Wednesday Wisdom: Navigating Self-Image & Body Positivity

I have a slight addiction to buying bras, and Victoria’s Secret is my dealer. But I often find that my shopping high wears off as the cashier rings me up, and my eyes wander to the 10-foot-tall photos of airbrushed Victoria’s Secret models’ perfection. It’s hard to feel good about a newly purchased bra when someone wearing it better is staring back at you.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve hated my own body and have been uncomfortable in my own skin. My body issues have made me envious of friends and strangers on the street, prevented me from going to the pool or the beach and ruined my good moods far too often; I’m sure there are numerous girls who can relate to these negative feelings. But what is it that causes us to hate our bodies?

Who decided that all women should look exactly one way and that any deviation from the ideal is considered not only unwanted but also shameful and even disgusting? It is important to realize that cultural ideas of the truly indefinable “beauty” have been changing for centuries. All of society’s so-called “norms” are formed on a rocky foundation of shifting times. The default “beautiful” woman and the body types that are desirable are insignificant and inconstant.

Without getting too far into all the feminist issues that arise from the societal pressure for women to alter their bodies for the sole purpose of being sexually appealing to men, let’s focus on the most bare-boned issue with body shame: seeking the approval of others rather than the love of oneself. Women often view themselves from the perspective of others. “Does this make me look fat/slutty/etc.?” instead of “Does this make me feel pretty/confident/comfortable?” We need to stop catering to the impositions set by men, society and especially other women, and learn to support, respect and uplift one another without forgetting about ourselves.

No matter what you were taught, it is not vain or shallow to love yourself, to call yourself beautiful and to be self-confident. “Yes, of course,” you’re thinking, “I recognize the messed-up beauty standards and disproportionate emphasis on appearance in our culture, and I want to love my body. But how?” An excellent question — albeit difficult to answer — and one I am still trying to figure out myself. Self-love is one of the hardest personal challenges I’ve faced in my life, and although I’m no expert, I can offer some advice that has made me more likely to smile at my own reflection.

My dearest friend gave helpful advice somewhere along the lines of “fake it ‘til you make it.” When you wake up in the morning and you’re having a “good self day” as I call them — that is, a day you’re feeling confident, attractive and happy — focus on how you feel in that moment and carry it with you throughout the day. When you pass another girl who you feel is more attractive, skinnier etc., think of how you felt when you woke up. On your more negative days, look in the mirror and shower your reflection with positivity and love — even if the words feel forced and untrue in your own mind. The more often you do it, the more concrete your self-praise will become. Compliments should not be reserved for just yourself but for showering praises on fellow girls who probably have the same insecurities you do.

If all else fails, listen to fantastic girl power music. Playlist-sharing websites are awesome for pre-made mixes of music guaranteed to make you jump around your room in a girl power frenzy. Beyoncé, Amy Winehouse, Fifth Harmony, The Runaways; I promise there is someone out there who understands what it feels like to be a woman running a little low on self-confidence. If you haven’t heard BO$$ by Fifth Harmony it is the perfect song for what I’m talking about.

Make a conscious effort every day to be kind to yourself, your body and the other bodies around you no matter how hard it may seem, and I promise that positivity will begin to reflect in your thoughts. Body positivity is a long and complicated process that can only begin with your firm and invested decision to love yourself. But to love yourself, you have to love other girls of all shapes, sizes, races and backgrounds and stop putting each other down. Girls should be creating safe spaces for positivity and support, but instead, we perpetuate low self-worth by putting down others to raise our own self-esteem. This disunity and negativity only serves to hurt all types of girls. Plenty of forces in the world are looking to hurt girls. The least we can do is stick together.

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