You’ve seen the headlines, you’ve shared the articles and you’ve thought about it yourself: what does it mean to be body-positive? In general terms, body-positivity is about celebrating your body, your best friend’s and well, everyone’s. While not a new idea, the movement aims to promote self-love and less shaming, especially on social media.
But what often gets lost in the noise is what it actually means to be body-positive.
Jennifer L. Silvershein, LMSW, a New York City-based therapist who specializes in psychotherapy for adults who suffer from anxiety, depression, and eating disorders gets real about what body-positivity is and what it’s definitely not.
1- Myth: A ‘body positive’ attitude is tied to an achievement
We can work to achieve an attitude of acceptance (and, better, an attitude of appreciation), but this is different than efforts to gain or lose weight. These shouldn’t be tied, because an attitude shouldn’t be contingent on the external—it’s about the internal. As an exercise, consider what it “means” to gain or lose weight. Does a difference of five pounds mean that you would feel more attractive? Does a difference of 10 pounds mean that you would love yourself more? Well, focus on feeling more attractive or loving yourself more in the present, instead of deciding that a certain weight or goal will boost your confidence.
“Telling ourselves we’ll be happy when we achieve something else takes the control out of our hands,” says Silvershein. “We say, ‘I’ll have great self-esteem when I lose 10 pounds or when I find that perfect boyfriend.’ We can control our self-esteem but we’re losing control of our emotions by pegging them to an external source. So much of life is out of our control, but if we identify the things that we can control—like how we feel about ourselves and how we interpret ourselves—we’ll feel happier and less judged. People say, ‘Oh, I’m not happy so I’ll move somewhere else.’ Then they move and wonder why their problems have followed them. It’s like when you don’t feel great in an outfit. You buy a new outfit and then you still don’t feel great in either outfit.”
2- Myth: Being ‘body positive’ means loving your body—all the time
It’s normal—like, really normal—to experience ups and downs in our relationships with our bodies. This isn’t about perfection, because who is perfect anyway? What it is about: a patient attitude with a dose of perspective. There are times when we bloat, and there are times when we eat a dessert or miss a class. Who cares? We’re human. So, continue to put the “positive” in “body positive,” whatever the situation.
“This isn’t about all or nothing—it isn’t black and white,” Silvershein says. “It isn’t proactive to think, ‘I’m going to do it perfectly or not at all.’ My understanding of self-esteem is finding the positive in the scenario, the silver lining. It’s a great habit to wake up and find three things that you’re grateful for, or three things that you love about yourself. When you focus on the things you don’t have, it’s very difficult to make the change.”
She continues, “When you’re worried about a weekend where you experienced ‘bad eating,’ rather than focusing on the ‘bad eating,’ we should focus on how lucky we are to have so many friends. You were having a great time and you were enjoying your friends and satisfying yourself. It’s like at the eye doctor, when they say, ‘A or B’ as they change the lens. Change your lens to a better lens that’s more optimistic.”
3- Myth: Being ‘body positive’ is about appreciating the external
Being impressed with your body should extend past the external. Remember to be awed by your physique and its functioning—it’s a part of embracing the skin you’re in.
“Say, ‘Wow, this muscle is sore. I must be doing something right,’” Silvershein says. “Think about really enjoying a class and the energy you have after taking a class. Women can work out for the results, but typically they’re happier and those are the endorphins.”
4- Myth: Being ‘body positive’ is the same as liking your selfie
It’s a tale as old as, well, the iPhone: Girl takes a selfie. Girl takes another 99 selfies. Girl shares a selfie. But what about the outtakes? Being “body positive” is about accepting and appreciating the person in the mirror—whatever the angle, #filter or #nofilter. And being “body positive” isn’t cachieved with “likes.” Apps, like Facebook and Instagram, can become a problem when they cause comparison (which happens with others as well as with the version of “you” presented on the Internet). So, remember to love yourself—not your selfie.
“The problem with selfies can be the comparison,” Silvershein says. “We’re looking at someone’s perfect moment, where they’re perfectly staged with a caption and a filter. There’s FOMO. It’s about being realistic if we’re going to make a comparison. Comparisons rarely make us feel good, since we’re being compared to unrealistic expectations.”
5- Myth: You either have ‘bad’ self-esteem or ‘good’ self-esteem
There isn’t a grade when it comes to self-esteem, a.k.a. the relationship between you and your body. We don’t pass and we don’t fail. Rather, there’s a spectrum of emotions when it comes to “body positivity,” and, as we know, these emotions aren’t dictated by characteristics such as attractiveness or thinness.
“Beauty is the state of your mind,” Silvershein says. “When you feel good about yourself and who you are, you carry yourself with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness that makes you beautiful, regardless of whether or not you look like a supermodel.”
She continues, “I dislike this idea that your body image is either good or bad. It, like anything, is going to be measured on a spectrum. On the days that we don’t feel so great, it makes sense to look back on the more positive days. The idea is to feel good more days than not. On a seven-day measurement scale, we want to feel better on at least four days, which is a really great soft measurement.”