According to the Dove Self Esteem Project, only 11 percent of girls worldwide wouIld call themselves beautiful and six in 10 girls avoid participating in life activities because of concerns about the way they look.
I can’t say I’m surprised. As a teen I spent my life buried deep in US Weekly magazines or sitting in front of the television. The only women I saw were thin, white women with perfect hair and glowing skin. If a fat woman was depicted there were always jokes at her expense (think Monica flashbacks in Friends) or the narrative revolved around women only being beautiful and lovable if they were thin (think Shallow Hal). Regular consumption of this media influenced my reality and made me feel like I had to be a stick thin, blonde, and beautiful in order to matter… and that’s exactly what the marketing companies wanted. They wanted me to idolize the women I saw in the media so that I would buy products promising to help me look like them.
It worked. I obsessed over my appearance and felt like it was the only thing about me that mattered. I would post pictures of stick thin models on the walls of my room and in the cabinets of the kitchen. I’d buy hair dye, spend all my babysitting money on makeup and clothes, requested my mom buy diet coke and other low-fat products, and I would beat myself up any time I looked in the mirror because, even after all my focus and desperate attempts, I still didn’t fit mainstream beauty norms (side note: they’re unachievable for most of the population).
When I went to college I realized during a Women and the Media class that my self-doubt and self-hatred had been carefully cultivated by large corporations in order to make money. It was one of the most enraging and empowering experiences of my life. If I could understand and dissect where my body image issues were coming from, maybe I could reteach myself how to exist in this world… and that’s exactly the mission I set out on.
Over the past decade I’ve somehow managed to repair my relationship with my body. Here are the things I’ve done in order to cultivate more self-love and body acceptance that you can start implementing in your own life TODAY.
1. STOP WATCHING TV/MOVIES WHERE FEMALES CHARACTERS LACK DEPTH AND/OR ARE SEEN AS SEX OBJECTS
For years the mainstream female character was white, kinda beautiful, kinda ditzy, only existed for male self-actualization, and was hyper sexualized and objectified. I’d love to say that’s changed now that feminism has become more mainstream, but that’s not exactly the case. I’ll never forget how awful I felt watching Wolf of Wall Street a couple years ago. A lot of debate ensued over whether or not it was just an intentional, exaggerated display of misogyny or if women were blatantly being objectified for entertainment. Every time I had a discussion about this MEN were arguing the former while I was arguing the latter.. we’re not surprised, right?
Anyway, that’s when I decided to be more careful about the movies and TV shows I watched. I loved that Oceans 8 came out this year and had a diverse cast of women with many different body types, and that the film had nothing to do with the male gaze. I also just finished watching Russian Doll on Netflix, which had a diverse cast, strong female leads, a display of different types of sexuality (orgies, lesbians, and platonic kisses, OH MY!).
Through being more intentional about the films and television I’m watching, I’m no longer met with covert messages of women’s bodies being the only thing about them that matters.
2. STOP FOLLOWING PEOPLE ON INSTAGRAM WHO MAKE YOU FEEL SHITTY
Instagram is a great platform and I love that it’s dominated by female entraprenuers. What I don’t love is seeing is an abundance of before and after pictures as I scroll through my health and wellness feed, especially when there is a title like “my transformation” which is usually followed by a caption talking about how unhappy they were in the before aka fat picture and how much better their life is in the after.
These photos, while intended to provide “inspiration” always end up making me feel uncomfortable. I hate seeing women imply they became the woman they always wanted to be by hitting the gym and counting their macros. If you’ve achieved a level of happiness you hadn’t experienced before, it’s likely some other things went into that… like reading lots of books on development, listening to podcasts that help you put your mental AND physical health first, getting rid of toxic people, and probably some therapy, ya know? GIVE US THE WHOLE PICTURE, LADIES!
The other form of social media I’ve found that rubs me the wrong way is like 25 Instagram stories of someone working out at a fancy-ass, expensive cross-fit gym and acting like their ability to lift heavy things is supposed to be empowering for me.
For a while I’d watch these women’s stories and dig through their feeds (for much longer than I care to admit). I’d always end up feeling chewed up and spit out energetically. It took a while to realize their content wasn’t helping with my self-esteem. I reminded myself that, again, I get to choose what I consume. Sure, they aren’t sending the message that skinny is best, but the message I’m receiving is still about manipulating the female body into something it isn’t.
For me personally, I need to disengage from body centered content and focus on content that is more mind/body/spirit focused.
Some humble influencers I love to follow who make me feel GOOD on all levels:
NOTE: Accounts that make me feel good on Instagram may make you feel bad… find what works for you!
3. STOP MIRROR CHECKING
In high school I would look in the mirror at least 20 times before I left the house and that only got worse in college. I found that the more self-conscious I was about myself (appearance, intelligence, etc..) the more time I would spend looking in the mirror. I’d change clothes 10 times before finally deciding on something, or I’d collapse in my bed because I didn’t feel good enough about the way I looked to leave the house.
I got rid of my full-length mirror at the age of 27. Even though I understood why I didn’t like the way my body looked, it was hard to break old patterns of appearance-based self-criticism. This was one of the best things I ever did for my body, mind and spirit. I was sending a message to myself that my head-to-toe appearance was not important and I totally felt something shift in me.
I stopped wearing makeup every day, I stopped obsessing over my outfits and appearing to be fashionable. I stopped telling myself I was fat every time I looked in the mirror. Taking the focus away from my appearance allowed me to turn inward and start doing a deeper level of healing.
4. NOURISH YOUR SOUL
Holy shit. You guys, we spend our whole lives being told who we’re supposed to be and how we’re supposed to show up in this world. Most of us have no idea how to peel away the layers of other people’s expectations and sit with the person we truly are. In my late 20’s started attending women’s spirituality groups through Denver’s Insight Counseling Center that helped me shed the things that weren’t serving me.
One of the questions asked in the first class was “What brings you a childlike sense of joy?” Um, what? No one has ever asked me that! The exercise challenged me to revisit the things that made me happy as a child and start implementing them into my adult life.
At the time I was in the class my life felt kind of.. meh. I had a great husband and we did cool outdoorsy things on the weekend, but I hated my job and for the most part, I felt like I was just existing in this world. When I started to think about the things I was doing as a an adult to find joy, I realized a lot of those were shaped by what brought joy to other people and not me. I had become a chameleon of sorts.
When I was a little girl I loved coming up with business ideas (like turning a box into friendship bracelet store and selling them on the street), acting and singing, and doing things that sparked creativity. Once I began finding ways to bring those things into my life it changed everything. Within a couple months I was auditioning for the Vagina Monlogues and within eight months I had started a blog that highlighted my creativity in the kitchen.
Now I have my own business, I speak in front of thousands of people every day, and I get paid to be creative. I am so freaking filled up that the last thing I ever think about is whether or not my thighs look big or if people are going to think I’m pretty.
5. REFRAME THE WAY YOU THINK ABOUT YOUR BODY
Negative self-talk is a vicious cycle and most of us do it without even recognizing it. Take some time to write down 5-10 thoughts and feelings about your body and then REWRITE a positive affirmation next to them (you can use mine or come up with your own).
I am fat and therefore unlovable —> I am more than my body
My skin is disgusting —> I am perfect as I am
I hate my body —>I love and completely accept myself
We talk to ourselves more than we talk to anyone else. If we’re constantly spewing negative and hateful things then we’ll certainly be in a terrible place. You can’t heal your relationship with your body until you work on healing the conversations you have with yourself.
I’ve created some beautiful affirmations that you can print out, post around your house, and tape right in the center of your full-length mirror. There’s even a blank one so that you can add your own personal message.