Body positivity is the practice of loving your body exactly how it is. It's a form of body appreciation that is associated with acceptance and self-care. Its core values center around the idea that every body, regardless of size, shape, skin color, or ability is deserving of love.
The body positivity movement has taken the digital world by storm primarily through social media channels like Instagram and TikTok. In fact, it might be hard for you to scroll through your feeds without seeing a post with body positivity used as a hashtag. But how did the body positivity movement begin, and how can people practice it for themselves?
What Is Body Positivity?
Body positivity is centered around showing love for the way your body looks. People have used the movement to show love to their curves, stretch marks, and other aspects of their bodies that people don't traditionally celebrate. It's a movement that promotes the idea that every body is beautiful and deserves to exist in society without shame.
Researchers have identified at least five components of body positivity:
- Body acceptance from others - Accepting one's body as it is, even if they are not satisfied with every aspect.
- Body appreciation - Accepting, respecting, and holding appreciation for one's body despite sociocultural pressures to adhere to traditional beauty standards.
- Body image flexibility - A measure of a person's ability to experience and cope with events, thoughts, and emotions that challenge their body image.
- Body pride - A sense of accomplishment and knowledge of the value of oneself according to themselves and the opinions of others.
- Self-compassion - The act of practicing kindness towards oneself instead of delivering harsh judgment.
People can practice body positivity simply by showing love for their bodies. Many people also use the movement to protest the diet and beauty industries that seem to thrive off of creating insecurities. You can also find a body positivity therapist to help you better understand your connection to your body.
Everyone has negative body thoughts at one point or another, and it's okay to have low self-esteem days. When these thoughts or feelings occur, you can use body positivity as a reminder that your body really is something amazing and beautiful. Just because you have a negative thought doesn't mean that you aren't part of the movement. It's a practice that you can choose to embrace every day.
The body positivity movement began in 1969 in New York City. It was started by a man named Bill Fabrey who was fed up with seeing how poorly people treated his wife for her larger body type. He gathered a group of people together and began to address the way society discriminated against people with larger bodies. He created what is known today as the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA).
At around the same time on the west coast, another group of activists came together to fight the unfair treatment of people due to their body size. This group of feminists called themselves the Fat Underground. While NAFFA was fighting for 'fat acceptance,' the Fat Underground was fighting for the same cause using the phrase 'fat liberation.'
The fat liberation and fat acceptance movements paved the way for body positivity. They staked a claim in society that everybody and every body, has a right to exist, take up space, and thrive in this world.
Although body positivity has been around for half a century, many people criticize the movement, especially it's modern-day version. Many people believe that body positivity often excludes people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, and persons with differently abled bodies, keeping them from being a part of the body movement.
In addition, it doesn't leave space for people that have complex relationships with their bodies, or those that may want to change aspects of themselves. This can cause body positivity to feel inauthentic for some people. In fact, many people from these communities have opted for the practice of body neutrality, which is based on appreciating the body for its functions, rather than its features. More research needs to be done on how body positivity specifically impacts these communities and serves their diverse needs.
How Body Positivity Impacts Mental Wellness
Several studies have investigated the impact of body positivity on mental health and wellness. Research suggests that a positive body image is linked to higher rates of body acceptance and decreased rates of negative body thoughts.
In the study from The Journal of Social Psychology, researchers measured participants' body positivity levels by breaking the term down into different categories. These sections measured participants' self-reported levels of body appreciation, body image flexibility, body pride, and body acceptance from others. Then, these scores were compared to participants' emotional, psychological, and social well-being scores. The results showed that participants that scored high for body positivity also scored high across all levels of well-being.
Some additional benefits of a positive body image include:
- Higher rates of body acceptance from others
- Higher rates of body appreciation
- Higher rates of self-compassion
- Increased body image flexibility
- Increased rates of emotional, psychological, and social well-being.
- Increased rates of health behaviors, such as practicing self-care
- Increased rates of physical health
Practicing body positivity is a way of showing kindness towards yourself. It can help reduce negative body thoughts and prevent cycles of rumination. Together, these elements can improve your overall health and well-being.
How to Practice Body Positivity at Any Size
There are many different ways to practice body positivity. In fact, any way that you show love and appreciation for your body is a way to practice. This may look like wearing your favorite outfit or giving yourself small confidence boosts throughout the day with kind words. However you practice body positivity, find a way to make it your own.
Talk to Yourself With Kindness
Body positivity can start with how you think about and talk to yourself. Do you talk to yourself the way you would a friend? Or do you find it easier to be more critical? Every body is different in shape, size, and a million and one other ways. This uniqueness is something that should be celebrated for a body's many quirks and personality traits. It's okay if you can't name things that you absolutely love about your body, but maybe you can name some things that you don't mind. When you're a friend to yourself, over time, you might just find aspects you're really proud of.
Another way to practice body positivity, and also be more friendly to yourself is to use affirmations. Affirmations are ways to offer emotional support. You can speak these out loud at the start of your day to set an intention, or write them in a journal. You can also practice them while looking in a mirror, or by writing them on sticky notes and placing them in areas that you use to get ready. Some affirmations you can use are:
- I can do hard things.
- I don't feel my best today, but I am going to love my body the best I can.
- I feel good in my skin.
- I'm going to be a friend to myself today.
- I wear makeup because I want to, not because I feel like I have to.
- My body is strong and capable, and so am I.
- My hair looks a little frizzy today, and that's okay.
- This outfit makes me happy, and I'm going to wear it.
- Today I will appreciate my natural beauty.
- Today I will let myself be happy.
Show Yourself Appreciation
Your body allows you accomplish so many tasks throughout the day. Your legs carry you from destination to destination. Your arms lift and carry precious cargo, like a child. Your skin, your eyes, and your ears process information to help you navigate your world. For all of these things, your body deserves respect, appreciation, and care. Some ways you can show appreciation for your body are:
- Allow yourself to do something you enjoy.
- Check in with your body and mind throughout the day.
- Don't put too much on your schedule.
- Eat when you are hungry.
- Go for a walk and get some fresh air.
- Rest when you're tired.
- Say no to things that you want to say no to.
- Stretch your muscles.
- Take breaks when you need to.
- Try new things that you want to experience.
Have you ever edited your clothing choice for the day out of fear of what others might think? You're not alone. People of all different body sizes constantly second guess what they should wear because they are afraid of being judged. One way to practice body positivity is to wear whatever you want, whenever you want. If you like it, and it makes you feel good, then put it on. Let yourself enjoy a fashion moment. How you feel about the way you look is what's important.
Do What You Want
A lot of people restrict themselves from having fun due to negative body thoughts. People wonder what their bodies would look like to others if they rode a bike in the park or went to the beach. These thoughts can prevent people from having fun and trying new things because they are worried that society will judge them for it. One way to practice body positivity is to do those things anyway. Try roller skating, go to a fancy restaurant, or take a walk in the park. You deserve to do fun things, and activities don't have a designated body type.
Edit Social Media
Research shows that there is a link between social media use and negative body thoughts. When people scroll online, they may be exposed to and influenced by unrealistic (and often unhealthy) beauty standards. This can lead to comparisons which can cause people to have negative thoughts about their bodies. One way to combat a strong social media habit is to be mindful of your social media usage. Be sure to follow accounts that lift you up and make you feel good and block accounts that promote negative body thoughts or that keep you in a cycle of body comparison. Some people even find it helpful to delete social media altogether or to take breaks from it for a week or so at a time.
It can be difficult to practice body positivity and make people feel vulnerable. Surround yourself with like-minded individuals and lean on each other for support. Tell your friends and family and about positivity and ask them to practice it with you. It can give you sources of strength and courage that you didn't even know you needed. Also, your chosen community will give you a place to share your body positivity journey and potential struggles, and, it might reassure you that you're not alone.
At the end of the day, doing whatever you want to do in your body, and allowing yourself to enjoy it, is a way to practice body positivity. There's no right or wrong way for you to practice of show self-love. Find what feels good and authentic to you. In a world that is filled with harsh judgments and comparisons, loving your body just the way it is is one of the most radical things you can do. How will you show up for yourself today?