Wednesday, 10 May 2017

How I Exercise Body Positivity

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We all know that everyone has parts of their bodies they like more than others. Cognitively, we realise that even the most physically perfect human specimen can worry about their chest hair, or their teeth, or their acne scars. But often, simply realising this reality is not enough -- we can still feel inadequate and put ourselves down for very human traits that we've been trained to perceive as flaws. Why does it matter, even? Are our minds not the most important parts of us? Our brains, our kindness, what we do and how we love? Why, then, has an average-sized and healthy person like me spent nights actually sobbing over the way I look? Why does outward appearance (or the perception thereof) matter so much?

It constantly blows my mind how much self-image affects my mood. The realisation that a bad day in terms of self-confidence can actually sour my entire emotional landscape has led me to focus on actively cultivating body-positive thought processes in my everyday life, and it's changed the way that I relate to myself. I believe that anyone can benefit from a little extra bopo love, and I realise that it's difficult. However, these are some of the things that really helped me along my journey to really accepting myself and the way I look.

Following bopo activists


Minerva first introduced me to Instagram's bopo icon BodyPosiPanda (aka Megan Jayne Crabbe). This was my first exposure to the bopo community. I scoured her Instagram account, filled with the thoughts and images of her own soft, voluptuous body, as well as reposts from other activists to help spread awareness of the massive diversity in the bopo community. Through Megan I also discovered OMGKenzieee (Kenzie Brenna) and loved watching her work hard at her personal fitness goals, while still being open enough to share her stretch-marked stomach and cellulite thighs. It felt like an antidote to the scores of slender women I see all the time in my 'Recommended' feed.

Bopo activists call out media and societal expectations on their shame-inducing constraints, often interrogating aspects of our collective environment that I had never critiqued so closely in my own life. This sort of stuff sticks, and encourages you to unpack the ramifications of what happens around you. Posts by the above activists (and others) bolster my self-confidence and encourage me to turn my appreciation of their very human bodies towards myself as well.


Selfies


The ability to be able to control how you are represented and depicted in a digital, image-based world is incredibly important. So many people are afraid of having their photo taken because they don't like the way they might look. Like, I have a tag alert on my Facebook account, which alerts me when I've been tagged in something and waits for me to approve the image before it's added to my personal photo collection.

The only antidote to this that I've found reliable is taking my own photos. I can make myself feel comfortable about a selfie pretty much all the time. I know what angles and expressions work for me, what poses to do, where to put my hands and how best to fake a good image even on a bad day. But this isn't just about vanity, it's about curiosity and self-affirmation. Reflections can be distorted, or show us when we're at our sweatiest and most dishevelled, running errands on a warm day and catching sight of ourselves in a store window. Selfies help me to see what I can look like, within arms' reach and without all the bother of other distractions. They also help give me a more positive self-image on days I'm feeling a bit low.

Caring touch

This one always sounds a bit wacky when I try articulate it to people, but Minerva gets me. Basically, when I am feeling bad about myself, I find that gentle, caring self-touch helps me appreciate and accept myself more. Trying to experience my body as if from the outside helps me get out of my head a little bit, into the realm of sensation in which appearance doesn't matter. Squishy pudge feels luxurious and soft, hipbones are perfect grab-holds and even body hair is an added texture to the skin. It's basically trying to imagine how you feel to another person -- which sounds counter-intuitive at first. I mean, self-love shouldn't depend on anyone else's opinion, right? But in the same way that a good compliment about a feature we never really considered remarkable can affect how we view that feature, trying to experience your own body objectively can help us learn how to escape our own mental hang-ups. Curves can feel good. Stomach rolls can feel good. Your whole body can feel magnificent and glorious if you just try separate it from the mentality that it's just "that meat suit I'm trapped in."

A post shared by Kenzie Brenna (@omgkenzieee) on

Positivity


This is the ultimate hardest step. Being body-positive is about unlearning the toxic messages we imbibe from the surrounding cultural climate and learning to think differently. This is literally about reverse mind-control. You're trying to brainwash yourself into being a bopo deity by unbrainwashing all the previous stuff you've learnt over the years, and it's hella confusing.

When I feel super self-critical and want to pick my appearance apart, I try to replace the damaging thoughts with better, healthier ones. The small, conscious reminders have become easier to make a habit, although it's tough. But hey, better fake it until you make it rather than not do it at all. Even if it's difficult for you to internalise the messages yourself, try to become a bopo spokesperson by reminding those around you how fluffed up it is for body hate to be a normal topic of discussion. Don't enable those around you to perpetuate the stigma! Be a stellar beacon of body-love and try to show yourself the same kindness, until it becomes second-nature to counter harmful thought with a uplifting/neutral one. Eventually (hopefully!), you'll be banishing your own body hatred and ascending to bopo heaven midway through eating your favourite snack while feeling foxy AF.

Unlearning mind-control is hard, and we are continuous works in progress. But love always wins.

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