It sometimes seems like there’s no way to win in terms of body shape in the media these days. Over the last few years, we’ve seen a backlash against the “size 0” phenomenon, which of course is important, given the pressure this put on many young girls to lose weight. But we rarely consider how this negativity towards thinness might make naturally slim girls feel. We have also seen attempts to reduce stigma around a larger body size – but “plus size” models on clothing sites often wear size 12 products. On one hand, curvier celebrities are celebrated for being “fatulous”, while on the other, they are criticised for promoting an unhealthy lifestyle.
Being labelled as ‘fat’ is not nice. But neither is being called ‘skeletal’, ‘scrawny’ or ‘anorexic’.
Recently, there’s been a rise in popularity of the slogan “Strong, not skinny”. It’s often seen as a hashtag under a photo of a toned woman in gym gear, flexing her muscles in the mirror. Personally, I don’t find this any more comforting than the promotion of a size 4 figure. It still creates a label. It still promotes a certain body image, and inadvertently shames those who don’t conform to it. I’ve followed accounts on Instagram that regularly caused me to find myself sadly prodding my stomach, searching in vain for a non-existent ab. I don’t count myself as strong, or as skinny – so what does that make me? Fat? Unfit? Weak? I don’t think so. But I resent the fact that I even find myself asking that question.
We are in need of a new hashtag. Not strong, not skinny, not fat – just my body, as it is. Or something catchier than that perhaps 😛
While all of us are bound to experience body insecurities and self-doubts at some point, some are more susceptible to these thoughts than others. I struggled with body image issues for years, becoming self-conscious at the typical age of 14 and not shaking it off until my early 20s. If I’m to be perfectly honest, I haven’t fully shaken it off, and I doubt I ever will. However, I have found ways to deal with my insecurities, to manage them and not to let them influence my life in the way they used to.
I didn’t wake up one morning, follow the steps I’ve listed below and suddenly feel better. It took time, a lot of talking and some big changes in mentality. But I’ve put together some of my top tips for bad body days, that I still turn to occasionally. So when you feel a bit lumpy, a bit plumpy, when you’re worried that your thighs are chunky or that your body is a bit wonky – try these, and see if they can help 🙂
- Don’t fat-manipulate
This is a tip I got at a body image workshop I attended in college. Too often, we look at ourselves in the mirror and instead of appreciating what we see, we pull and we push and we try to picture what we would look like if we just didn’t have that roll here or if that double chin was just gone.. Don’t do it! It’s not helpful, and it’s not realistic. If you’re going to give yourself a once over in the mirror in the morning, make yourself think something positive about your body – even if you don’t fully believe it. The more often you tell yourself these things, the easier it will become to accept them as true.
- Think of someone you admire
Got someone in mind? Now, think of the reason why you admire them. Think of three reasons. Are any of them because of their body shape or their weight? Appearances are not what makes us admire people. It is not what makes people admire you. So why bother putting so much value on it?
- Do some exercise that you enjoy
One of the things that helped me to regain a love for my body was dancing. It made me appreciate what my body could do, and the fact that it looked good doing it. Plus, any form of exercise is good if you are feeling a bit low or stressed out. I’m not advocating that you go and push yourself in the gym because you feel guilty and you want to burn calories. Exercise for the joy of it. Go for a swim, or a jog outside somewhere that you like, or dance, or do some yoga. And appreciate that your body can do this for you!
- Wear something that you feel confident in
As with exercise, it’s important to take a healthy approach to this. If I’m having a bit of a wobbly day, I’m not going to reach for the tight high-waisted skirt that I know I’ll spend the whole day feeling uncomfortable in. I choose my favourite t-shirt or a pair of jeans that I know suit me, and put on some earrings that I love. The more confident we feel and the more often we feel it, the more it will become a regular state of mind.
- Make a wholesome, delicious meal
The idea of ’emotional eating’ may be a cliched one, but it’s a very real one nonetheless. Some days after work or college, we feel tired and sorry for ourselves and just want to eat something greasy or chocolatey – and of course, that’s ok, in moderation. But if you’re feeling a bit conscious about yourself, it probably isn’t going to help. It’s worth it on these days to take the time to cook up something tasty. Fill your meal with your favourite ingredients (loads of veg!), and make it as light or as heavy as you want – as long as it’s something you enjoy and will feel good after eating.
Above all else, tell yourself regularly that you are fabulous.
Or ab-ulous, if you happen to have them.
Whichever one you want, because they are all equally as good and equally as acceptable. And remember;