The body positivity movement seems like a good idea. But what if you don’t like aspects of your body? Does society telling you that you’re good enough the way you are right now actually help you learn to love yourself?
I’d say no. It’s just a sentimental band-aid put on a gaping wound. It doesn’t address the root cause of your dissatisfaction. It only dismisses the legitimacy of your dissatisfaction by telling you that you shouldn’t be dissatisfied. If you want real body positivity, you have to learn to love your body — and that requires work, giving yourself the freedom to change, and even hacking your brain.
Hacking Your Brain
How does hacking your brain play into honest-to-goodness body positivity? Hear me out:
How many times a day do you look in the mirror and think “yuck” about some aspect of your appearance? Every time you go into a bathroom? Every time you pass the mirror in the hallway? It adds up. And because our brains are use-dependent, every time we give ourselves the same negative feedback, we’re reinforcing that idea and strengthening the wiring in our brain for that thought and the consequent feelings. We’re basically creating a self-impairing vicious cycle about ourselves.
Because our brains are use-dependent, every time we give ourselves the same negative feedback, we’re reinforcing that idea and strengthening the wiring in our brain.
To learn to love our bodies we need to consistently have more genuine, positive thoughts and feelings about ourselves than negative ones, which will rewire our brain and the consequent emotions. But how do we react with genuine, positive feedback when we look in the mirror? Well, we have to change what we don’t like, so when we do inspect and analyze ourselves (which we always do), we’ll approve of what we see. And instead of thinking “Ugh, I hate my hair,” we’ll tell ourselves, “Damn, girl, you look good!”
Putting in the Work
This is where the work and giving ourselves the freedom to change come in. If there’s something about your body you don’t like — do something about it. For years, I hated my pimple-ridden skin and my limp hair. I hated the way I dressed. I hated my hips. But as I got older (read, approached 30), I learned ways to overcome my negative feelings about these aspects of my body, and I’ll share these tips with you.
Before we get into what we can control, I want to address what we can’t control. There are aspects of our bodies that are genetic that we can’t do much or anything about, like allergies, height, or bone structure. I’ll always have a “sturdy foundation” and hips that are “good for bearing children.” (Mulan’s matchmaker would have approved of my hips.) These parts of my body I have to accept as they are — as reality and as who I am.
Ok, back to what we can control. Here are my tips on what to do if...
If You Don’t Love Your Hair:
Find a haircut that flatters your face shape and that you feel pretty in. Research pictures online and talk to your hairdresser. You might have to do some self-accepting here — I’ve had to accept that I’ll never have gorgeous, wavy, thick, mermaid hair; it’s just not in my genes. But I did find a haircut that’s long enough to play with, short enough to not weigh down my fine hair, and that’s easy enough for me to style on a daily basis. Look for that sweet spot for yourself.
Use products that address the issues you have with your hair. Ask your hairstylist for recommendations. And then get into the habit of using those products every day. It will be worth the extra time and money.
Get highlights to add the illusion of thickness to thinner or finer hair.
Dye your hair another color. The excitement of a successful adventure will spark lots of positive feedback.
If You Don’t Love Your Skin:
Learn about your skin and the basics of skincare.
Find skincare and makeup products that are suitable for your skin conditions (dry v. oily, acne, etc.). My relationship with my skin changed dramatically for the better when I found skincare and makeup that were made specifically for oily skin. My skin quality went up and my breakout frequency went down, which means my self-esteem also went up!
Establish and maintain a skincare routine. Be consistent and be patient! Your skin will adjust to the products you use regularly, but it can take weeks, or even months, to see results. Respect the adjustment period.
Go to the dermatologist, especially if you need to address skin issues like acne, rosacea, or psoriasis.
Consider if your breakouts could be food-related. I’m lactose intolerant, so for me, eating dairy is a surefire way to cause a breakout.
If you’re not confident about applying or wearing makeup, then I’d recommend learning more about how to apply different products and looks. YouTube is a great resource for this! Find what you feel confident wearing and what makes you like what you see in the mirror.
Wear makeup on a daily basis. Most of my self-criticism about my skin greatly decreased when I started wearing makeup every day. I liked what I saw in the mirror, plus it prevented me from touching my face or picking at it during the day, which in turned helped reduce breakouts.
If You Don’t Love Your Style:
Figure out your style category. What are you comfortable wearing? How can you up your game in that category? For example, I’m a jeans and T-shirt girl, but as I’ve gotten older I've wanted to look more like a put-together adult and less like a middle-schooler. So I’ve tried to compromise by finding classy but comfortable tops that I can wear with nice jeans on a daily basis.
Use Instagram or Pinterest as a template. Analyze what people wear whose style you admire. You can copy their outfits with cheaper renditions, or just follow their method of constructing an outfit.
Take a style class.
Use a fashion subscription box like StitchFix.
If you find an item you love that flatters you, buy multiples in different colors/patterns.
Buy the color-coordinated workout outfit. I know it’s weird, but feeling pretty even when I’m getting sweaty and dirty is helpful.
If You Don’t Love Your Body’s Shape:
This is not always a popular or fun option, but exercise! I personally was not thrilled to start exercising regularly. I figured if I can still fit into my jeans from college then what’s the point? But pushing my body physically has increased my emotional resilience in the face of life’s difficulties. And knowing that I have strength, fitness, and flexibility gives me pride and confidence in my body.
Make good food choices. Eat well so your body feels good.
Even if you’re not losing the weight you want to lose or you can’t change your DNA for big hips, knowing that you’re strong, toned, and healthy goes a long way towards loving how you look and feel.
Remember, the point of these changes is to help you to be able to respond with genuine self-approval when you’re presented with the opportunities to give yourself feedback throughout the day (i.e. every time you look in the mirror). Over time, that growing bank account of positive feedback literally changes the wiring in your brain and the way you perceive and feel about yourself overall. So it’s worth the extra time, effort, and money to do the work — consider it an investment in yourself that will have a life-long, life-changing payout.
Other People’s Feedback Makes a Difference Too
Part of our self-image comes from the feedback of other people. This is wired into us from birth — we can’t avoid it. Attachment theory explains it this way: If, when we were infants, our parents/caregivers lovingly addressed our needs when we were distressed, that told our brains that we were of value and worth taking care of, and that other people could be trusted to help us meet our needs.
Part of our self-image comes from the feedback of other people. This is wired into us from birth — we can’t avoid it.
As we grow, we’re constantly receiving feedback from others about our appearance, behaviors, and words that either build us up or hurt us. Think about how receiving a sincere, unsolicited compliment can change the emotional direction of your day — you feel affirmed, happy, uplifted. This is a natural reaction.
Part of my ability to love my body has come from being married for eight years to a good man who has always thought I’m beautiful and who lets me know in a variety of ways – even when I don’t believe I’m beautiful. His consistent, genuine praise and compliments have slowly chipped away at the negativity and insecurities with which I have been weighing myself down.
His affirmation of my beauty helps me to believe that I am beautiful. His admiration of my hips helped me to accept them as an asset to my figure, not a detriment. You have to allow yourself to let go of your insecurities and to receive (and believe!) the affirmations being given to you. It’s another (natural) way to heal and to learn to love your body.
Learning to love our bodies is possible. We can retrain our brain by being prepared to give ourselves sincere approval in those moments when we look in the mirror and micro-analyze our skin, hair, and shape. We can accept and believe the honest affirmation we receive from others. I invite you to take action and join me in the real body positivity movement.