This blog post is for men and women, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, husbands and wives, lovers and friends (cue R&B throwback). I find a universal issue with writing body image and wellness content for one gender over another. We can all benefit from loving and accepting ourselves, while taking care of the bodies we have in a healthy, balanced manner.
Earlier today, I saw the following advertisement online:
The large font that reads, “Surprise Him with a New Body” really struck a chord with me. It is sad that many people will be exposed to this ad, and many will not see a problem with it. I do.
“Surprise him with a new body.” You know, because your current body is not good enough. You are not attractive enough. Not worthy of intimacy, even. This message is disgraceful, and it is not one that promotes health. It is one that promotes shame, guilt, anxiety, and poor self esteem, not to mention patriarchy and objectifies women. It also perpetuates the problem of people wanting instant gratification. You know, because who wants to work out for 8 minutes, when you can get a “new body” in 7 minutes?
Health is obviously important for all of us. Health as in mind, body, and spirit – not just physical health. Moreover, an individual’s outward appearance is not always an indicator of health. There are many people who may physically look healthy on the exterior, but suffer from a host of ailments and health complications internally.
It does not serve us to compare our bodies to the outward appearance of other bodies. This does not lead us toward better health; in fact, it is counterproductive.
So what, then, does healthy look like? Great question, and one I will allow you to reflect on. Because the fact is, most people aren’t that concerned with health or being on a healthy path. Instead, they are concerned with looking good (whatever that means). They are concerned with weight loss. They are concerned with looking fit, not necessarily being fit. They are concerned with being physically attractive for others. They are concerned with how others view them and how they stack up against their “competition.” They are concerned with vanity and ego.
We should instead be focused on health and happiness. It is that simple. When we focus on true health and happiness, everything else falls into place.
Next, I would like to share some facts:
1. “In one study of college students, 74.4% of the normal-weight women stated that they thought about their weight or appearance “all the time” or “frequently.” But the women weren’t alone; the study also found that 46% of the normal-weight men surveyed responded the same way.” -Brown University
2. “80% of 10-year-old girls have dieted. 90% of high school junior and senior women diet regularly. Young girls are more afraid of becoming fat than they are of nuclear war, cancer, or losing their parents.” -The Council on Size and Weight Discrimination
3. “Only 2% of women think they are beautiful.” -The Girl Scout Research Institute
4. “More than four in five men (80.7%) talk in ways that promote anxiety about their body image by referring to perceived flaws and imperfections, compared with 75% of women. Similarly, 38% of men would sacrifice at least a year of their life in exchange for a perfect body – again, a higher proportion than women.” “63% [of men] thought their arms or chests were not muscular enough.” -The Guardian
5. “Figures collated by the Eating Disorders Association of South Australia conclude that: anorexia is the third most common disease in Australian females aged 15 – 24 years and morality rates after 20 years are between 15 – 20 percent; the incidence of bulimia within the same age group is five in every 100; at least two studies have indicated that only about one tenth of bulimia cases are detected; and women who diet frequently (more than five times) are 75 per cent more likely to experience depression.” -Psychology.org
6. “A new study of a national sample of adolescent boys, published in the January issue of JAMA Pediatrics, reveals that nearly 18 percent of boys are highly concerned about their weight and physique. They are also at increased risk for a variety of negative outcomes: Boys in the study who were extremely concerned about weight were more likely to be depressed, and more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors such as binge drinking and drug use… Of the boys who were highly concerned with their weight, about half were worried only about gaining more muscle, and approximately a third were concerned with both thinness and muscularity simultaneously.” -The Atlantic
7. “8 out of 10 women are not happy with what they see in the mirror.” -Social Issues Research Centre
8. “85% of the world’s population are affected by low self esteem.” -The Self Esteem Book, by Dr Joe Rubino
What can we do to love and accept ourselves and in turn, love and accept others?
We need to be body positive, compassionate, patient, and kind to ourselves and to others. Think of how much your body has changed in your lifetime through the different phases and circumstances of your life: stress level, career, lifestyle choices, relationships, family, etc. It is important to remember how much our bodies will continue to change as we age. My point is, we cannot be so fixated on vanity. Doing that will set us up for long-standing misery. Instead, we should be inspired to be healthy and happy. Say it out loud: “I am healthy and happy.”
Here are some suggestions to achieve health and happiness:
1. Exercise and bring daily activity to your routine for health and happiness, not for aesthetics. Exercise is NOT the enemy. People who are body positive recognize that exercise is done for health. Individuals should not fixate on the aesthetic results. Exercise helps your brain, heart, muscles, and bones. It helps your mental health and reduces stress. It helps your whole body, mind, and spirit. Find physical activities you enjoy doing and have fun doing them. Exercise is essential for health and vitality. And if you are a goals-oriented person, consider performance-based goals over appearance-based goals.
2. Tell yourself kind things, and be mindful of your thoughts. It also helps to make a list of at least 20 things you love about yourself (not relating to your weight or your body’s appearance). Keep this list where you will see it daily.
3. Look in the mirror and compliment yourself daily. Also state positive affirmations about your character, your intelligence, your talents, and your personality.
4. Support healthy media choices (books, films, magazines, videos, podcasts, etc). Don’t expose yourself to media that makes you feel inadequate or bad about yourself. Go through your current media choices and take notice of how the content makes you feel. Ask yourself, “How is this serving me? Does this make me feel good/happy? Is this benefiting me?” You can make adjustments or opt out of certain subscriptions from there.
5. Be a role model for others. It is up to us to set examples for children, family, peers, and even strangers. Everyday we have the opportunity to change perceptions for the better, so let’s be shining examples. Let’s use language that is respectful and inclusive. Let’s challenge what defines health. And most of all, let’s make great efforts toward loving and accepting ourselves.
6. Eat real food and let go of the craziness. Fad diets, restriction, and extremism are not sustainable and lead to patterns of yo-yoing, guilt, anxiety, binging, and health complications. Fill your body with nourishment in the form of real, whole foods. Don’t be hard on yourself. We are not meant to be ‘perfect’. We are meant to be free. Create beautiful, delicious recipes and enjoy them.
7. Surround yourself with positive people. If you witness your peers body shaming you, themselves, or others, kindly correct them and educate them. Formulate a response that is both wise and compassionate, not defensive. You can pepper in some humor too!
For me, I try to remember that our bodies are the homes of our souls. Your body is the home of your soul. My body is the home of my soul. We are very blessed to have our bodies, which is why self love, health, and happiness are essential. We need to reframe the way we think about appearance and our motivations for our diet and lifestyle choices. We need to be thankful, stop worrying about what everyone else thinks of us, and make a conscious choice to treat ourselves well.
I will conclude with this fantastic minute-long video clip regarding self acceptance. It’s a must see! Love Your Tree