Body Positivity

a lovely middle-aged woman smiling into the mirror

The relationship you cultivate with your body is arguably the most important one in your life. Your body is the vehicle that allows you to live your human experience.

Yet, too many of us focus on perfecting our outsides with the hope of experiencing more peace, self-love, and belonging on the inside.

Negative Effects of Self-Judgment

Many people view and judge their bodies in terms of one dimension, their physical appearance.

Self-criticism, body shaming, exercising to the point of injury, dieting, cosmetic procedures, and surgery are a few behaviors people adopt to try and fit unrealistic beauty standards that reward outward appearances.

Overemphasis on the physical leads to defining beauty and self-worth based on size, weight, shape, color, tone, youthfulness, and mobility.

This myopic view ignores the crucial role our minds and environments have on our perceptions and how we can influence the way we feel about ourselves from the inside.

After all, even if we change our outward appearances to conform to a magazine cover or celebrity ideal, we can still feel deeply dissatisfied within ourselves until we learn how to love ourselves, honor our inherent value, accept our imperfections, and nourish our thoughts.

Fortunately, some thought leaders in the health and television industries strive to encourage body positivity narratives and practices that remind us that until we go inside our bodies, our quest for body positivity might still be in vain.

What Is Body Positivity?

Body positivity social movements challenge outdated social constructs that define perceptions of beauty and health. These movements bring attention to the critical narratives in the media and in our own minds that feed the false notion that aging is bad.

Unrealistic social messages say if we work hard enough to change our bodies, we can turn back time. Body positivity advocates vary in their views, but trend toward an emphasis that beauty exists in all of us and in all body types, ages, orientations, sizes, and abilities.

Instead of trying to conform to ideals, advocates encourage embracing individual differences and choosing healthy lifestyle choices and attitudes that result in confident minds and bodies.

Actor Melora Hardin is known for many roles, including Jan Levinson on The Office and Jacqueline Carlyle on The Bold Type. In ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, Hardin danced her way to the semifinals and defied any judgments that a woman in her 50s couldn’t compete with her younger counterparts.

While Hardin spends most of her life in the spotlight, when she speaks about body positivity, she doesn’t give energy to outside appearances.

Instead, she uses her voice and social influence to remind us that the crux of body positivity comes from rekindling sensory awareness, communing with nature, and deepening our relationship with our inner voice.

We are really backwards in a lot of ways that we talk about body image and body acceptance. Body positivity is not about the pounds or the way it looks. It’s about the way it feels, and it’s about working towards taking the best care of the vehicle that you have to go through this lifetime with, with the most reverence that you can.Melora Hardin

When we lose connection with our bodies through trauma, stress, perfectionism, overwork, and excess media consumption, we do not pay close attention to our body’s needs. Consequently, we miss out on some of the most treasured human experiences our bodies can provide.

For example, by focusing almost exclusively on how we look, we miss out on enjoying and appreciating sensory experiences such as tasting, feeling, indulging, and listening, which are some of the purest and simplest pleasures on earth, Hardin says.

She describes the positive effect being close to older adults, including her 92-year-old father, has had on her vision for her own aging process. “I want to be a healthy, vital old person,” she says, recommending that people take care of themselves early in life and imagine who they want to be as they age.

A Deeper Version of Self-Care

Self-care includes acknowledging the loss and grief associated with the passage of time. We are only 20 once, and it’s easy to ruminate about the way we used to be rather than embrace who we are and our abilities in the present moment.

Hardin discourages social pressures that influence decisions to use Botox and have plastic surgery and instead hopes that people will find healthy ways to “get into a relationship with loss” as opposed to “desperately trying to hold onto something that has already been lost to them.”

Her grounded approach to life is evident when she acknowledges an undeniable fact: We are losing things from the day we are born. Once we accept loss, then “we can decide to lose things,” she says. For example, she decided to give up Coca-Cola because doing so benefits her lifestyle and body now.

Instead of focusing on the loss, or feelings of deprivation, she shifts her perspective toward gratitude: She enjoyed certain choices at one point in her life; now it is time to choose differently.

How to Increase Body Positivity

Growing body positivity from the inside out may seem challenging at first, but implementing simple practices brings the path to body connection within reach.

Fumiko Takatsu, founder of the Face Yoga Method, teaches simple face exercises that embrace pro-aging and empower people to deepen their relationship with themselves. Since aging can carry a negative connotation, “pro-aging,” Takatsu explains, “has a positive, satisfied meaning.”

When we focus on pro-aging, we “accept our age, embrace it, act healthier, and feel in control of how we age,” she says. “It is up to us how we see ourselves and how we want to live our lives.”

Body positivity is “feeling, seeing, and understanding that you are the owner of your body,” Takatsu says. “You feel free from external factors. You accept, forgive, appreciate, and love your body the way it is.”

One way to increase body positivity is to “start listening to your body every day, noticing, and asking very small questions [such as] what does my body want to eat today?” Takatsu says.

“Being aware of your body’s small voices will make you more aware of its needs.”

Contributor

Casey Hersch, MSW, LCSW

Casey Hersch, MSW, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker, author, and founder of Light Your Sparkle. She specializes in integrative treatment models for chronic illness. Inspired by her own struggles with autoimmune illnesses and trauma, she educates about empowerment and how to build individualized healing plans.