As people asked questions about how to help their friends who have body image and food issues I kept thinking of the flight attendants and their pre-flight safety speech – “put on your oxygen mask before you help your travel companion with theirs”. Because if you can’t breathe, you’re not in a position to help anyone else.
I think it’s the same with self-esteem and body image issues, and that the top two things you can do are:
Realize what’s happening
I think that the way to combat the subconscious programming that happens when hundreds of thousands of images are coming at us all the time is with intentional consciousness. For me it was about becoming very clear that this standard of beauty is completely arbitrary and that the people who are pushing it are generally using it to make me feel bad about myself as a way to convince me to buy their product. I think it was my brilliant friend CJ Legare who I first heard put it this way: They are trying to take our self-esteem from us and sell it back at a profit. Just say know. (Did you see what I did there, with the pun? That’s what happens when I blog at 3:30 in the morning.)
End Fat Talk Starting with Your Own Mouth
Just stop. Stop engaging in body snarking of any kind – whether it’s overt (“she’s way too thin, she needs to eat a sandwich”, “at that weight she’s obviously not healthy”) or subtle and said as if it’s a compliment (“She has the perfect body. We hate her…”, “you lost weight- you look so good…”) Don’t put someone else down to make you feel better: Even if they’ll never know, it still ends up affecting you negatively in the end and besides, you are better than that. Whether you are a thin person who wants to create a body positive world, or a fat person who wants to live by the golden body rule, and not by the rule that the road to self-esteem is paved with blatant hypocrisy or somewhere in between, may I suggest that talking badly about someone else’s body is just never the way to go.
While you are at it, notice how you choose to deal with your own body. It’s always your choice. One of my favorite quotes (copied in its entirety below) says “as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same”. When we reject a culture of self-hate and talk about how we love our bodies, we let people know that loving their bodies is an option. On the other side of the coin, every time we choose to talk out loud about how we hate this or that about our bodies (“I love my body, I just don’t like my…”), we add to the cacophony of body hate that already exists and we model body hate to other people, especially any young people who are listening. In talks that I give I’ve spoken to middle school girls who have told me that they’ve never, in their lives, met an adult woman who wasn’t trying to lose weight, and that terrifies me for their prospects of ever loving their bodies. We can do better for ourselves and our kids. If you’re struggling with how to say nice things about your body, try this!
There is one way that our metaphor of the flight mask breaks down: On a flight you really can help someone put on their mask. When it comes to body positivity it’s not so simple – we can give the option, and then people will make a choice for themselves. If you chose body positivity, then you show everyone around you that Body Positivity is an option that they can chose. If you put your own mask on first, then the person beside you may just decide to put on theirs or they might not. That’ s not your choice to make. What’s important is that either way, you’re breathing.
Here’s that quote:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. –Marianne Williamson