By SHANNON SKAE, health and life coach at Revive with Shan
Body positivity is something we hear about a lot. It means to embrace and be happy in your body no matter your shape or size. Body positivity drives self-acceptance and a positive attitude towards our bodies.
As a movement, body positivity aims to challenge how society treats the body. It encourages acceptance of all body types, helps to build confidence in the body, and works to address unrealistic beauty and body standards. It is a movement for a reason, challenging the aforementioned is difficult in a society that places an incredible amount of pressure and expectation on all of us, but especially women.
In advertising, we see unrealistic body expectations where women are objectified, hypersexualized, and photoshopped to present an unobtainable version of beauty. Some choice phrases from advertising as an example include: “this is no shape for a girl” with a picture of a pear in the background; or a woman spreading her legs in a fashion advert with the slogan “now open”; pictures of models and the saying “love your curves”, but the women in the advert are size zero.
These are but only a few examples of how advertising promotes a damaging ideal of a woman that very few women could ever hope to be. Advertising is not the only culprit.
The health and fitness industry can also lead women down a path of obsessive behaviour, including food restriction and deprivation, use and misuse of weight loss supplements, and extreme exercise regimes that can cost exorbitant amounts of money.
The people around us can also be responsible for promoting unhealthy body and beauty standards, especially when they comment on a friend, a daughter, a sibling, a family member, or a stranger’s food choices, body shape and size, how they look while exercising, or their clothing and fashion style.
Shaming someone based on their body size – whether they are thin or are in a larger body – can be extremely harmful. People feel the need to comment on people’s size all the time, you may have heard some of the following phrases said to you before: “you’ve lost so much weight, maybe you need to eat a bit more;” “you’re so skinny, why are you such a health freak?” or “are you sure your diet is working? You haven’t really lost any weight.”
It has happened to me. Someone once said to me, “you exercise so much, but you haven’t lost any weight, surely it’s not working?” That was a very harmful and unkind thing to say to me.
Comments like this, and like the others I have listed, can lead to obsessive thoughts about your body. It can lead you to believe that you are not good enough as you are. This is where the body positivity movement can be very helpful and encourage you to embrace your body, accept yourself, and love the body you are in.
There is a flip side to this though. In placing acceptance on our bodies as they are, the body positivity movement is at risk of overlooking potentially health risks such as eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, emotional binge eating, or overeating. Yes, the idea is to love your body no matter your size, but be sure to keep an eye on your health and general wellbeing.
I believe that body positivity should be about learning to be healthy, and should place an emphasis on nourishing yourself and your body. The shape and size of your body shouldn’t matter but the emphasis should be on eating well – healthy foods and a moderation of processed food – moving well, and being mindful of how you think about yourself and your body.
I think of nourishment as the following:
- Eating organic fruit and vegetables
- Moderation of processed foods e.g. sweets, soda, chips, red meat, dairy, fast food
- Exercising moderately 5-6 times a week (with some vigorous exercise worked in)
- Meditating and doing yoga
- Seeking out a therapist or a health coach for your past traumas
- Spending time with family and friends
- Spending time with animals
- Being active and doing many outdoor things
- Minimizing time in front of the TV or social media
- Becoming aware of what objectification means and how to stop it from happening to you
- Speak out against sexism and abuse of others
- Complimenting people on their personalities and not what they look like
Loving yourself and your body becomes a biproduct of nourishment because it is easier to send positive and loving thoughts towards yourself and your body when eating and moving well.