When I sat down to write this, I thought “This is easy, I know exactly what it means”. As I tried to begin though, I realised just how complex and varied our definitions of BoPo could be.
At the moment, “Body positivity” is trending; it’s become part of common parlance, there are hash tags all over the place and people are clamouring to show just how body positive they are. That’s not what it’s about, because that’s transient, superficial, and merely a concept to describe a sweeping trend that is essentially a backlash against how openly critical we’ve become of each others’ physical appearance.
So, I looked at the question again, and thought about what it means to me; it’s part of a compassionate, intelligent, truly human, value system; one that sees there is beauty, vitality, efficacy and power in everyone. Yes, I know how hippy-ish, snowflakey & sickeningly trite that sounds, but I don’t use any of those words lightly.
My thoughts on this come from bitter experience as well as years of academic study; I come to this issue both from a very personal as well as a scientific perspective. So, my definition of “Body positivity” encompasses all the stages of my own journey, how it’s become part of my core values, the lessons I’ve learned, as well as my thoughts, behaviour and actions surrounding it.
Achieving BoPo is a two-stage process….
I think of the body positivity in my own life as having been a two-stage process in its development. When you start from a standpoint of self-hatred and self-disgust (as I did), just being neutral about your body is hard enough.
The first stage, for me, is about feeling comfortable in your own skin, just the way you are. I tried to stop avoiding mirrors, I decided to look honestly at my shape and try to understand what clothes would suit me best, and I worked hard not to compare myself to my friends as I used to.
I battled against the thoughts that had plagued me whenever I was out anywhere. In the past, I would assume that anyone who saw me was thinking; “Oh my God, she’s so fat, she’s gross”, that I had no right to wear a swimming costume, that if I was at a party people would look at me and think/say, “How can she be smiling when she looks like that, who does she think she is?!” and certainly no one would want to see a fat girl dancing.
I challenged these thoughts over time, but the gist of it was to keep telling myself that most people are so wrapped up in their own hang-ups, or busy thinking about other things that they probably weren’t actually giving me a second thought.
I also had to wrestle with my long-held belief that I’d be happier if I just lost some weight. It’s partly true, but it would never solve all my problems in the way I’d always wanted it to.
A lot of my body issues started before I actually put on weight, so I understand that their roots are psychologically deeper than the layer of fat on my body. I knew that as I was, even if I could wave a magic wand and be slimmer, I would probably still see a fat girl when I looked in the mirror.
Also, the ideal I was aspiring to was physically not possible; I have strong bones, broad shoulders and hips, and short, muscular legs (from horse-riding and dancing when I was younger). Basically, I ain’t never gonna be no size 2!!
I can’t remember a single moment of epiphany, but somewhere along the line I realised I needed to reset my ideas about what women were actually supposed to look like in the real world, what it meant to be a “Normal” size, but also see the reality of my actual body in the mirror (not the body I believed I was seeing).
Stage one was, overall, about getting to the point of acceptance; I am what I am, and fat or thin, I’ll still be the same person.
And from that foundation…..
The second stage is where the real positivity comes in; celebrating the body I have, and being grateful for everything it’s done for me. It’s a struggle to keep this mindset, and it may always be, but I’m thankful to have got further than I ever imagined.
Even if I lose weight, I can’t change my bone structure or my body type; I come from the stocky side of the family. That said, my stocky build has been a plus because I’ve never broken a bone, I’m unlikely to get blown away in a high wind, I’m quite good at helping push cars uphill, I’m a specialist in sitting on suitcases to get them done up, and I’m naturally a decent swimmer.
So I started to embrace who I am more. I also wanted to demonstrate how thankful I am to my body for surviving everything I’ve put it through over the years.
I thank my lucky stars every day that my liver was so strong that it withstood the overdose of painkillers I took at 17. I nearly succeeded in self-destruction that day, and even my will to live had gone; I really didn’t want to go on.
The doctors told my parents on my third day in hospital that if I didn’t improve in the next few hours, I was looking at liver failure – amazingly though, my liver’s regenerative powers kicked in and saved my life, with no lasting damage. I still marvel at that sentence now, nearly 20 years later.
I’ll always carry a great deal of guilt for my overdose, but I have decided to channel it in other directions so I don’t use it as a weapon to further beat myself up.
Tune in to yourself….
I now try to listen to what my body’s telling me more often; cutting back on the caffeine when I got bad headaches from too much, giving up smoking, getting enough sleep (although that one’s often tricky!!), taking fewer medicines and trying more natural remedies, and even coming off The Pill.
There were a multitude of little things I did to try to feel more in sync with my body, but I still felt I owed a debt to the universe, life, God, whatever you believe in – so I put myself on the register as a bone marrow donor and also became a blood donor.
Every 16 weeks or so, I can give nearly a pint of blood and my incredible body will replace it; more importantly, that blood could save a life. I still find it miraculous and wonderful, even though I’ve been doing it for a couple of years now.
It doesn’t make up for all the mistakes I’ve made or ways I’ve abused my body, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Still a weighty issue….
As far as my weight goes, it’s no lower than it was before I made many of these steps forward. To be honest, I actually don’t know what it is at the moment, I’ve stayed away from the scales on purpose.
I have some idea of where it might be roughly, because I know which of my clothes fit me, but I’m not going to obsess over every pound anymore. I’ve spent 2/3 of my life attempting to tackle my weight head-on and failed every time, and that’s because food isn’t really the problem.
I’ve pretty well kicked my binge-eating habit now, although there are times when it rears its head again, but I have other ways to try and deal with my triggers now. To some people reading this, it’ll sound like an excuse; but my weight will improve in time when other pieces of my puzzle have fallen into place.
There’s a lot of psychological baggage that needs dealing with in order for me to stop using food as an emotional crutch, but also I’ve had to battle clinical depression and anxiety, so there’s still a lot of day-to-day work to do as well as long-term changes to implement. It doesn’t mean I’ll never make a conscious effort to lose weight, but I don’t want it to be the be-all-and-end-all ever again.
I’ve changed the focus; it’s not that I want to be thin, or want to be someone else anymore, I want to feel happy with the life I have.
There’s always a positive side….
I hope even the most pessimistic person reading this can find something comforting in what I’ve said. If you’re one of those people (and I know you, because I was one too), at the very least you could look at this from the worst-case-scenario standpoint.
The human body is the most complex set of biological systems on the planet; we still don’t know how most of it works, we don’t understand why some of it doesn’t work, and we don’t even know how much of the knowledge we have now will be disproved further down the track. Basically, it’s an absolute effing miracle that your body works as well as it does.
The mind boggles when you try to think about all the millions of individual and interconnecting processes taking place in your body right now to keep you alive, conscious and thinking. Plus, it took incredible odds for you to be here at all; from all the eggs your mother produced and all the sperm your father produced only one single combination produced you, there were many things that could have gone wrong at any stage of pregnancy, during birth, or even when you were a helpless baby.
You have escaped every possible disaster and beaten all the odds to be here. So, even if you take away everything else about who you are, you are still an amazing, unique, wondrous creation.
BoPo is not a fixed entity…..
For me, body positivity doesn’t just encompass who I am now, it represents the rollercoaster of a journey I’ve been on (and am still travelling). It’s proved to be a fluid, sometimes elusive animal; so many times in my life I’ve believed that I’ve achieved a body positive attitude, only for something to come along and prove that it was only just beginning to shift in the right direction.
I look back on the “Me” in my twenties, and I so desperately wanted to accept the way I looked that I convinced myself it was the same as actually accepting it. I still wasn’t strong enough to turn around to someone who was criticising me and say “I don’t care what you think, I’m happy the way I am” – I’m still not, sometimes; but I accept that.
Nothing in life is permanent….
I also have come to see that my body can and will change over time, whether I want it to or not. I know that I could try to fight against it, but ultimately it will be a losing battle; so why waste the time and energy?
Change is the one constant, and as much as people try to cling to the idea of permanence or try to create a sense of stability, eventually we have to accept the truth. However, the advantage of accepting that the world is ever-changing is that it gives our lives focus and helps us to see what is truly important.
If we see life as fleeting and fragile, we start to see the beauty in it. We can also start to appreciate what a waste of life it is to spend all our conscious hours worrying about what other people think of us.
I’m not belittling the seriousness and severity of eating disorders and other psychological conditions, of course you can’t just “Snap out of it”, but there are times I now look back on, where I think it might have made a difference to me if someone had taken me aside and talked to me about realistic body image and the like.
I don’t want to end on a negative, so I’ll say to you that my take-home message is to celebrate life, appreciate the things you do have, and be thankful for the body that you have and all the amazing things it can do, because it’s the only one you’re going to get!! 🙂
Be thankful, aim for the achievable, enjoy the little victories, celebrate your individuality
and revel in the joy of life as a human being!! xxx