If body positivity can feel like a stretch, why not give body neutrality a try, says Niamh Devereux.
Body image woes ain’t exactly a new concept for us females. Long before the pressures of Instagram, where we see perfect images with every scroll (which likely have been edited to an inch of their life – just a reminder!), women have been bombarded with the idea of the ideal bod. Which, of course, has changed wildly down the years; from curvy pin-ups like Marilyn Monroe in the ’50s, to super-slim models à la Kate Moss in the ’90s to the current wave of big boobs, tiny waists and massive bums (inspired by the Kardashian Klan).
The constant reinforcement of what we should look like is enough to turn even the most confident gal into an insecure mess. And whether you’ve always struggled with piling on the pounds, or you’ve never been able to put on weight in “the right areas”, it’s time to stop absorbing all the BS and realise what our bodies really are – incredible machines that get us from a to b, allow us to dance like a loon on a night out, fight illness, have sex and give birth to human life.
Yup, we should be marvelling at how deadly our bodies are, not critically comparing them to the latest shot of an influencer in a #sp bikini. Of course, it’s not easy to shift that thought process but instead of going from constantly hating on yourself to unimpeded self love, why not meet yourself halfway and just try to accept yourself for who you are? Body neutrality is a step on the road to high self-esteem, so here are some pointers to get you on the right track.
The number one way of being kinder to your body is to realise you’re in a relationship with it, says Astrid Longhurst, author and founder of the Institute for Body Confidence Coaching. “Your body is where you live. It’s your home throughout your lifetime,” she points out. The body confidence coach says a good technique is to imagine your body as if it was someone you cared deeply about. “How would you treat your loved one to show them you cared? We value the people we love. We treat them with respect,” she says. “We spend time with them and nurture them and we seek to make them happy.” So standing in front of the mirror and poking your love handles or bemoaning your lack of an arse? Stop it right now. You wouldn’t be wickedly pointing out areas of supposed imperfection to your fella or friends, would you? No, so stop doing it to yourself and be respectful to your bod.
According to Astrid, we need to listen to our bodies telling us what they need in order to feel loved, healthy and happy, something we often neglect. “Only you and your body know what it needs to feel fabulous, full of life and joy,” Astrid notes. “Trust these whispers from your body and act on them.” After all, how can you embrace your body when you’re fighting it? If you aren’t the weight you want to be, punishing yourself by imposing a self-dictatorship (comprising of super-strict diets and forced early-morning bootcamp classes) isn’t going to serve you well. It’s just going to condition you to see your body as ‘the enemy’. Instead, don’t be so hard on yourself and try to see things in black and white. When you’re tired, rest. When you’re hungry, eat. When you need to lie on the sofa with a box set and snacks, do it.
In the same vein, you gotta start accepting what your body does not need. First up, stop kidding yourself by buying pairs of jeans in a size smaller. All you’re doing is hurting yourself – both literally with your waistband digging in, and mentally by giving yourself the impression that you’re bigger than you are. The same goes with clothes that swamp you – they won’t do much for your self-esteem either. Do yourself a favour and stock your closet with clothes that don’t make you feel pudgy, or shapeless, or whatever negative emotion you get with a badly-fitting outfit. God knows vanity sizing on the high street doesn’t help, but that just means trying stuff on. Make a day of it with a trusted pal, who will give an honest opinion on what shapes, materials and styles suit you best – or just trust your own judgement, as you know your own body better than anyone, after all. Once you ditch the too-tight tops, unflattering skinny jeans and overly baggy dresses and stock your closet with bits you feel comfortable in, you’ll feel so much more confident.
“Keeping your own body promises is a simple (though not necessarily easy) way to be kinder to your body,” Astrid advises. “It’s often so much easier to keep the promises we make to others; we wouldn’t think of letting them down. However, when it comes to our bodies, we can be unkind.” These promises don’t have to be ‘I’m getting a six pack by the end of the month’, BTW. They can be seriously simple. If you say that you’re going to go to bed earlier, then do exactly that. If you say that you’re going to eat more healthily, then follow this through. “Remember this is all about developing the relationship that you have with you and your body,” Astrid stresses. “Your body hears what you say and feels what you think. Trust and kindness are built on keeping your word – so make it a priority to keep your own word to your body!”
Part of the reason we feel so much pressure about our bodies is because we’re part of the cycle of judgement. We see a body that is “better” than ours and, well, it makes us feel crap and that we’re lacking somehow. We see a body that is “worse” than ours and it makes us feel superior, albeit a little guilty that we think that way. Overall, it means we’re basing our worth on how we look. And we’re all worth so much more than something as fleeting as our appearance. So, next time you catch yourself judging another woman’s body, simply stop yourself. Remind yourself that this is a human being, who is more than just a body; a person with thoughts, opinions, fears, issues and so much more going on that the we can’t see with the naked eye. And the very same goes for you.
This article first appeared in STELLAR’s July issue. Our August issue is on shelves now!
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