What to Do When it Feels Impossible to “Love Your Body”

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Emma Giordano, Communications Intern

The current movement for self-love has already changed lives. Posts featuring unedited photos and empowering messages or the efforts made by large companies to break beauty standards have installed confidence and validation in many, but is it possible that the positive reception is not the case for everyone? 

Maybe all this extra attention on how “all bodies are beautiful” has revealed some deep-seated insecurities you weren’t aware you actually carried before. Maybe you come from a past of negative body image so deep that constant affirmations of “You’re beautiful!” can’t alter your thoughts. If you feel like you may be on the outskirts of the body positivity campaign, you aren’t alone!

Personally, the influx of recent body positivity posts doesn’t affect me the way it seems to affect others. I mean, I’m ecstatic that conversations centered on self-love are becoming more and more common because I understand how influential they can be for other people, but in regards to my own self-worth, I’m fairly indifferent to them. 

Growing up with an eating disorder, before I understood that my experiences are singular and do not represent others, I didn’t believe the people who claimed the media and its unrealistic standards of beauty fostered eating disorders in young girls. My eating disorder was always about me; my negative body image was always and still is reliant on how I felt about myself, not about how others saw me and definitely not how others saw other people. Though celebrities and influencers never had an effect on my eating disorder, I’ve come to learn that society really does have the ability impact one’s body image, which is why I think the self-love movement is so helpful to some! 

However, there continue to be some problematic messages passed around, such as “You HAVE to love yourself” or “You SHOULD love yourself.” This type of language and form of motivation can actually be discouraging to some. These posts can make self-love seem like an obligation, like it is a something we all need to possess. Being told you should feel a certain way when your mental health is preventing you from feeling that way can create thoughts of inadequacy, guilt, or brokenness. 

People struggling with body image issues or lacking self-love are not an anomaly, nor are we always a product of society’s standards; it’s just that our brain chemistry can make us think differently about ourselves than how you might. Sometimes, the body-positive posts I see can somewhat feel like someone shouting, “You are beautiful and should be comfortable in your own skin!” and my response is, “Okay, but what if I actually can’t right now?” 

There’s also the fact that seeing so many people being happy with their bodies can be triggering to your own insecurities. Body positivity-related posts do bring attention to one’s appearance, and though it is with good intentions, what empowers one may hurt another. It’s unfortunate how even the best of efforts to promote body positivity and self-love can backfire for some, but that’s why  it’s important to recognize all of the different experiences and responses to the push for body positivity. We are all unique. We all have different reactions to the same media. What teaches you self-love may set someone back a few steps, and we must keep fighting for the movement to be inclusive of all.

So, if you feel the recent posts promoting body positivity and self-love may be a little more toxic to you than helpful, here are a few ways to combat those negative thoughts and learn to love yourself your OWN way:

1. Tailor your feed to your needs.

If the typical posts from the most popular bodyposi accounts aren’t doing it for you, unfollow! Search for the people who empower YOU, not the people who are empowering others. Different people need different methods and it’s okay to go against the norm if that is what helps you.

2. Remember that body positivity goes beyond to our biological physique.

Maybe you struggle to love the curves that run in your family, or the lack thereof. We are not bound by our body structure, so be positive about how you style your body! Wear the clothes that make you confident. Style your hair the way you like it best. If you like makeup, show it off whether it’s a natural look or what some would deem “unwearable.” Indulge in body modifications like tattoos and piercings if that’s what floats your boat. Our bodies are not just representations of our genetics or our health. They are part of living self-expression!

3. Self-love and body positivity often go in hand, but they are not synonymous.

There are ways to love yourself that are completely independent of your appearance if that is something you are currently struggling with. Focus on your accomplishments. Personally, I believe feeling good about what you’ve done and what you’re working for provides more long-lasting feelings of validation than feeling good about how we look today. Engage in what you love. Continuing with your passions and hobbies can help you retain a more positive mindset which can be a big factor in learning to love yourself. Think about what makes you love yourself, and put your efforts towards those things if learning to love your body first isn’t working for you.

At the end of the day, you should find what works for you, not what others tell you should make you love yourself. 

Emma Giordano is a 21-year-old New York-based psychology student aiming to become a mental health counselor. She is a YouTuber at youtube.com/emmmabooks who primarily talks about books but also utilizes her platform to encourage discussion about mental health.