Body dissatisfaction is so ingrained in our culture that it can feel impossible to know where to begin in unravelling some of these beliefs.
Here are five steps to cultivate body acceptance that really work.
- Dextox your social media
We’re exposed to 1,000+ images a day. Most of those images consist of young, thin, able-bodied, ‘beautiful’ white women, airbrushed within an inch of their lives. No wonder we feel less than when we look in the mirror.
We can’t control the ads we see as we walk down the streets, but we can control our own social media feeds.
Unfollow accounts which focus on weight or looks, often under the guise of #fitspo. Traditional before and after shots are the devil! And more importantly, start following accounts which celebrate body diversity of all kinds. I follow too many to mention so my feed is gloriously full of different body shapes and sizes. Some of my Instagram favourites: @bodyimagemovement, @bodyposipanda, @nolatrees, @allwomanproject, @silvanadenker and @mynameisjessamyn.
Normalising (and celebrating) body diversity is one of the most powerful ways to start to accept your own beautifully unique body.
- Connect daily with your body
When we’re paid to use our brains, it can be easy to become talking, walking heads, disconnected from the neck down.
Take time each day to connect to your body with a mindful moment body scan. This can be done anywhere – on the bus, in the toilet cubicle, at your desk. Just close your eyes, ground your feet into the floor, and tune into your breath, breathing deeply from your stomach. Gently send your attention to different parts of your body, starting at your feet and slowly working your way up. Notice how it feels. As you become aware of any areas that feel tense, send your breath there and with each exhale, release any stress or tension.
Repeat daily and you’ll begin to reconnect and build a picture of how your body feels, and what it needs and wants.
- Move for pleasure
It’s so easy to suck the joy out of moving your body by choosing exercise that you feel you ‘should’ do rather than what lights you up. Exercise for the pure joy of it and you’ll never have to use willpower to haul your ass to the gym again.
What does your body need in this moment? Is it running, yoga, squash, dance, trampolining? Get creative with your choice of movement and tune into how your body feels before, during and after. Notice that there are some days where you might want an all–out sweat fest and others where a gentle yoga class feels right. You’ll start to trust your body’s instincts rather than man-handling it into submission for another session you hate.
- Speak kindly
Talking shit about our bodies is so ingrained in us as women that it’s become some sort of crazy bonding ritual that we’re all expected to take part in. Join the growing group of body freedom fighters and take a stand. Dare to respect your body and exit stage right when these conversations occur –and that applies to conversations with others and those in your own mind!
And take time each day to appreciate your body. Start small – if you’ve been dissing your body for years, it can feel strange to speak with kindness and a full-scale body love affirmation assault might feel disingenuous. Start by noticing and acknowledging those parts of you which you do like – for example, your eyes, wrists, or dimples. Then move onto a practice of accepting those parts that are less favourable to you. You might experiment with affirmations such as ‘I accept my belly as it is’, ‘I allow my arms to be as they are’, or ‘I release the desire to change my body’.
- Re-educate yourself
We’re fed (pardon the pun!) so many half-truths, myths and lies about our bodies, health, fitness and beauty that it can be hard to know which way is up. Do your research and get clear on some home truths – namely that diets don’t work and that there isn’t the causal link between weight and ill health that we’ve been led to believe. Some of my favourite myth-busting books include: Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon, Body Respect by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor, The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf and Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters by Courtney Martin.
Body acceptance is generally not an on/off switch.
It’s an ongoing practice and at times it can seem you’ve made massive progress only to be KO-ed with a Victoria’s Secret ambush and feel like you’re back at square one.
But you won’t be.
For once you open yourself up to this, things start to shift. You simply won’t/can’t go back to being asleep.
And my god it’s worth it.