There are several body image myths that seem to be relentless. So let’s set the record straight. Here are three body image myths – debunked!
1. A positive body image means feeling rosy about your body all the time.
I used to think that I was a no-good body image blogger if my body image wasn’t at its positivity peak every day. I felt terrible that I still had bouts of self-doubt and insecurity. I felt like a fake, who was doling out body-positive platitudes while I grumbled about my own body.
When I first started Weightless, body image blogger Leslie Goldman told me something similar about body image struggles:
I think that many women think that when another woman makes a career out of talking or writing about eating disorders and body image, that it’s a sign that she is totally over any food-relates issues from her past and no longer struggles with it. For a while, I, too, felt like I had to portray this image: That I’m always totally thrilled with how I look and will just eat whatever I want and can go a week without working out and not get anxious. But the truth is, I DO still have my struggles. I still look in the mirror and curse my cellulite. I still have days where I think, “Ugh, I totally gorged at dinner last night. I’m gonna tack on an extra 10 minutes at the gym today.” I still do ask my husband if my butt looks big in these jeans. I think these thoughts just mean I’m human. The difference is, my life is no longer ruled by them. Whereas my freshman year of college, I refused to touch a drop of fat, I now eat cake and peanut butter multiple times a week. I sometimes slack off a bit at the gym or skip it entirely when I’m tired. And I recognize now that feeling fat has nothing to do with food and everything to do with some sort of stressor in my life that’s driving me to obsess about weight as an easy, go-to coping mechanism.
And it makes sense for us to go through body image ups and downs. Body image is a process. And just like we have down days when we’re upset, anxious or frustrated with life, we have down days about our bodies – or we don’t take care of ourselves as well as we’d like to.
Setbacks happen, and that’s OK. The key is to learn from them. Setbacks tell us what we still need to work on, how to adjust.
We just have to listen. Here’s what I suggested in an older post for handling body image setbacks:
- Look at other inspiring blogs. For instance, just yesterday, looking at Sally’s post with photos of other bloggers was a huge help! These women are all different shapes and sizes, and each and every one of them looks stunning. Each woman looks proud in her skin. And that’s inspiring! Here are other inspiring posts you can check out: here, here and here.
- Keep taking good care of myself. No matter how mad I might get at my hips, I try to continue taking good care of myself by working out, eating well and doing things I love. Like yesterday I went to the gym with my mom like we always do, and I tried to think positively – meaning, I wasn’t exercising to shave off inches from my hips; I was exercising because it makes me feel better about life. It makes me feel stronger and gives me clarity. And fuels my confidence.
- Check in with myself. I need to figure out why my positive self-image is slipping, and see what my body really needs. Like I mentioned above, it’s probably sleep and eating a more balanced diet (not to lose weight but to feel better). And I’m also excited about my trip to NYC, but I’ve had tons to do, so that could be a contributor. Basically, you want to examine your habits and delve into why your negative body image is coming back. This way, you turn a setback into a learning opportunity.
- Remember my body is a brilliant and beautiful machine. Our bodies help us do so many incredible things that seem simple but are far from. But when I’m bashing my hips, that’s the last thing I’m thinking about. So I have to remind myself, and I re-read my post on the 50 amazing things my body helps me do.
- Refuse to restrict or overdo it. My first instinct when I realized that my hips had expanded was to eat less dessert or smaller portions and to exercise ASAP (umm, sounds a lot like the diet mentality, doesn’t it?). But this kind of thinking is a slippery slope, leading to unhealthy habits and a damaging mindset.
- Remind myself that I’m more. I’m more than my hips. Sounds simple enough, but it’s another important reminder. When you’re so focused on how terrible you look and feel, this is the last thing you’re thinking of. All you can think of is “Ahh, big hips! Gross! How can I fix this?” When you’re consumed with body hatred, it’s really hard to get out from what can feel like a landfill of heavy body-bashing rubble. Instead I try to focus on me and my other much more interesting qualities. And I remember that it’s much more valuable to work on those.
2. A positive body image means you’re also impervious to societal and media messages.
Society and the media are powerful forces. For instance, while I laugh and snarl at weight-loss and cereal commercials (the worst offender is Kellogg’s Special K cereal; if I’m craving chocolate, no, an artificially chocolate-flavored cereal won’t do the trick; also note to advertisers, eating two bowls of that stuff plus a “balanced dinner” is the epitome of damaged health, thanks) and women’s magazines, I’m not immune to the overarching ideal of thinness.
There are times I worry about gaining weight and fitting into my clothes and wonder whether my hips have widened or my belly ballooned (you guys know about my belly issues). I’m not immune to body envy, making comparisons and wanting to look like so-and-so in that bikini.
In those moments where I can feel the media or societal pull, I just remind myself about the billion-dollar diet industry and how miserable I was chasing wildly after a senseless standard (and I laugh some more about the ridiculousness of magazines – even supposedly health-focused ones). A standard that I don’t naturally or healthfully fit.
The important part is to recognize how societal standards and images affect us and work toward being a critical consumer – and accepting our bodies just as they are.
3. A deeply entrenched negative body image won’t budge.
When you’re enveloped in body hatred, it seems impossible – almost laughable – that you’ll get to a place of peace and happiness with your body.
Plus, so many people think that it’s normal to hate your shape, size or weight, anyway. They’ve resigned themselves to the fact that they’ll just think poorly of their bodies the rest of their lives. It is what it is.
But here’s what body image expert Sarah Maria told me in an interview:
Yes, many people, probably most people, say that disliking your body is a normal part of being a woman. If by “normal” they mean that the majority of women, 80-90%, dislike their bodies, then yes, it is “normal.” The vast majority of women in this culture at this time do dislike their bodies.
But to think that this is normal as in natural, as in necessary, as in a normal function of being alive, is ridiculous. This belief is part of the problem. Since it is so ubiquitous, many women have come to accept that it is just part of being a woman. This is ludicrous! It is settling for what happens to be the situation for many, instead of envisioning the possibilities that are available for all. It is accepting mediocrity instead of creating grandeur. It is maintaining the status quo instead of envisioning the truth.
Building a positive body image starts with a commitment to change your perspective, to start the process. And you don’t have to begin big, either. You can take small steps toward making your body image a more positive one. (Some advice here and here.)
P.S., Don’t forget about this month’s Self-Discovery, Word by Word series. Val from Balancing Val is hosting, and the word is “beauty.” Here’s more on how to participate.
What other body image myths do you see perpetuated?