The world needs body love and self-love advocates -- lots of them. But it's not easy work, and I want to help my fellow body love activists navigate this global revolution that can often be exhausting and hurtful, since it is primarily spread around the planet via the Internet, and not everyone online is kind.
Let's face it: our culture, like most cultures on our beautiful planet, has been unconsciously convinced that only a small handful of humans are worthy to be celebrated, to feel empowered, to feel beautiful and to try on the word "perfect" to see how it feels. So many write to me and express, How dare women who don't fit into a one-shape-one-skin-tone-one-skin-texture-one-age-and-gender-mold love themselves? How dare women love their un-Photoshopped bodies, and How dare we celebrate us ALL, yes us ALL: those of us with bony hips and those of use with cellulite and dimpled thighs and those of us who are differently abled and those of us born small or tall or large or black or golden?
The problem, as I see it, is that when we praise only ONE mold of a human, as we have been convinced we must do, division is created, jealousy becomes a natural side effect, distrust multiplies and sisterhood vanishes.
When I started A Beautiful Body Project and my work began circulating the planet, I would sit late into the night, bleary-eyed and with thorns stabbing my heart and lungs, replying to hundreds and then thousands of the people who disliked my work and left unkind comments on the articles that were published about it. I wanted them to understand where I was coming from, how the women I worked with would be very hurt by their comments, and that all bodies are divine and worthy of praise and self-love!
And then I learned: it was a waste of my precious time.
I gathered with other body love activists in my town, specifically my beloved Jes of The Militant Baker, talking at length about how to do our body love feminist work and not feel defeated and broken from Internet unkindness.
This is what I have learned and practice daily:
1. Don't read the comments on published articles about your work.
The energy wasted replying to trolls and unkindness only takes away enthusiasm needed to serve YOU and hundreds of thousands of women for whom we are facilitating empowerment! We MUST use our energy wisely in our busy lives, and we MUST choose to give our attention to those who support, understand, or have legitimate and respectful disagreements that can help us grow in our compassion.
I do read most of the comments on my FB and Instagram account, because my assistant and I have successfully banned most of the unkindness, and are left with positivity and mindful critiques from our followers. It's amazing.
2. Embrace being a feminist. It is a word that has been historically labeled as bad. It's not.
When I started A Beautiful Body Project, people began praising me for my "feminist work." I would quickly dismiss the words and reply that I was not a feminist, just a woman wanting to change the way our culture perceived what is beautiful and empower women to feel freedom from shame around their precious, perfect and divine bodies.
And then I realized: that's feminist work! Many of us associate being a feminist with having an angry, hardened passion. It doesn't have to mean that. Doing feminist work is incredibly positive and is a global NEED. Feminism raises a hand every single second of every Earth rotation: women seeking to feel seen and understood and worthy. It is simply standing up as a compassionate and determined tribe to all of those who have been telling us that we are not enough and that we must change to be perfect and whole, and it's simply practicing BELIEVING (fake it until you make it) that we are enough, and that our sisters are enough, and that we have a right to exist exactly the way we are, right now.
3. Practice self-care.
Do things that bring you happiness. I dance every Friday night to live drums, with a wild group of gorgeous women, and I call it my medicine. I take long walks in nature with my son and turn off my phone for days. Taking breaks from being world-changers so that we can return refreshed and nourished is a MUST.
4. Surround yourself with people who understand your work.
Being a part of a tribe is so deeply important. For me, it's my weekly dance class; it's spending quality time with my son and his dad, who is my best friend. It's having talks about art with my love. Being around those who understand how hard it is to put ourselves out there is incredibly healing. My friendships changed since I started this work; I had to find freedom from many "devil's advocates" and locate those who saw the worth of my work and took me in their arms when I was weary and tired of standing up to the bullies. Sometimes those closest to us will not understand what we do. With time, some of them begin to understand -- and it is ultimately up to us to pick the people we'll spend our time with. Choose those who hold you and love you, those who will give you a safe space when you cry and listen to you when you sing!
5. Never give up.
The world needs all of us practicing kindness and believing in the deep need for global feminism. It's often hard, and yet, if we focus our attention on those who are mindful with their comments and those who wish to have respectful dialogue; if we embrace being women's advocates; if we practice wholehearted self-care and surround ourselves with those who "get it," our work will be more successful, more kind, more expansive and ultimately more suitable so that we ALL can be the change we wish to see in the world.
Jade Beall is co-founder of A Beautiful Body Project. Read more about the project here.