It’s a brand new year and if you haven’t already started, it’s time to start figuring out how to love your body. I know this is prime time for headlines that tell you that this is the year you sculpt or chisel your way to your “perfect bod,” but the truth is your body is already perfect. It holds things in it like your brain and your heart, which in turn facilitate all the other processes in your being. It gets you from point A to point B and allows you to read articles like this one. Essentially, it’s the place you inhabit, your special and unique home all for you.
And yet, most of us have such complicated relationships with our bodies. You know the story by now: Magazine covers shame us into believing we shouldn’t wear bikinis unless we look like a Victoria’s Secret model, that we should never wear crop tops when we’ve got post-baby tiger stripes (or anything other than perfectly flat abs, really); We are shamed about our weight, our curves (or lack thereof), our body hair, our skin color... No part of our bodies seems to be immune from scrutiny, both from the messages about what makes a body "good and valuable" that swirl around us all the time, and from our own brains once we've been alive for enough years to internalize those messages. (The truth is, we only have to be told that we are not hot enough for a relatively short period of time before we believe it intrinsically enough to keep that message alive all by ourselves.)
If this kind of body-image brainwashing sounds like...ya know...totally unfair hell that you didn't consensually sign up for and would prefer to opt out of immediately, there are actual, tangible steps you can take. If you want to stop perpetuating all the self-loathing messages that were essentially told to you to sell night cream and bras, then a good place to start is with the basic building blocks of your inner dialogue. If you really want to start committing to having a healthier relationship with your body, here’s a list of things you absolutely shouldn't say that might help you on your quest for self-love (as told by someone who is on nothing resembling a high horse, and is always fighting the good fight to follow her own damn advice where this stuff is concerned).
Don’t Say Anything That Compares Your Body To Somebody Else’s
Comparison is surely our biggest and most frequent enemy. As a general rule, you should never compare anything about yourself to someone else, whether it be your external features such as your nose or breasts or legs, or things like your career or your ability to sing on key. You are unique and special in your own damn way. Do you know why that sounds like something you'd hear on Sesame Street? Because it's very important and true and all kids need to hear it, and frankly, so do the rest of us. Putting on a swimsuit and hitting the beach only to stare down every other person there and wonder why your belly isn’t as flat or why your arms aren’t as toned is a sure fire way to fall in a downward spiral of nonsensical thinking. No one has a “perfect” everything. Do focus on what makes you happy about yourself, then learn to love what you’re still on the fence about (because it’s also awesome as it is part of you).
...Or Anything That Is Abelist
Sometimes being mindful of the words you use about your own body isn't about being aware of the impact those words have on your perception of your own worth, but rather how those words might be upholding devaluing mindsets about people with disabilities. Ableist language (whether intentionally or not) oppresses and puts down individuals who disabilities of any kind (physical, mental, emotional, or developmental). It is hurtful language that is often used both by those with or without disabilities. Regardless of whether or not you have a disability, you should never put down your own body (or anyone else’s, really) by saying things that would fall into this category. You can see some examples of ableist slurs and words to replace such language here.
Don't Hate On Your Fat, No Matter How Much Of It You Have
Whether you’re curvy as hell or a size 0, there’s no room for using fat-phobic, body-shaming language on yourself. This is probably one of the most common forms of self-hate people commit against their bodies. Talking about needing to “lose the belly rolls” or worrying about obtaining that unicorn thigh gap is useless. Instead, focus on the beauty of your body, and keeping it healthy.
And Definitely Don’t Gender-Shame Your Body
When I was younger, some jerk in my class made me feel awful because I had what he called “hairy, man arms.” In his mind, only men were allowed to have body hair. I absorbed this shame to the point that I became phobic of all body hair and proceeded to shave my arms (and pretty much everything below my neck) and did this all throughout high school until I finally stopped caring. Women are often made to feel like they shouldn’t have muscular or hairy bodies because then they will “look like men” and men are often made to feel like they look too much “like a girl” if they don’t bulk up or if they’re hairless. To that, I say:
- Who decides what a man or woman (or gender non-binary person) looks like?
- Why should it be shameful to look like someone not of your gender (whatever that means) anyway? It’s all crap and we shouldn’t buy into it, especially when talking or thinking about our own bodies.
...That Also Goes For Race-Shaming
Following up with the last point, it’s very easy to fall prey to race shame when discussing your own body, especially when you’re a minority. I grew up idolizing the blonde, white ideal of my Barbie dolls, or of women like Alicia Silverstone and Drew Barrymore (who, I’d just like to say, seem to be wonderful women for much more than their looks). Once I got into my teen years, it got harder and harder to love my unruly black hair, dark eyes, and thick nose. I didn’t realize that I didn’t need a tiny, upturned nose to be pretty or fair skin to be beautiful. Embrace your race and your features.
Don’t Say Anything About Yourself That You Wouldn’t Say About Anyone Else’s Body
Seriously, when you’re thinking of criticizing your body, consider whether you would say that to you best friend, your mother, your brother, or your child. Would you tell your daughter that her lips were too big or her butt was too flat? Would you tell your brother that he’s 30 pounds too heavy to be attractive? OK, even if you were to say those kinds of things to others, maybe consider why you think that’s OK and re-evaluate your language. Re-evaluate how you see yourself and others. And always treat yourself and your body the way you’d treat those you love most. Chances are you’re kinder to them than you are to yourself at times.
Really, Just Don’t Make Any Negative Comments About Your Body. Period.
If there are any other criticisms you can come up with about your body that I haven’t already covered here, lump them into this group here. Why is it so hard for us to stop saying negative things about our bodies? Let’s focus on being OK with the bodies we inhabit, either through body positivity or body neutrality. If you’re able to, celebrate your body. If you’re not quite there yet, that’s cool too. The most important first step to either of these though is to work against the negative talk, the voice in the back of your head telling you you’re no good because you can’t quite bend a certain way, or because your hair is too thin for most hairstyles, or because your teeth are a little crooked, or because because because...
Again, all of this is such an ideal goal. Sure, who wouldn't love to just be able to focus on the health and functionality of our body, celebrate ourselves just as we are, and do away with all regard for socially driven aesthetic standards? It's not that easy, and I'm not trying to diminish that profound truth. Loving ourselves is a harder fight than merely deciding to do so. But these are the goals — good luck to all of us as we continue trying to meet them.