According to the “health” and “wellness” industries, our bodies are canvases on which the most current trends can be painted. And while our canvas stays the same, the paint *required* to complete it is quick to change. Current manifestations of “wellness” culture tout the message that it is now actually okay for your body to take up more space. There’s a public push toward body positivity, which seems like a good thing. But, there’s a catch. You can exist in a larger body, but your larger body must look like this. Wellness culture’s voice rings in as we look in the mirror: We’re all about being body positive… *If* others perceive your body as . . . positive.
Clear as mud, yeah?
As many of us struggle with body image, wellness culture continues to promise a fix. It goes a little something like this: THIS [insert trend of the moment] is the kind of body you need to be “healthy” and to feel good about yourself! So, we throw our body image into the washing machine that is wellness culture, eager to be cleansed. We put it on the “right” settings, the ones that promise to take the stain of negative thoughts about our body away. We take it out, only to be told that while our body image was in the wash, the guidelines have actually changed, and now, in order to feel good about our bodies, we will need to cleanse our body image on entirely different settings.
It goes back in, new settings selected, only to be told, once again, that – alas, we have actually figured it out this time! – cold cycle, high speed, extra rinse is what your body image needs. And so it continues. Until your body image has been run ragged in the wash, and you’re left feeling exhausted, discouraged (and, my gosh, out of laundry detergent).
The Message Behind the Current Trends: Your Body Image Depends On It
You’ve probably seen some variations of the most current trends promising to satisfy our quest for a positive body image: TikTok videos or Instagram reels that feature women (folks of all gender identities, to be clear, but the ones that make their way onto my FYP are mostly women) who have two side-by-side pictures or a sequence of videos that show them in a cute, monochrome work out set and a caption that says, “ I went from *this* to this, and I feel so good!”
Numbers flash across the screen, and the weight in the second picture is significantly higher than the number in the first. The second picture or video features an altered body – one that is, yes, larger, but is significantly more muscular, toned, and “fit.” Those who create these videos undoubtedly intend to be empowering, and because everyone’s personal relationship with health and wellness is and looks different, the journeys of some who create those videos may, indeed, be healthy for them.
The issue lies in the drive behind the message: This is the fix!
Just track those macros, build a ton of muscle, and you will be healthy and sporting a brand new body with a positive body image to go along with it. These kinds of messages remind us that, while your body is now – by current societal beauty and wellness culture standards – allowed to take up more space than what was acceptable before, it must still fit a mold.
If your body looks “toned” and if you are eating in a way that helps you build muscle and burn fat, it can be bigger. There are still certain “settings” you must select to be worthy of a positive body image. And this promotes the idea that your body image ultimately depends on how your body looks– the “look” is just following a new trend.
Impact of Wellness Culture “Rules” on Body Image
If you are recovering from an eating disorder, or even if you aren’t, this wellness culture messaging that attempts to distaste our body image can be particularly confusing and harmful. Because of how pervasive [and sometimes hard to detect] these messages are, it is of the utmost importance to protect our minds and bodies by being vigilant to how the current wellness trends are impacting us.
These kinds of trends remind us that not only are we only as good as the way our body looks, but we are really only as good as the way others *perceive* our bodies. And, of course, the trends will change. But so long as we (even unconsciously) subscribe to external sources to provide us the measure for how we should feel about our bodies, we subject ourselves to a body image that is at the mercy of an ever-changing set of rules. And you are so much more than that.
Building An Unshakeable Body Image
So the question is: How do we build a body image in and out of recovery (or even if you do not struggle with an eating disorder!) that is less apt to fluctuate with current “wellness” culture trends and societal standards?
First, Notice: If you feel that your body image may be starting to go through the wellness culture wash, first of all, I’m proud of you for noticing. It can be challenging to notice the impact of these messages that are inundating us.
Recognize: Now that you have noticed, let’s then recognize the wellness culture messages for what they are: The most current manifestation of the grossly misguided message that our bodies are in constant need of adjustments and alterations. Recognizing that wellness culture capitalizes on a combination of insecurities, a negative body image, and the hope that people will buy into current trends can help us to process our feelings through an unfiltered lens.
Check in: Then, check in with yourself and ask the following (consider even journaling or somehow recording your responses):
- How do I currently feel about my body?
- Why do I feel this way? Who is “telling” me this? Is the message coming from an internal or external source?
- Are these feelings true?
- When are these feelings about my body most evident?
- When they come up, what am I tempted to do or think as a result?
Processing through these answers with your therapist, a friend, or someone else you trust may be helpful, too.
Your Body is Worthy of Celebration Today
So, if you feel that your body image is suffering at the hand of current health trends, you are certainly not alone. It is easy to start falling into the trap that promises us if we just “do this,” we will finally be at peace with our bodies.
But this is a reminder that you are not one wellness fad away from a positive body image. And this is a good thing, a relief. You are capable and worthy of having and maintaining a positive body image in the body you are in right now. If you find yourself starting to feel the pull to look outward for body image validation, let this be your reminder that your body is not a trend; no external source, “wellness” fad, or person can take away from or add to the truth that your body is worthy of celebration today, and it will be tomorrow, too.
By: Erika Muller, Assistant for Wildflower Therapy LLC
All images via Unsplash
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