Remember the little girl who used to run through the sprinkler wearing her swimsuit, shouting and giggling with pure joy?
Not once did she think about her body’s appearance. She had full body freedom.
Then she grew older, and culture’s body perfectionist ideals engulfed her thoughts about her body.
That girl may now be you, struggling with how you perceive your body. And you certainly are not alone.
According toDoSomething.org’s article “11 facts about body image,” approximately 91% of women are dissatisfied with their bodies. That’s almost all of us.
But we, as a culture, can get body freedom back, no matter what our size, shape, age or ability, by stopping the judgment of our own and other people’s bodies.
Berating our bodies has become normal, and it must stop if we wish to create a compassionate world where all bodies are valued. Remember, there’s a human being living inside each body.
So how do we train our brains to be body positive? We practice a process called neuroplasticity, which states that “where attention goes, neural firing flows and neural connection grows” says Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, author of “Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence.”
“How you focus your mind can change the physical structure of your brain,” says Siegel.
And “what you practice grows stronger” says “Good Morning I Love You” author, Shauna Shapiro, a clinical psychologist and internationally recognized expert in mindfulness and self-compassion.
Thus, it’s possible to rewire your brain to be happier with your body through practice.
Remember, you didn’t learn how to play soccer, play the piano or tie your shoes overnight. You practiced. You trained. You weren’t good at it. Then, over time, you scored goals, played a concerto and began tying your shoes without help.
Creating a healthy body image is no different. You can change your brain to think positively about your body, and all bodies.
“Your ‘body image’ is stored in your brain cells, not your fat cells, says body image therapist, Ashlee Bennett.
But I can hear your objections: “Tanya, this is all nice and fluffy, but really, how can I like my body? I just can’t. I can only be happy with it if or when …”
A long list of research (which I encourage you to explore on Dr. Kristin Neff’s website, SelfCompassion.org) shows that we take better care of ourselves, physically and mentally, when we practice self-compassion and respect our bodies, not hate them or berate them.
OK, so are you with me now?
Let’s practice rewiring your brain for body positivity.
As an individual, as a community, as a culture: I challenge you to see, hear and speak body positive messages, every single day.
My favorites include:
“Your body is an instrument, not an ornament.” — Lindsay and Lexie Kite, directors of the nonprofit Beauty Redefined
“In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act. — Caroline Caldwell
“You have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” — Louise Hay, motivational author, “Love yourself, Heal your Life”
“I hope one day your human body is not a jail cell, instead it’s a sunny 2 p.m. garden with daisies thriving because of self love.” — @positivebodyimage
“Life’s too short to be unkind to yourself.” — @justgirlproject
“You are so much more than a body.” — @beautifullyflawedbean
“Body confidence does not come from trying to achieve the ‘perfect’ body; it comes from embracing the one you’ve already got.” —JenneandLindsey.com, empowering women through style
“Don’t value your body over your being.” — Unattributed
“We get so worried about being ‘pretty.’ Let’s be pretty kind, pretty funny, pretty smart, pretty strong.” — Britt Nicole
“We have a saying in our house. ‘There’s no wrong way to have a body’.” — Amy Pence-Brown, body image activist
“Happiness isn’t size-specific. Happiness has very little to do with what you look like and everything to do with who you are.” — Anna Guest-Jelley, founder and CEO of Curvy Yoga
“Healthy bodies come in different sizes and shapes.”
“It’s not what you see in the mirror that needs changing, it’s culture.”
“Stop fixing your bodies, start fixing the world.” — Eve Ensler, writer, performer, playwright “The Vagina Monologues”
“My body is not yours to critique and discuss. My body is not yours for consumption. My body is my vessel. An archive of experiences. A weapon that has fought battles only I understand. A library of love, pain, struggle, victory and mystery. Your eyes cannot define all it has endured. Do not place value upon my body, place it upon my being.” — Sophie Lewis, activist @sophaaa
Now that you have some great body positive messages, what do you do with them?
Write them on sticky notes and post them on your bathroom mirror.
Ask permission to paint a body positive mural on a window at a local business.
Unfollow unrealistic Instagrammers that portray only pure perfection in their eating habits and images of their bodies.
Create a daily gratitude journal practice for your body. Celebrate what your body does for you, not what it looks like.
Post positive quotes on social media with hashtags such as #thisbodycan, #beyoutiful, #beautyredefined #redefiningwellness #bodyimagemovement #thebodyisnotanapology.
Discuss these concepts and create a body positive bubble in your circle of friends, at your gym or yoga studio, in your classroom, with your teammates, at home with your family.
Harness the power of your brain — rewire it — toward positive body messages.
Remember, ladies, that little girl is still there … inside you … waiting. Let’s go get her.
Be responsible for bringing positive body “energy” into the world.
Run though the sprinkler, wearing whatever you want, dang it, and enjoy life to the fullest.
Be a rebel.
(This article was published in The Jackson Hole News & Guide, March 18, 2020).