Self-love is inarguably important.
Teaching confidence, especially to growing girls, is crucial, and encouraging and helping women to arm themselves with assurance helps them to stay afloat in a sea of Photoshop and Botox and weight loss trends. We know beauty standards are impossible, magazine images unrealistic, and celebrity bodies largely unattainable, so it’s fitting—and remarkable—that the latest body-related craze isn’t about getting thin, but about getting happy.
The “body positivity” movement, which first began to take hold across social media platforms, is based on the idea of an inclusive, powerful mentality by which we celebrate and appreciate the beauty of every body. Body positivity reminds us we have only one body, and that it’s worth loving instead of fighting with, that we can all wear and be photographed and feel great in anything we so desire, and that each and every one of us, no matter the number we see on the scale or the shape we see in the mirror, should be comfortable in our own skin.
It’s an extraordinary movement that combats shaming and self-hate, promotes only positive body-talk, and has contributed to the creation of some kinder, more inclusive and accepting communities on the often-cruel internet. At its best and most effective, the concept of “body positivity” is shaping the way we talk with and about each other and the way we perceive our bodies and engage with other people’s.
When I first became aware of the idea of body positivity, I felt left out. Despite the movement’s inclusive mission, I felt like there wasn’t any room for me, someone who tends toward being self-conscious about her physical appearance. When I first saw body-positivity icon Lena Dunham stand naked on Girls, I didn’t feel liberated. I felt isolated. Her nudity felt like an accusation to me—like it somehow meant I, who wouldn’t stand naked on TV for anything in the world, wasn’t quite feminist enough.
I have long struggled with the fact that I am an ardent feminist and also have a somewhat fraught relationship with my body. I, of course, believe in my very core that we are so much more than our appearances, and that the we can’t and shouldn’t try to hold ourselves to standards we know are unrealistic. At the same time that I preach and believe in self-love, I try on pants and suck in a stomach that I’ve been forever frustrated by.
I struggle to reconcile the part of me that doesn’t always like how I look with the part of me that believes in myself and in all women. When I look in the mirror, I feel like a fair-weather feminist. When I’m feeling down about not fitting into a dress I want or about an extra pound or two, I then also feel guilty for buying into a system that makes us evaluate ourselves so harshly.
I’ve realized that the part of body positivity that I grapple with the most is how hard it is to really, truly love yourself. I suppose there are people who truly love their bodies every day, and I envy them, but I’m not there yet. Instead of feeling excluded from a movement because “love” feels like a lofty goal, I’ve decided to work on “positivity” in a way that feels more accessible to me.
I’m starting with appreciation.
I have a body that works. It has carried me across rolling hills in Ireland and through thick mud in Tanzania. It has been strong and reliable and it is mine.
I still feel at odds with parts of me—a stomach that makes me angry and legs that make the perfect pair of jeans even more elusive, to name a few—but when I release myself from the idea that I’m supposed to “love” it all always, I am able to appreciate other things for which I am eternally grateful.
Right now, I don’t love my body every day, but I’m working on it, starting with embracing instead of feeling alienated by a movement that asks me to be thankful for and less judgmental of myself. After all, we all have to start somewhere.