Home BeautyBody Image Body Positivity is Hard When You Don’t Love Your Body, but Not Impossible

Body Positivity is Hard When You Don’t Love Your Body, but Not Impossible

by Erika Nicole Kendall

I’m thinking of something I read by my fellow healthy living blogger, Brooklyn Active Mama (also known as Nellie), where she shared her perspective on her personal body image.

I don’t fit anyone’s stereotype. I am not the next fitness star. I have no interest in becoming a thin girl. My end goals are not to be in a bikini. My end goals are just healthy. My doctor tells me I’m in perfect health every single visit–so why should I let a magazine tell me how to feel?

Yet I LOVE working out, it feels like breathing to me. I love heavy weights and race distances that seem pretty much impossible. My whole reason for this blog is to get people even just a little excited about working out. As an African American Female, there aren’t a lot of “us” in the fitness blogosphere and I can count on one hand those that look like me. Yet, when I look into my community the women all look exactly like me. So why can’t we learn to love our bodies while making improvements? [[source]

And, as soon as I closed that tab, I received this from Yahoo! Health, who recently just began their Body Peace Resolution which focuses on encouraging non-vanity focused fitness goals:

  • Americans become self-conscious about their bodies starting at 13-14 years old.
  • 36% Americans report that classmates most contributed to their body shame and self-consciousness; followed by a tie between depictions of beauty on TV and in advertising (both 28%), and finally on Social Media (27%)
  • Only 11% of all women polled are ‘body-positive’ (content with the way their body looks and feels)
  • Teen & Millennial females report feeling the most shame tied to body image
    • 94% teen females have felt shame or self-conscious over some aspect of their body
    • 95% millennial females have felt shame or self-conscious over some aspect of their body [source]

Only 11% of women are content with the way their bodies look and feel.

And, though that should feel like a jarring figure, I can’t help but wonder if we are missing something, here.

As early as their puberty years, young girls are becoming more and more aware of their bodies within the context of criticism from their peers. People who are naturally self-conscious about their own bodies are now ensuring that their peers feel equally self-conscious, often—if memory serves me correctly—to make themselves feel better about their own insecurity.

(It’s worth mentioning that this doesn’t stop in our teenage years—many of us experience this as adults.)

Our introduction to our bodies is functional. We learn our abilities, we crawl, we walk, we get excited when we discover new abilities, we feel pride in this. You feel excitement when you develop a new ability, and it fuels a desire to do more, learn more, and continue to challenge yourself. In your teen years, however, that changes. Apparently, this never leaves us… even as we reach adulthood.

“Content,” when used like this, is defined as a “state of satisfaction.” Not “sheer, utter bliss.” Not “complete and full adoration.” Just merely “satisfaction.”

Shame in one’s physical appearance is enough to override the ability to merely be satisfied with your body?

It shouldn’t be, but because so much of our livelihoods, as women, are dependent upon our ability to look the way strangers think we should, it is… and, apparently, it starts as young as 13. Shame begins as a barrier from body positivity starting that young. The fight for perfection starts early, and it never ends.

Isn’t perfection the problem, though? The idea that there’s this finite standard for how we should be and that, even as we age, that standard won’t change to accommodate our lives and what we enjoy? Instead of us adopting activities that we love and continuing them onward as we grow older, developing social lives surrounding our active lives, not fearing food [and its subsequent “consequences”], taking care of ourselves, and appreciating our bodies for the joy they bring (and, yes, sometimes how they look), we build lives that leave us as frail and incapable as possible to help us adhere to that standard. We don’t do much because, since we’re eating so little, we couldn’t fuel it if we tried. We don’t move a lot or sweat a lot because it ruins our hair and makeup. The standard must be maintained.

It’s not practical. It’s not realistic. And it certainly isn’t healthy. Just like our personalities, our bodies are not meant to be one static thing, or have one static identity. We are built to shift, adapt, change, and grow and, because of that fluidity, our “satisfaction” should be built on something more than its appearance.

Body positivity is hard when you don’t love your body’s appearance, but honestly, if we’re comparing our body to a standard we didn’t create for ourselves, none of us would love our body’s appearance. We’d constantly be on the hunt to compete, compare, and—ultimately—complain.

Maybe it’s time we look at our bodies beyond whether or not they adhere to that standard. I just gave birth a few months ago – I don’t look at my fat tummy and frown because it isn’t flat. I look at it and smile, and think of how it carried the child I thought I couldn’t have. Nor do I look at my thighs and frown at their size. I’m proud of how full they are, the result of lots of squats, even if I’d like them to be leaner.  What I want doesn’t deter me from appreciating, valuing, and feeling contentment with what I have.

Part of what I appreciate the most about Nellie’s perspective, and I know this might get pushback, is that it allows her to appreciate where she is while allowing her room for the growth she desires. Is that counter to the idea of body positivity? I hope not. No woman should have to adhere to standards she didn’t set for herself. Every woman should have the right to set her own healthy standard for her own body, both functionally and aesthetically. And any woman who seeks to define her own metrics in a way that requires she make improvements should be supported in doing so in a healthy fashion. And I think her perspective illustrates that in a healthy way. Maybe this is something we all should strive towards.

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k January 9, 2016 - 6:14 PM

This article is truth. The whole diet industry/ fashion industry promotes body negativity especially amongst black women. Im trying to get back into fitness while finding a trainer. I gave up on some nutrition/ fitness experts because they promote protein powders and do fat shaming. Im only focused on a positive outlook/ people.

Angela January 11, 2016 - 4:09 PM

Thanks for weighing in on this. I posed a question on Twitter about body positivity and whether there was room in that movement for those who feel positively about where and who they are, even if they desire to change in ways they view as positive *for them*

I’ve shared with you before about my struggles with excess skin following the loss of almost 200 pounds. In clothing, it can be difficult to see. Out of clothing, it is impossible to miss. Yet, as I look at my body, I recognize that I’ve accomplished something so few have accomplished, and I did it over a period of years, and have managed to maintain it for over a year. Do I want to continue to make changes? Yes!! I’m just starting to realize the awesomeness that this body is capable of achieving, and I want to wring every drop of life out of life.

So, even when I talk of losing weight (at this point, it’s more a matter of losing body fat percentage), it’s not because I want to meet an image popularized by media, but because doing so will permit me to accomplish other goals that once seemed impossible.

Have I mentioned the marathon I intend to do this year? LOL! Yes, this body, as perfectly imperfect as it is, delights me as I continue to find out what it can–and will–do.

As always, Erika, you bring balance to this journey, and I so appreciate your voice!

Nellie January 12, 2016 - 9:12 AM

You bring up so many good points here. I never noticed how self conscious I was as a kid until I got into my mid-late teenage years and I wore oversized shirts and pants to hide all the natural curves I had. From then to now the image that we all “should be” has shifted…a little…but at the same time who wants to spend their life trying to achieve a beyonce body? That can be super stressful and overwhelming and by the end the person still might not love their body.

Erika Nicole Kendall January 12, 2016 - 9:34 AM

I couldn’t agree more. I think the image has shifted totally with regard to black women – I can’t imagine growing up with women like K. Michelle and Amber Rose as the idealized images in our community – and, damn it, as much as I advocate for their rights to be who they are and look how they please, I don’t want to be held to that, either!

“That can be super stressful and overwhelming and by the end the person still might not love their body.”

Amen and co-sign, sis. Thank you for writing the post that inspired me! <3

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