Are you feeling rubbish about your body? Don't worry; you're not alone.
Lockdown has us stuck at home with most of our social interactions existing online, where we're bombarded with #fitnessfreak influencers urging us to exercise and follow the latest diet craze intensely, so we don't dare gain another pound.
While it's important that we do our best to keep fit during this time where we're actively moving less, it's equally important to do so for the sake of ensuring our health. We should exercise to make ourselves happy, not to lose an extreme amount of weight or to keep up with others.
In an age where women having 'thick' hourglass figures and men having bulging muscles is a powerful trend that can harmfully influence those who don't fit into the sharp edges of this unfairly specific box, it's easy to feel bad about our bodies. During this lockdown period, however, we must work extra hard to remind ourselves how beautiful we are. Especially you, reading this now. You're looking extra cute today.
Why it's crucial that we love our bodies.
It's all well and good seeing pictures that tell you to 'love your body', but if you struggle with a negative self-image, it might not be clear how to do this or even why this is important, so here's a little list:
The problem of poor self-image is way more common than you think.
I know that that girl on Instagram wearing a bikini on the beach is smiling in all her pictures and it looks like she doesn't go a single day in her life being shy about her body, but trust me she does.
She's likely one of 34% of adults in the UK who admitted they felt shame about their appearance in the last year. She could also be one of the 35% of adults in the UK who has felt depressed regarding concerns about their body image (following a 2019 study by the Mental Health Foundation).
If she's under the age of 25, she may even be one of the 57% of 18-24-year-olds found to have felt anxious because of their body image according to a 2019 YouGov poll.
Your body is your home.
Your body is always with you, and it cares deeply about you. It enables you to breathe, fight infection, move freely and express emotion in the most beautiful ways.
It doesn't change either – on the days where you may have loved your body and on those where you may have felt like rubbish, it was the same body you were looking at, and it works incredibly hard each day to keep you alive and well.
You deserve to be loved.
When you deny yourself the privilege of self-love, you become your own worst enemy and can get trapped in a negative relationship with yourself that feels inescapable.
When you become your bully, it can drastically lower your self-esteem and self-confidence, opening the doors for various psychological and social issues to enter your life.
What would you do if your friend were speaking negatively about their appearance?
Most likely, you would tell them that its absolute nonsense, because your friend is beautiful, worth more than their physical appearance and their value as a human being, does not depend on the opinions of others.
Here, you are that friend, and to you, I say the same.
When you let other people's public opinions and projections of what their life is like determine your self-image you give them power over your mind and self-worth, and no one deserves to be given that authority.
Why women struggle with body image
'Instagram and other social media platforms have created false expectations of the perfect Female body and how we should be', says influencer Sheyla Oramas. Most of us tend to believe this and feel bad when we don't fall between the "parameters."
Western media sets the standard for feminine beauty pretty high. Unlike men who can generally 'let themselves go' and look unkempt without judgement, as a woman, it's a different story.
According to this standard, as a plus-size black woman with 4c texture hair, I'm ugly - completely false.
However, we look at what the media presents as 'ideal' beauty standards and compare ourselves to it. We insult ourselves if we cannot look identical to people on the internet who achieve their figures through photo editing, years of hard work and exercise or through hiring a beauty surgeon, personal trainer and chef to help them achieve their look.
It's nonsensical, and it's an infectious mentality that causes us to see ourselves as unattractive and therefore unworthy if we aren't a carbon copy of the artificial images we see online.
The problem with the body positivity movement
Body positivity is a fantastic political movement welcoming people to love their bodies regardless of their shape or size, but one of its significant flaws its severe lack of empathy for how men can be affected by poor self-image.
'Men have one standard of beauty to live up to chiselled jaw and a six-pack', says plus male model and body positivity activist TJ Ngoma, 'and that is not an attainable goal for all men. I don't have a six-pack, and I can tell you I feel just as sexy and beautiful they do.'
Despite its lack of attention in the body positivity movement, the projection of a false image for ideal masculine beauty can be just as harmful to men as it is to women. We're all used to seeing images of shirtless actors gazing into the camera in our favourite films and perfume adverts with women throwing themselves at his feet. Did you know that to achieve this look, most male actors have to go on a strict dehydrating diet that can cause some of them to be hospitalised immediately after shooting?
For example, to gain his iconic muscular appearance for The Witcher, Henry Cavill had to go on an extreme diet and give up drinking water so his skin could be dehydrated and thin enough to cling to his muscles, making him look ripped while he was causing severe damage to his body. There is always more than meets the eye, and not all the images you see of beauty 'standards' in the media are genuine.
The lack of representation in the media for differently-abled people is another issue that needs to be addressed as we all see ourselves through people in the media and it can feel comforting or even empowering to see ourselves in figures that look like us.
So now we've established the issue of body image and that most people have it, how can we go about challenging it?
How I learned to love my body.
Loving my body is a continuous journey I've been on for a long time. At first, I just 'faked it until I made it' and forced myself out of my comfort zone to wear clothes that made me feel self-conscious.
As I walked outside, I was so scared I'd be stared at, and people would call me fat, but the only person looking at my body was me.
As I continued to think about the reasons why I hated my body, I realised it was all a load of rubbish – I don't have to believe the lies spewed by the media and I don't have to shrink myself to make others more comfortable.
If I see a bralette or a pair of shorts I want to wear, why shouldn't I wear it? I look good, and I happily look myself up and down when I pass by shop windows, I don't care! The only person that can determine my value and attractiveness is me, and I show myself love by giving myself daily praises and affirmations when I wake up and finding five things I like about my appearance when I look in the mirror.
Listening to inspiring artists such as India Arie also enabled me to sing praises to myself that turned into a sort of mantra as the songs got stuck in my head. The more I sang uplifting lyrics; the more these external words became internal thoughts that I began to believe.
Being naked is also a massive help - it forced me to look at every inch of my body and accept it as my home. It's my responsibility to nurture it with kindness as well as food and exercise. It is with me always, and with all its rolls, stretch marks, scars and blemishes, I love it to pieces.