There are many ways we can use our body to reflect who we are. This includes the way we walk, the sports we play, and the useful things we do with our body to help ourselves or others (like drive a car, prepare a meal or type blogs). We also highlight our individuality by the clothes we wear, our hairstyle, or if we wish, the makeup and body art we choose. Freedom of expression is wonderful. When we are imprisoned by negativity about our body image, or if we can’t leave the house until our clothes or hair present a consistent single version of ourselves, then we have moved past freedom of expression and on to repression.
READING TIME: 5 MINUTES
The human body is wonderful, incredible and complex. We need to address two issues about the problem with talking about the way we look, even if that talk is about looking healthy.
ISSUE 1. TALKING ABOUT HEALTHY BODIES AS AN IDEAL BODY TYPE
It is not unusual to be negative about our body in a visual environment with print, television and social media. You may be surprised to know our image perceptions haven't improved even though we have started to see more information about healthy body types. Research described by Diana Betz, an academic in the United States, found that when we talk about a body ideal, be it healthy like athletic (or thin or curvy), women feel objectified –seeing themselves as objects rather than human beings. This was less likely if the messages had a general focus on body acceptance rather than body ideals.
Therefore, when we are commenting in general discussion about healthy bodies, athletic bodies or even curvy bodies (or looking at social media including before and after photos), we are still having a conversation about the way our bodies LOOK. This comparison, even though it’s focused on healthy choices, still leads to dissatisfaction and body image concerns.
Criticism has been directed at the 'media' for utilising unrealistic role models as we have learnt this impacts an individual’s positive body image. Media now extends to social media; and we should be aware that generators of content now include us and our friends. Posts about body acceptance, rather than an ideal body type (of any description) are less likely to contribute to women feeling objectified. Body acceptance includes the celebration of individual body abilities.
ISSUE 2. SPOTTING HEALTHY PEOPLE BY LOOKING AT THEM
It is a misconception that we can see the truth about a healthy lifestyle by looking at someone’s body. What you see (when you meet someone, or see a picture on social media) isn’t showing the whole health story of an individual. People can be practicing different healthy or unhealthy habits each day, and have conflicting external appearances.
Rather than focusing on what people look like, we can take time to learn more about their individual health journey and value their experience and habits. We can also take time to encourage people based on the commitment and effort those people are putting into developing a healthy lifestyle based on their actions, rather than their appearance.
THE WAY FORWARD. We can feel more appreciative of our own bodies if we acknowledge the many abilities that we have and how our bodies help us function, rather than just how we look. Our bodies help us: interact with others; manage independently; do hobbies; think and solve problems; and train to reach targets or learn new skills. Sometimes our bodies are frustrating, but there are still ways in which we can be grateful for the functions and abilities that we have.
Let's stop focusing and talking ONLY about how we look
Research by Amy Slater in the UK showed that self-compassion quotes (thoughts that remind us to be gentle on ourselves) had a positive impact on body satisfaction and mood. This research suggested that self-compassion might offer a way to minimise the negative impact of social media on women’s body satisfaction. So…..
Let’s wake up and name five awesome things our bodies did this morning or will do today, while we smile in the mirror and absorb the truth of it.
Let’s talk more about accepting the individuality that is our body and acknowledge the ways in which we express it (all of those ways which go beyond the way we look).
Let’s talk more about the healthy choices we make each day and the healthy systems we use to create great habits for long term health, rather than what we think a healthy body looks like.
Can you experience the world without looking perfect?
My Story - I have a chronic disease that is extremely fatiguing. Sometimes it’s a choice between leaving the house looking less than my version of fabulous and staying home – I choose not to stay home if I can get moving. My team have seen all different visual versions of me; and they have experienced my great work and less than inspired days – what I look like and what I achieve don’t always align. It’s an opportunity to express different parts of my individuality.
Like most people, I have photos I love and photos I hate. I look in the mirror and say ‘this is not my best day’. I still love being told that I look beautiful, but I don’t hold my breath waiting for it. I don’t avoid life moments based on how I look; and I try not to beat myself up when I fall into old habits. Whatever I do I try and remind myself that my health goal and my struggle are very different from the person standing next to me - I am focused on my actions today and this week, not on how you or I look today.
I’ve flown to London in my PJs. I’ve gone to work with horrible hair. I’ve pumped petrol in an outfit that should not have seen the light of day. I've sparkled in diamonds. I love my story. It’s fantastic. How are you writing your story?
HOW CAN THIS HELP YOU? Different people come to health with different starting points, and different challenges. We can think about our actions each day and how they are quite separate from the way that we look.
What are the actions of a healthy day for you?
What habits and systems do you need to put in place to make that day happen?
Vary your encouragement to include body abilities, and not just body ideals. Shift towards body acceptance rather than body ideals.
Set your goals based on habits, actions and body abilities.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash