving your life. Body neutrality recognizes loving your body is hard and that’s ok; instead of focusing on how your body looks, focus on what your body does for you – digesting your food, allowing you to hug your loved ones and simply live in the world.
One step further, body liberation incorporates the social justice elements of body image and focuses on dismantling the oppressive systems that set us up to be at odds with our bodies. Body liberation fights for freedom from the systems that designate certain bodies (e.g. white, able-bodied, cisgender and thin) as more worthy, healthy or desirable than others.
However, embracing the body positivity, body neutrality or body liberation (as well as anti-diet and intuitive eating) perspectives does not mean you are suddenly immune to having bad body image days. You’re human and it’s only natural. Believing in these philosophies and having bad body image days does not mean you “failed” or that you’re a “fraud.” But with these perspectives you may be better equipped to understand WHY you’re having those thoughts and HOW to respond to them with self-compassion.
What exactly is body image? Body image is the combination of thoughts and feelings you have about your body. In other words, it’s your perception of your body at a moment in time and can fluctuate day to day, even within an hour! In reality, our bodies can’t physically change much overnight but our viewpoint of them can. This doesn’t make your experience any less valid, but is a helpful context for those days when you’re not feeling comfortable in your skin.
If you find yourself struggling with a bad body image day (and again, it happens. It’s NORMAL.), perhaps try asking yourself the following questions:
- Are there areas of my life where I’m feeling anxious or stressed right now?
- What feels “out of control” right now?
- What might I be “taking out” on my body in this moment?
- How can I respond to this valid feeling with kindness?
- What does my body need in this moment, outside of changing it?
Sometimes bad body image days can be an indicator of unresolved stress and anxiety in other areas of life and our bodies become the easiest target for our frustrations or desire for control and change. But just because we have bad body image moments does not mean we need to change our bodies. I get it – it’s uncomfortable and you just want to fix it. Instead, try to respond with kindness instead of punishment. This could look like: changing into comfy pants, playing a favorite song and dancing around the room, meditating, doing something creative (drawing, lettering, coloring), talking to a friend on the phone, etc.
So the next time you find yourself struggling with a bad body image day: recognize it, allow it, sit in it and ride the wave of those feelings and ultimately know that this too shall pass.
By: Maddy Weingast, Assistant for Therapy for Eating Disorders and Body Image