We've come a long way towards accepting all types of bodies -- at least where other people are concerned.
A recent backlash to a subway ad series about "beach ready bodies" shows we're increasingly fed up with being given one standard of physical beauty, but we still have a long way to go.
As much as we are learning to accept different kinds of beauty in others, the weight loss industry is still making billions of dollars a year and "how to lose weight fast" is one of the most searched for terms on Google. Like so many of the most important things in life, self-love is an inside job.
A few things you should know:
1. You have permission to enjoy your body right now.
If you've ever waited until you could fit into a smaller size to buy the "good jeans," or missed out on trying something because you were worried about how you looked, it's time to stop waiting. Stop postponing your joy. Don't wait until you see a certain number on your scale to fully enjoy your life.
2. Changing your body size or shape might not change how you feel about it.
In my 20s, I starved and exercised until I could often wear kid-sized jeans; I also hated my body. There was never a finish line where I felt like I could love it -- or even accept it. In my 30s and at a size 8, I love my body completely. It took going through all the ups and downs of disordered eating, motherhood and some recent health struggles to finally say, "this is my body, and it's awesome." None of it needs to be bigger. None of it needs to be smaller. I want to take care of it and enjoy living in it completely.
3. Treating your body like someone you love will change how you feel about it.
I am whole-heartedly anti-diet. I am also whole-heartedly pro-healthy eating. Imagine if you had a child and instead of nourishing your child, you put her on diet after diet or gave her tons of junk food, made her over-exercise or didn't let her exercise at all -- and verbally abused her through all of this. If we treated our children the way we sometimes treat our bodies, it would be abuse. Treat your body like you love it. Feed it like you love it. Move it like you love it. Talk to it like you love it. Give it rest and treat it kindly.
(P.S. For people who haven't been treating their bodies lovingly for a while, this may result in some physical changes. Funny how that works, huh?)
4. Healthy looks different on different people.
There are extreme ends of emaciation and overweight that carry health risks, but guess what? That's between those people and their health care providers. It's not up for public opinion. The issue here is that as a society, we have a mental image of what "healthy" is and it's a fairly narrow window. Thinness doesn't automatically equal health, and extra weight doesn't automatically equal health problems. There is a wide range of normal, and the images we see in the media often don't reflect that.
5. So does sexy.
I remember a woman from college who had phenomenal confidence and was always being pursued by several men. She was also at least 50 or 60 pounds heavier than me. At first, I was a little baffled. It didn't fit with what I'd been told by the movies that sexy looked like. It took me many more years to internalize this truth, but I began to realize that sexy isn't one particular size or shape. What turns one person on is completely boring or unappealing to someone else.
What is sexy? Confidence. Kindness. Authenticity. Instead of boning up on what men want or how to camouflage "problem areas," let's work on those three.
6. The clothing industry is not your friend.
Now, to be fair, there are many companies trying to change how things are done, but that isn't the norm. The norm is "let's all try to get as close as possible to a specific body type."
Why don't we ever consider that if a piece of clothing is unflattering, the clothing might be the problem?
If you have clothes in your closet that you are saving for when you are a different size, you are postponing your joy. If you have clothes in your closet that make you feel frumpy or uncomfortable when you wear them, you aren't enjoying your body now. Let them go.
7. Self-love is a gift to others as well as yourself.
Hopefully most of us have outgrown that high school self-bashing game, but how many of us openly talk with friends about what we LOVE about our bodies? We're taught not to brag... it's bitchy, right? No. It's important. It's important that we openly accept our bodies, and encourage others to do so as well. When we give self-love a voice, we give other people permission to do it too. Let's make that the new contagious habit among middle school girls instead of cyberbullying.
8. Food is morally neutral.
Setting aside the ethics of meat eating, food choices aren't morally charged. It drives me crazy when I hear people talk about how they were "good" and just had a salad. Or they decided to be "bad" and ate dessert. Unless your dessert involves eating PEOPLE, it isn't a moral choice. I make a point of talking with my children about food in terms of how it makes us feel. It's awesome and fun to go out for ice cream, but if we have ice cream every day, we probably won't feel good.
9. Thin-shaming isn't less offensive than fat-shaming.
It's wonderful to see ad campaigns like Lane Bryant's #ImNoAngel and hear songs like Megan Trainor's "All About That Bass," but both messages are incomplete. Changing our ideas about body image doesn't mean that we encourage self-love for larger bodies; it means we encourage self-love for ALL types of bodies. The idea of "real women" misses the mark, because unless we're talking about Photoshopped images, we are all real. There are as many different ways to be a real woman as there are women on the planet.
10. Your body is a work of art.
It has lines and scars that tell amazing stories. Its colors are unique and spectacular. It has both curves and angles in proportions that are unlike anyone else's. Your body doesn't need to change for you to love it more. You just need to change how you see it.