Like most women, I have a complicated relationship with my body. While I've never suffered from an eating disorder, it took me a long time to completely remove the stigmas surrounding food from my own life. In middle school, nearly all of my conversations with friends revolved around weight-loss articles we'd been reading in Seventeen and CosmoTeen (my heart dropped recently when I discovered a journal from that time with my weight recorded every single day for months, with everything above my 'goal weight' in red—a recommendation from a women's magazine). I remember thinking, desperately, "I wish I could think about anything besides my body." And then, with self care, maturity, an interest in different magazines, and a new group of supportive friends, my wish came true. By the time I emerged from my teens, I saw my body for what it is—a healthy, working marvel that allows me to hike, run, ski, explore, and do all the things I love.
But that isn't to say there aren't moments when I fall back into old, unhealthy ways of thinking. I recently compared the feeling to my boyfriend, Jonah (who is, miraculously, a stranger to body negativity), as feeling how I'm assuming addicts do sometimes. I may be six years 'sober' from self-degrading thoughts, but I'm also aware that looking at too many #bodygoals Instagrams could send me right down that unhealthy path if I'm not careful. It feels so ingrained in me—as it is in many of my friends. (Note: In no way do I mean to trivialize substance addiction, and please excuse me if this is a far-fetched comparison.)
Thanks to the eternal wisdom of my group text with four of my best friends, I recently came across this brilliant ManRepeller article. In it, writer Amelia Diamond suggests we'd all have a better relationship with our so-called "faults" if they had more appealing names. In it, "acne" becomes "constellations" and "frizz" becomes "hair parties." It got us talking about our own "tricks" for embracing our bodies. What began as a quick text conversation turned into a real-life discussion, where we shared so many tips I began writing them down. Here are some of the 'tricks' my friends and I use when body positivity doesn't come naturally:
My freshman year of college, I joined the crew team and, thanks to weight training, intense morning practices, and unlimited ice cream in the dining hall, I immediately "hulked out" (I'm not using that term arbitrarily—more than once, my shirt literally split down the back, like the big green guy himself because of my back and arm gain). At first, I was horrified. Gaining 20+ pounds in four months was not in my game plan. But then I began to recognize how incredible it was. Even though I'd never heard of the sport before I signed up (I grew up in Reno, Nevada, not exactly the pinnacle of rowing), my body immediately adapted to it with callused palms to protect me against blisters, and brand-new muscles that could pull an 8K six days a week. When I experienced similar changes training for the L.A. Marathon, I used the same technique. As my thighs got bigger, I embraced wearing shorts so I could proudly show off the powerful thighs that can carry me 20+ miles. This also applies to non-athletic endeavors—my lower belly is eternally squishy, as if crunches are a just-for-fun endeavor. But the fat's there to protect some of my most important organs, and that's incredible! Marvel at what your body's accomplishing, instead of getting stuck at surface level (hey, even Beyoncé does it!).
It's so easy to look at and Instagram and think: She just started a juice cleanse, and I had a grilled cheese for lunch. She went to pilates twice today? Did she only pack bikinis for her trip around the world? And then the 'comparison game' starts, and you think of yourself as less-than. Instead of immediately going to the negative, think of all the positives you have that go beyond surface-level: You went out to beers with friends and laughed so hard your stomach hurt. You kicked ass at that work project! Your life is pretty darn great.
Note: This is very different than trolling the person who makes you feel bad—you can celebrate your accomplishments and celebrate how rad they look in their bikini pic. There's enough support to go around! Also, let yourself take breaks from Instagram—for all of the inspiring photos and updates from friends, it may not be so great for your mental health.
Unfortunately, we are often our own harshest critics and, as Emily about has written before, I've spoken to myself in words I would never use speaking to a friend because they would be far too mean. When you feel those unkind thoughts bubbling up, try to talk to yourself as your kindest, most supportive friend would. New research even proves that this works! A psychology professor at Northwestern University had over 1,500 women write themselves kind letters for just 10 minutes, in the voice of an imaginary friend who is "unconditionally loving, accepting, and compassionate." In every case, the women felt better about their bodies and themselves in general after the exercise.
My friend Alice Ann made a change recently in terms of accepting compliments. Instead of immediately responding to a compliment by saying something self-degrading ("You should have seen how much makeup I put on!" or "These jeans just hide my thighs well!"), she suggests, "Just say 'Thank you' and appreciate that someone is complimenting you." The simple switch allows you to fully enjoy the kind words, rather than immediately deflecting them and pointing out your flaws—which can positively impact your habits when you're alone.
This is similar to ManRepeller's tip about renaming "faults," but on a slightly sillier plane. My friend Alice renamed her belly "Doug." She texted, "When Doug gets bigger he becomes Douglas, and when he's small and cute he's Dougie." It sounds ridiculous—and it is! But that's the point. It turns the would-be judgement into a simple acknowledgment, without the negative connotations of the word "fat," similar to when Chrissy Teigan called her stretch marks "stretchies." Because at the end of the day, these flaws—cellulite, big bellies, acne, frizzy hair—are just evidence of the body's ability to change and adapt! The only reason we don't like them is because society says so, but we can choose to create our own language, which is surprisingly powerful.
P.S. Talking about bodies is a highly charged topic, and I'd love to hear your thoughts! Am I the only one who sometimes needs a 'hack' to practice body positivity? Do you have tips of your own? Do you disagree with me? Please share in the comments below (or on our Facebook group), I'd love to hear your thoughts! And share what you love most about yourself over in our Instagram Stories!
Also, if you are having significant issues and/or consuming thoughts about food or your body, consider seeing a licensed professional. A reader recommended NEDA as a resource. x