By Maddie Ruud
Today is Love Your Body Day (#LYBD), inspiring all of us to take stock of our personal relationships with our bodies–an area where we all have room for improvement. For 15 years, the NOW (National Organization for Women) Foundation has encouraged us to challenge society’s messages that our worth as women is measured by physical appearance. Every October, the blogosphere lights up with LYBD posts, full of body-positive wisdom and testimonial. Today, you might tweet your support, or indulge in a massage, or simply be kinder to yourself. But while Love Your Body Day comes once a year, loving your body isn’t a one-off event.
So how do we make lasting change? Surrounded by constant messages that our bodies are the problem, it’s easy to fall into the trap. We know, deep down, that the only way to improve your body image is to change the way you think, but let’s face it: it’s much harder to put together an action plan to address negative thinking than it is to go on a diet or get a new wardrobe. That’s why this Love Your Body Day, I want to present several straightforward, actionable ways to start making self-love a concrete reality in our lives.
Birds of a feather… Psychological studies show us that the more we hang out with people of the same mind, the more extreme we become in our views. While we often see it discussed in terms of politics, this “group polarization” occurs every day in our relationships with other women. It seems like common sense; we all feel worse about ourselves after lunch with dieting girlfriends, right? But on a larger scale, frequent interactions of this kind produce a greater, more lasting body dissatisfaction. Instead, you can use the polarization effect to your advantage.
- Choose to spend more time with those who share your views on body acceptance and health at all sizes. Consider making a pact with your friends to avoid conversations centering around negative self-talk, diet, weight, or appearance.
If the shoe doesn’t fit… For years after I had supposedly “recovered” from my eating disorder, I kept clothing from my worst relapse in the back of the closet. Though I knew logically that I could never fit into those sizes again without sacrificing my health, I was leaving room (both literally and mentally) for the possibility that I might, by holding onto the physical items. While my case is extreme, I’ve found that many women do keep their “thin clothes” tucked away in a similar manner.
- Giving away or donating the clothes that don’t fit can clear out mental (as well as physical) clutter, freeing you to focus on accepting yourself in the present, rather than pining for the past. Buy clothes that fit you now, not yesterday or next month, no matter what the number on the label.
Words, words, words… Studies show that the words we use affect how we perceive things. For example, colors with distinctive names actually appear more different to our minds than those with similar names. Popular culture is full of language that shapes our thinking, especially by applying traditional moral adjectives to things like diet and body, which are not in and of themselves moral issues.
- Avoid using words like “good” and “bad” to categorize foods. Removing the moral implications strips away the power. A piece of chocolate is not a moral dilemma, it’s just a piece of chocolate. There may be pros and cons to eating that chocolate, but the item of food itself is just that–an item of food. Eating it doesn’t make you a bad person, and passing it by won’t earn you your wings.
You are what you read… We are used to restricting what goes into our mouths, but we often completely neglect to control what goes into our minds. We’ve known for a long time that activities like looking at fashion magazines lowers self esteem. A 1992 Stanford study illustrated that women’s magazines–even with real informative content on health or sexuality–make most women feel worse about themselves. Years ago, during my internship with a famous female advice columnist, I noticed that reading more fashion mags and gossip blogs was starting to affect my own priorities. I couldn’t maintain the job without keeping up with the latest trends and juicy scoops, and that fact played a large role in my decision not to take a more permanent job with her when my internship was up.
- Take stock of the TV shows you watch, the blogs you read, and the magazines to which you subscribe. Is the content (or the advertising that inherent to it) body-positive? Consider cancelling those magazine subscriptions, and watch your favorite shows on-demand or record them via DVR to fast-forward the commercials.
Take a timeout… Ever think there just aren’t enough hours in the day for everything you want to fit into it? Considering that a market research study by TimeInc claims that the average woman spends 50 minutes a day on her beauty routine, chances are that you do have the time–you’re just spending it standing in front of the mirror, rifling through your closet, or under the blow dryer.
- Take 15 minutes off of your morning beauty routine to do something productive for yourself: cook yourself a more satisfying breakfast, read Adios Barbie, write a letter to a friend, go for a longer walk with your dog. At the end of the day, your clothes and makeup are coming off anyway.
In the end, falling in love is deeply personal, and learning to loving your body is no exception. Just as in a romantic relationship, it can take a little while to figure out what works. But it’s also worth remembering that loving your body is not only an individual journey. In a world where self-love is a battlefield, it is also a revolutionary stand. As Abra Fortune Chernik wrote in the Body Politic, “Gaining weight and pulling my head out of the toilet was the most political act I ever committed.” While the old cliche that “you need to do it for you,” holds true, it is sometimes a comfort to know: Every step you take toward loving your own body is a giant leap forward for all womankind.