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What's body positivity and why do we need it?

I’ve always been ‘curvy’. Ever since I was a kid, I was always one of the ‘big boned’ girls around. I’ve even had a girl come up to me once and say, “I wish I could have your confidence if I was in your body.”

You would never say that to a skinny girl, now would you? But this article isn’t about hearing how hard life is for someone who has some extra junk in the trunk – it’s about accepting bodies in all shapes and sizes. This is where body positivity comes into play. 

Body positivity is the notion that bodies can be beautiful at any size – something that the diet culture we live in has told us we cannot be. Body positivity is not, as many believe it is, just for plus-sized women, indeed it’s for all women, men, and genders. It’s the radical belief that our bodies, with their weird lumps, bumps, scars, occasional spot (you’re lying to yourself if you pretend you never get them) are acceptable as they are. It is for all bodies, regardless of weight, skin shade, gender, etc... 

Next, let’s talk about diet culture and how it affects all of us. Since our youngest age, we are bombarded with images, ideas and messages that glorify thin bodies – think 'I’m on a diet', 'bikini bodies', or even the simple 'you lost weight – you look so good!' This is because we live in a culture that wants us to shrink ourselves in order to fit its unrealistic beauty standards. As women, we have to be tall, skinny, but still have boobs and a bum, because you don’t want to be sexless, have full lips, have big eyes, have a gap between your thighs... The list is endless. Men are supposed to be strong, to have pecs, a six pack, don’t be skinny, be V shaped, don’t be an Orangina bottle... These ideals are just as harmful as those perpetuated against women. For so many of us, our lives are lived in a constant struggle between the pulls of a social media 'perfect life' - the media bombarding us with images that define what it means to be beautiful – and our feelings about ourselves, our unretouched bodies. This is why by choosing to accept and cherish your body, you are taking a direct stand against this toxic diet culture. As the artist Caroline Caldwell has put it perfectly: “In a society that profits from self-doubt, choosing to love yourself is a rebellious act.”

I hear you saying – right, that’s all well and good, but how do I love myself? Well, frustratingly, the answer is not one size fits all. Loving yourself can only come from you, from appreciating your own individual strengths, and purposively focusing on those, building on them, and creating a feeling of pride around them - even if it’s just that today you helped out that person with the dishes, or that you complimented someone around school, even though it was out of your comfort zone. Instead of focusing on your flaws, try and find some good in them. Turn 'I hate my thighs' into 'I did a hockey match thanks to those thighs, thanks to this body,' or 'thanks to this body I got on stage and performed a dance show'.

Changing the way we think about our bodies can only come from us changing the way we think about ourselves. Another important way in which we can change our outlook on not only our bodies, but also more importantly other people’s bodies, is by making a conscious effort to catch, and notice, but not beat ourselves up when we realise that we’ve been judging somebody else’s body. This judgement is carried out by you, but instilled in you by societal norms, and by choosing to consciously notice these judgements, and reframing them into something positive, you will notice that you will do it less and less. 

The final and most important step for me was curating my Instagram feed, and more generally, my media intake. I’ve chosen to consciously follow as many body positive accounts as I could, starting with Megan Jayne Crabbe @bodyposipanda, and Jameela Jamil @jameelajamilofficial (Tahani on The Good Place)’s body positive platform @i_weigh. I read up on diet culture and on the way it has affected the way we all see ourselves, and I highly recommend Just Eat It by Laura Thomas PhD - primarily about nutrition and intuitive eating, she breaks down some really key concepts in an interesting and accessible way. 

Overall, if there’s one thing that I hope you take away from this article, it’s that I hope you’ll make a conscious effort today to accept and love yourself, give yourself a compliment, and appreciate yourself. 

By Hannah M