There is a body image war going on in our culture and inside of us. The vehement expectation from society that our bodies look a certain way to deserve to exist in the space we take up is loudly at odds with the equally insistent mantra that we must love our bodies as we are, or we are failing ourselves. If you’re like most women, the side you fall on may vary from day to day.
When the skin you’re in doesn’t make you feel confident, existing within societal expectations and our own ruthless judgment of our aesthetic can be an incredible burden to bear. The questions it ignites, more so. The way we consider our relationship with our body impacts everything about how we interact with the world.
For as many opinions as people may have about your body, we have just one reminder: your body is yours, and you can learn to love it for yourself.
What’s body image?
Body image is a tricky thing to pin down and define, yet its implications are inescapable. In its simplest form, body image is how we think about our bodies, the relationship we develop with its parts, and how we allow those things to influence the way we exist in the world. When we expand that, body image encompasses the thoughts we have about our body as well as our confidence, respect, and love for our bodies. The way we think about our bodies can influence the way we care for them: how we feed, move, pleasure, and rest them.
The impact of body image ripples out beyond the scope of our perception to include the way others perceive us and, sometimes more influential, the way we anticipate we will be perceived for our appearance.
The body image war rages on
The opposing arguments can be very compelling. Just as often as we hear about the concepts of body image and all the products we can buy to take care of ourselves, we are shouted at to love ourselves, just as we are. It’s a conflicting message, and the polarizing effect it has can feel quite stressful. In one breath, we hear “love yourself,” but in the very next, we’re told, “change yourself.” It’s challenging to know what about ourselves we need to accept and what parts need to change.
Is self-love the answer?
Self-love is the concept by which we care for, respect, and celebrate who we are and how we move through the world.
ur body image is an integral part of self-love, just as it can be a part of self-hatred. Self-love is cultivated by offering yourself acceptance, trust, and joy exactly where you are. It asks you to care for your body and your mind through kindness, and it demands that you put to rest any judgment you may have about the way your body looks or behaves.
When you are struggling with accepting your own perception of how your body looks, it can impact your mental health in profound ways. From cultivating insecurity to body dysmorphia, our body image directly correlates to the way we love ourselves.
Why do people care what we look like (and why do we care that they care)?
In simple brevity, people care how we look as we move through the world because it’s difficult for us to separate how someone else looks from its reflection on our own self-image. In a culture of competition and a constant need to improve, it can be difficult for others to untangle the way you present your body to the world from the way they’re meant to move through life in their own bodies.
Deciphering why we care what they think is equally simple and extraordinarily complex. We care because we want to be a part of something. We want love, respect, and acceptance from others. These desires are innate and can drive us to extreme measures like manipulating the way we eat or look to suit the role that wins us the praise we want.
Acceptance and change
Celebrating our bodies is an essential part of a whole and satisfying life experience. Does that mean you can’t want to change your body? Absolutely not. It’s perfectly okay, normal even, to strive to better your relationship with your body through caring for it in a manner that feels good to you. If you want to change your body, there is nothing wrong with that. However, before lasting change can be made in the relationship you have with your body, it’s important to make space for acceptance: the right to exist where you are, as you are, just now.
Spend time cultivating a relationship with your body that puts nurturing it at the core, ahead of body image or alteration. Consider starting a journal, writing notes to your body, and breaking down your criticism to nurture some good in even the most critical thoughts.
It’s okay if we want to change our bodies. Body positivity as a whole, and body image as an extension, are yours to own. What they mean to you and how you shape them can change the way you feel in the world, even if your body doesn’t change at all.