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Post these body-positive mantras everywhere

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).

Body acceptance is a radical act of self-love

Radical Acceptance is a new column focusing on promoting healthy body image and redefining health.

Amy Pence-Brown, a 39-year-old mother of three, is a body image activist internationally known for her radical stand for self-love at the Capitol City Public Market in 2015.

Pence-Brown stood blindfolded in a black bikini, with the following message written on a chalkboard placed at her feet, holding markers in her outstretched arms inviting the crowd to support her radical declaration of self-love.

“I am standing for anyone who has struggled with a self-esteem issue like me, because all bodies are valuable,” her sign read. “To support self-acceptance, draw a heart on my body.”

By the end of the display she was covered in marker, having been drawn on by young and old, men and women. Visit Amy Pence-Brown to watch the video.

Three years later over 200 million people have viewed this stand for radical body liberation making it one of the most viral videos of all time.

“This is powerful. This is humanity,” she said. “This is a revolution. I’m honored and blown wide open with hope.”

Amy’s “Stand For Self Love” changed me.

Her radical declaration of self-love cracked open something deep inside me. I felt our shared humanness. I, too, wanted to advocate for radical acceptance — of all bodies.

Professionally, I began to see a need for this work. As a former exercise professional and “eat this, not that” nutrition coach, I held the false belief that if we exercised and ate well — the two magical pieces to health — we could achieve a fit and healthy body.

I was wrong.

I learned this after having hundreds of intimate conversations, often filled with tears and stress with Jacksonsites and clients around the country.

I started seeing bodies and health differently, with my eyes wide open. I started seeing myself differently.

I had made a career out of being healthy to look healthy. I took a critical look at my own body image. When I did, the worries, fears and shame that I felt about my body over the years flooded through. Now, as a 49-year old woman, I’ve added on another layer to my body image: aging.

I want to be clear about where I am at now professionally. As a mind-body nutritionist, I often have clients come to me seeking weight-loss help. Often they, like many of us, want to eat better to feel better, but the real hope is that eating the “right” foods will help us maintain or change our bodies.

But that’s not my focus. I help clients make peace and heal their relationships with food and their bodies. I help clients gain the crucial tools to achieve true health and well-being, not just the latest diet trend or body ideal.

It’s been three years since Pence-Brown’s video went viral, and I still think about it. I reached out to Amy for her wisdom on being a body image activist and radical Idahoan. When I mentioned this column, she was both excited yet surprised, in the best kind of way.

“I’ve had a lot of pushback against body positivity for years in the region, due to a long-supported fat-phobic culture with a severe dedication to healthism,” she told me.

Though her work has received positive national and international attention, regionally that has not been the case. She hopes to “pave the way to this slow opening of minds, hearts and eyes to the possibility that there might be a new way, a better way, to live and enjoy our bodies than we’ve been taught previously.”

Fat (and thin) Girls (and guys) Hiking

Body positivity activism recently made its way to our community.

This past week I attended one of two “Fat Girls Hiking, Trails Not Scales,” body positivity hikes in Jackson. Founder Summer Michaud-Skog set the ground rules: Hikers were to refrain from diet talk, body shaming or weight loss talk.

The focus was on enjoying the outdoors in whatever body you’re in. Our Jackson group was represented by different body shapes, sizes, genders and ages.

“We love getting outside as a family and exploring, teaching our kids to move their bodies, respect the earth and enjoy the outdoors,” said Stephanie Marie Martinez, who brought her entire family. “Also teaching them that body type doesn’t dictate what you can do in your life. Be it small children or fat adults.”

Elevating the conversation

I plan to provide new ideas and perspectives on how we see bodies and dive deeper into body image in Jackson and how we might redefine health and what healthy looks like.

I also want to be honest and up front; I am still learning to navigate body image myself. My intention isn’t to “fix” body image, self-confidence or self-esteem because we are not “broken.” My intention is to be of service to this community and News&Guide readers, to infuse our hearts and spirit with compassion, for ourselves and every body; to help us see our humanness and practice radical acceptance … of all bodies, no matter what your body size, shape, gender or age.

Our hearts are craving more — to be more than bodies.

“All bodies are good bodies, imperfect as we all are,” Pence-Brown said in an interview with People magazine. “Life is too short to go on hating yourself, so start loving yourself where you are right now.”

I stand with her and with you. Like yourself. Be a rebel.

Mirror mirror on the wall, what we look like isn’t all

Your thighs are too big.

Your belly isn’t flat.

You have too many wrinkles.

Your stretch marks are ugly.

Your grey hairs make you look old.

Your cellulite is hideous.

Millions of women hear hurtful statements like those when they look in the mirror.

I was one of them. These were my statements. I bet they’ve been yours, too.

According the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, 97 percent of women dislike their bodies on an average day. Body dissatisfaction is so common it’s the norm.

That is a problem.

“The pressure to measure up to the American beauty ideal — thin, firm, smooth and young — is greater than ever before,” according to a Psychology Today article, “A Duty to Be Beautiful,” by Heather Widdows. It’s become normal to partake in the dizzying number of beauty products and procedures available to us. And as more and more of us engage in beautifying, those women who don’t may feel like their bodies are not OK as is.

Redefining beauty isn’t about choosing to participate in beautifying or not. Instead it’s about creating a cultural shift in how beauty is defined and how our self-worth as women is defined.

Over the decades, cultural beauty ideals have changed to include almost all body types, but it hasn’t been since the Renaissance that women’s natural bodies were viewed as beautiful.

Can we reclaim our natural bodies? And can we be more than our bodies?

Yes, we can. And it’s time we do.

To help us create that shift I examined research from two body image experts, Lindsay Kite, who holds a doctorate and runs BeautyRedefined.com, and Renee Engeln, body image researcher, professor at Northwestern University and author of “Beauty Sick.”

“The message that ‘all women are beautiful, flaws and all’ is really nice. But it isn’t fixing anyone’s body image issues,” Kite wrote. “That’s because women are not only suffering because of the unattainable ways beauty is being defined. We are suffering because we are being defined by beauty. We are bodies first and people second.”

Engeln said messages that tell us that our looks matter more than our actions keep us tied to the mirror. The more space our physical appearance takes up in our heads, the less time and emotional energy we have left for living the rest of our lives.

That preoccupation of trying to attain unrealistic beauty standards causes increased anxiety, worry, feelings of failure, lowered self-esteem, disordered eating, relentless dieting and exercise obsessions, mental and physical health issues and overall diminished well-being, Widdows writes.

But we can change. We can unwind our culture’s beauty ideals from our self-worth. Two research-based body image strategies show us how.

First, shift your compliments to traits other than physical appearance. That may take more practice than you think.

My sister recently sent me a photo that captured the personality of my niece. She was lifting up her homecoming dress to show her Under Armour athletic boy shorts, a testament to her unique and funny character.

My natural reaction was to say how pretty she looked in her dress. Instead I said I loved her sense of humor and how feminine and strong she is.

Engeln recommends that we create a household where we don’t talk about appearance, though not because complimenting someone’s appearance is bad. Rather, the practice of complimenting someone for who they are and how they contribute to the world shifts the focus of worth off of appearance.

If you’re a mom who wants to break the body shaming cycle but is feeling behind, Engeln said it’s never too late to start. And don’t be afraid of messing up.

“Sometimes it’s hard,” Engeln said of this practice she’s been working on with her niece. “But I always try to correct it if I slip up.”

Don’t know where to begin? Here are a few ideas to get you started:TinyURL.com/changeyourcompliments.

Second, be aware of the media you consume. Does what you watch, read or view help you feel good and empowered as you are? Or are you left feeling less than or not enough?

Notice if you find yourself comparing yourself with the before-and-after images on social media or clicking on the “how to get ripped abs in five days” articles or admiring the beauty ideals portrayed on the latest Netflix series.

The Beauty Redefined blog, penned by Kite and twin sister Lexie, beautifully described the problem of comparison.

“Self-comparison divides and conquers us, tricking us into seeing each other as enemies instead of allies and bodies instead of souls. When we mentally remove ourselves from the competition for beauty and attention that pits us against each other, we can finally unite in empathy and sisterhood.”

Clear out messages of body perfection and make room for body positive affirmations. For a list of body positive social media accounts to follow check out TinyURL.com/bodypositivesocialmedia.

Even as a body image movement global ambassador, I still sometimes compare myself with unrealistic beauty ideals. But my thinking has changed. It’s not that I love my stretch marks and cellulite or think my wrinkles are beautiful. But I don’t hate them either. I just … think they’re human.

Let’s redefine beauty. And let’s be more than our bodies and beauty.

I want to apologize to all the women

I have called pretty.

Before I’ve called them intelligent or brave.

I am sorry I made it sound as though

something as simple as what you’re born with

is the most you have to be proud of

when your spirit has crushed mountains.

From now on I will say things like, you are resilient

or, you are extraordinary.

Not because I don’t think you’re pretty.

But because you are so much more than that.

— Rupi Kaur

Like yourself. Be a rebel.

Size or shape doesn’t define your health

Your body is not a billboard for your health. Your body is your home.” — Amy Pershing, founder of Bodywise

When we look at our health and bodies from this perspective, we can make room for self-compassion, tolerance and patience. Yet American culture focuses the lens on our physical appearance, convincing us that our health is defined by our size or shape. This is a distorted idea of health.

We need to zoom out. We need to widen the lens and look deeper into an evolved definition of health. We can’t assume someone’s health status, abilities or goals based on the size or shape of her body.

“Fit bodies don’t necessarily tell the story of a healthy person, nor do (larger) bodies tell the story of a lazy person,” wrote Erin Brown, an author for Girls Gone Strong, a body-positive health-and-fitness website focused on female empowerment. “You can’t know everything about a person’s behavior or life by simply looking at her body.”

No ideal shape or size

Healthism — a preoccupation with health as a primary achievement of well-being, as first defined by political economist Robert Crawford — emphasizes personal responsibility while ignoring important social determinants of health. In a world steeped in dieting culture and healthism, it can be assumed that many people have already been trying to change their eating habits (maybe for years), and their inability to sustain such changes has resulted in feelings of shame and self-doubt.

Thus, trying to maintain or attain a body that culture portrays as healthy may take us further away from health.

The truth: We’re not all meant to be some “ideal” size or shape. If we all ate exactly the same way and had identical exercise regiments we would still look vastly different from one another.

Body diversity is part of what makes us human.

“The body is our home, our temple. Just as everyone’s literal home looks different so does everyone’s body and that is something to be celebrated and respected,” local yogi Ariel Mann said. “If we can cultivate inner peace and a feeling of home within, then we can take that with us everywhere rather than looking to external sources to feel comfortable, welcome and at home.”

Widen the lens, redefine health

What does an evolved definition of health look like?

Health is mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. It’s about nourishing your whole self, looking through a wider lens from a whole human being perspective, not just your physical body. It encourages us to honor our deepest self and empowers us to see our truth. Health exists on a continuum that varies with time and circumstance for each individual.

And one thing that health doesn’t define? Your self-worth.

Factors that affect our health include: genetics, environment, life experiences, access to health care, socioeconomic status, culture, trauma, illness, age, community, education, social support, sleep, spirituality, stress level, stigma, self-esteem, safety, self-care routine, employment and job security, physical activity, mental health, relationship with food, body and self, individual thoughts, feelings, beliefs, happiness, relationships, connection, sense of purpose … you see where I’m going here.

So how can we honor true health?

One way is to speak our authentic truth, to tell our stories and to express our experiences as a human being. We often struggle to speak openly about what we are really experiencing in our lives and what’s really affecting our health. When we focus on weight, thinking we need to change the size and shape of our body, our lens focuses on food and exercise — a very narrow view.

When we widen the lens we see all the things that impact health.

Perhaps you’ve been through a divorce. Maybe you’ve experienced an illness, injury, death in the family or a traumatic life experience. Yet somehow your body is the problem? We need to reinforce the complexity of the human experience instead of reinforcing health as the pinnacle of success and happiness.

Last month I read an article in The New York Times, “Why Your Cardiologist Should Ask Your About Your Love Life,” in which cardiologist Sandeep Jauhar describes research suggesting diet and exercise alone are not enough to roll back heart disease.

“It is increasingly clear that our hearts are sensitive to our emotional system — to the metaphorical heart, if you will. Doctors like myself are trained to think of the heart as a machine that we can manipulate with the tools of modern medicine,” Jauhar wrote. “Those manipulations, however, must be accompanied by greater attention to the emotional life that the heart, for so many years, was believed to contain.”

But what are we told by experts to do when our health is poor? Exercise more. Eat better.

While certainly these can be healthy strategies, we need to look at our health from a whole human being perspective. It’s time for a paradigm shift for health. Let’s widen the focus of the lens and see ourselves as more than our physical bodies.

You can decide what health means to you. Redefine health.

Like yourself. Be a rebel.

(This article was published in the October 31, 2018 Jackson Hole News and Guide).

Dear diet — it’s not me, it’s you, so goodbye

Dear Diet Culture,

Things just aren’t working out between us.

You make me feel ashamed when I’ve eaten a “bad” food. You make me feel dirty if I haven’t eaten “clean.” You’ve taken away my personal autonomy to choose what to eat and enjoy eating.

I will no longer allow you to judge my self-worth by my food choices or my body size or shape. You’ve kept me from having the relationship that I truly I desire — peace with food and my body.

While I used to feel guilty for cheating on you, I’ve learned that there’s no cheating when it comes to food. I did not marry kale and go behind its back to rendezvous with chocolate chip cookies.

My self-trust and ability to sense true biological hunger and fullness has eroded. Your restriction and deprivation intensify my cravings and make me feel like I am overeating or a failure when I inevitably desire half-in-half in my morning coffee.

You’ve made me a slave to the scale and its number, deciding for me whether I am going to have a good or bad day. You’ve made me feel dissatisfied with my body unless it fits culture’s “ideal.” And I am angry with you for judging me by my body size and shape assuming that I don’t take care of myself.

I will no longer socially isolate myself in order to control my food more easily. You’ve made me preoccupied with food, especially those dang carbohydrates. I’m breaking up with you because I don’t believe that bread is inherently bad. Especially if it’s a slice of crispy, warm Persephone Bakery bread.

You’ve promised me a better life with a new and improved body, but I know that this awesome life is happening now, not if or when.

I know that you will try to seduce me into staying in this relationship by enticing me with the latest, greatest eating plan in the New Year. I know there’s a better way for me to take care of my health and make peace with food and my body.

You’re just not right for me. I am so over you.

Yet I’ll be honest. I am afraid to break up with you.

I am fearful that without you I won’t know how to control my food and my body. If diets worked, the one I started with you last January would have done the trick and I wouldn’t be thinking about the next one.

And you don’t fool me. I know that “diets” are out. In order to stay hip and relevant and market to the next wave of dieters, you, the $70-billion diet industry, have ditched the word diet and hijacked the words “wellness,” “health” and “clean eating” to focus my attention away from the negative press that diets don’t work. But the strategies remain the same — restrictive eating with short-lived results. You seduce me with quick fixes, 30-day plans, 10-day detoxes, promising it will be different this time, because it’s not a diet.

You’ve lured me into pseudo-dieting, unconscious dieting. I might not be on a eating plan but I’m still stuck in dieting mentality. I limit my carbohydrate grams. I am obsessed with eating only foods that are healthy, also known as orthorexia. I have rules about when I should eat. I pay penance for eating “bad” foods by doing extra exercise. I sometimes put on a “false food face” in public by skipping the dessert at dinner to then go home and eat my sweets in privacy, feeling guilty when I eat nutritionally deficient foods.

No matter what you call it, a diet is still a diet if you “eat sparingly or according to prescribed rules,” at least according to Merriam-Webster. The language may have changed but the diet remains.

Diet Culture, you’re the problem. It’s not me. Nor is my body the problem.

In 2019 I’m starting a new relationship. I will nourish not only my physical health, but also the health of my mind and spirit. Because what’s health if it doesn’t take into consideration stress levels and my mental health?

And nope, Diet Culture, you will no longer dictate my ideal body shape.

My ideal body shape is whatever shape my body is when I am nourishing it without restriction and participating in movement without obligation.

Diet Culture, we’re breaking up. It’s not me. It’s you.

No longer yours,

Radical Acceptance

(This article was published in the December 27, 2018 Jackson Hole News and Guide).

Mom’s body attitude can shape daughter’s

“Mom, I’m fat.”

No mom ever wants to hear that comment from her daughter.

Yet never before have our girls been more obsessed with their weight and appearance. They are more afraid of becoming fat than they are of nuclear war, cancer or losing their parents, according to the Council on Size and Weight Discrimination.

Chronic dieting, low self-esteem and eating disorders are affecting them at alarming rates.

• Girls as young as 6 worry about their weight.

• 89 percent of girls have dieted by age 17.

• 15 percent of young women have disordered eating.

• 42 percent of girls in grades one to three want to lose weight.

• 45 percent of boys and girls in grades three through six want to be thinner.

• 51 percent of 9- and 10-year-old girls say they feel better about themselves when they are dieting.

• 81 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat.

Those statistics come from the Body Image Therapy Center. Though the numbers may convince us that raising body-confident girls is impossible in a culture focused on thin as the healthy ideal body type, we can make a difference.

Parents, teachers, mentors and health care professionals have the power to create that shift. Our girls need us to take a radical stand to accept all bodies and the girls who live in these bodies.

The most important thing we can do to promote positive body image is work on our own body image.

“Over 97 percent of women have at least one body-hating thought every single day, and 91 percent of women are dissatisfied with some aspect of their body,” said Alexia Conason, a clinical psychologist and the founder of the Anti-Diet Plan.

Those statistics have risen to epidemic proportions due to our disordered culture, which focuses on our flaws and pairs our self-worth with our pant size or the number on the scale, Conason said.

But there’s good news.

Girls who have a mom who is not self-critical of her own weight are 40 percent more likely to be body positive or body neutral, despite the cultural messages that teens see and hear every day, according to a Yahoo survey.

When we work on our own body image we support our girls.

If your daughter says she’s fat, how you respond matters.

Typically, we say “Oh, you’re not fat.” Yet that only reinforces that fat is “bad” and undesirable. Instead, let’s be authentic and honest in our communication with our girls. Be curious. Ask her questions such as: What caused her concern about her body size and why does she feel this way? Then listen deeply.

Practice empathy, the ability to understand and share her feelings. Can you relate to how your daughter feels about her body?

Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your own struggles with body image and why it’s important to have a healthy relationship with your body. Let her know she’s not alone.

Use the inevitable questions and challenges regarding body image and eating choices to strengthen your relationship with your daughter. Let her know “we’re in this together.”

So instead of telling your daughter that she’s not fat or her thighs aren’t too big, teach her to see bodies and health from a broader and more realistic perspective.

Teach her to take a critical look at the media she is consuming. Social media in particular plays a large role in the daily lives of our young people. Check in with your daughter and discuss how social media images often portray unrealistic bodies ideals. Have her unfollow any feed that doesn’t make her feel good in her body now. Then, together, check out body-positive social media feeds, such as @bodyimagemovement, to replace them, and visit TinyURL.com/bodypositivesocialmedia for more ideas.

Teach your daughter to separate self-worth from appearance. Create a list with her of all her strengths and accomplishments — qualities that have nothing to do with her appearance.

“True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are,” said Brene Brown, author of “The Gifts of Imperfection.”

Break the habit of body criticism. Our girls are listening. Comments like “Ugh! I feel so fat today.” Questions like “Do these jeans make my butt look big?” Statements about food like “Oh, I can’t eat that, I’ve been so bad this week.”

Our kids model our behavior.

“A new study by Webb et al (2018) posited that hearing ‘fat talk’ from one’s family may reinforce notions of a thin ideal and self-objectification which in turn may make women less attuned to the internal workings of their own body, eat less mindfully, and rely more on environmental or other external cues to guide their eating,” Alexis Conason wrote in Psychology Today.

Show your daughter how health looks different on every body. Have her question the cultural assumptions that smaller bodies are healthier than larger ones, that all weight loss is good and all weight gain is bad. Health comes in different sizes and shapes. Together look for examples of her favorite female athletes with different body types.

Let’s be the body image role models our girls need. And don’t worry about making a “mistake” when you find yourself challenged by how to address a body image concern. Just circle back and try again. It matters.

“Adolescents are inundated with messages about the importance of attractiveness and body size from sunup to sundown,” said Nicole Rue, a Jackson clinical psychologist specializing in disordered eating, compulsive exercise and poor body image.

“Parents occupy privileged positions to communicate to their children that human value is multifaceted by acknowledging, encouraging and genuinely appreciating non-appearance-based achievements and proclivities.”

I would love to hear ideas from our community. Where do you see challenges with teen body image?

Let’s create solutions. Let’s act radically in our community to prevent our daughters from fearing fat more than war, cancer or death.

Now when your daughter says “I’m fat” you can let her know that it’s not what she sees in the mirror that needs fixing, it’s the culture.

(This article was published in the January 23, 2019 edition of the Jackson Hole News and Guide).

How to embrace your aging body – Fifty is the new fifty

“Defy your age — get your body back.”

“Take the 10-year social media photo challenge.”

“fifty is the new 30.”

What do all these messages tell us about aging in today’s body-centric culture?

Don’t.

When I turned 50, I’ll be honest: I’d been thinking about aging a lot leading up to that birthday. There’s no doubt that my body was visibly aging. Yet I knew I wanted to share a healthy body image message about growing older and how we can radically accept our bodies despite living in today’s anti-aging culture.

How can you choose to see your aging body differently?

  • by detaching your self-worth from our appearance
  • practicing gratitude for your present body
  • honoring aging as a privilege (no matter what your age!)
  • seeing your body’s true purpose

I’ve learned to accept that my outside appearance is going to change no matter how many creams, potions or procedures I try.

One of the greatest gifts 🎁 of aging is that it can encourage us to look deeper than the outward appearance, beyond the reflection in a mirror. That type of introspection helped me separate my identity from my appearance.

One of my favorite authors, 67-year-old Anne Lamott, said it best:

“Age has given me what I was looking for my entire life — it gave me.”

Separate your self-worth from your appearance

Reflect and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who are you? What makes you uniquely you?
  • What feeds your spirit?
  • What brings you joy and happiness?
  • What are your special gifts that you are contributing to the world?

Cultivate your inner beauty and focus on feeling good from the inside out instead of trying to change the outside to feel good on the inside.

Aging is a privilege, a miracle

While navigating life and feeling good in our skin as we age isn’t easy, when we practice gratitude and self-compassion and ditch self-criticism and comparison, we can acknowledge aging as a gift. Or, as poet Rupi Kaur said, a miracle.

The anti-aging industry keeps us invested in trying to stay young by creating contests, like the Instagram 10-year challenge, which asks users to post a photo from today and one from 10 years ago. The underlying message: Show how little you’ve aged. But our bodies are meant to change as we live.

The new challenge that I propose to you is to shift from seeing aging as something to defy and see your body with gratitude in the present. The signs of aging — our wrinkles and lines — tell our story. They make us real. They speak our truth.

View your body with an attitude of gratitude

“As a society, we don’t talk about aging as a celebration of a life well-lived,” Mary Robinson said in a blog post titled “Coming to Peace With Aging.” “We scrutinize and shame it if we are talking about it all.”

Have you ever looked back at a photo of your younger self and thought, “I wish I had that body now?” Yes? Take a pause and remember back then. More often than not you’ll find you were critical of yourself then, too. We’re often stuck in such a pattern, never happy with the present self.

But your body is miraculous at all ages. And it’s truly a privilege to get to see it change through the years.

Be more than your body

Our culture and our egos have convinced us our body is who we are. But when we change the way we see our bodies, how we feel about them also changes. What you focus on expands.

What’s your body’s purpose? Choose to view your body not as an ornament but as a vessel for living your best life.

Turning 50 was a gift that allowed me to see aging from a body-positive perspective.

I don’t need my younger body back. I don’t need to feel or look like I’m 30.

Aging has allowed me to see my identity as separate from my appearance. It taught me to have gratitude for my body today and see aging as a privilege. It taught me to see my body as a vessel to give my unique gifts, as a messenger for helping others make peace with their bodies — not as an ornament.

Love yourself now, no matter your age. Be a rebel.

If only our eyes saw souls instead of bodies how different out ideals of beauty would be. – Lauren Jauregui

P.S. Interested in more body image articles? 👇

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We can stop apologizing for our bodies now

Repeat after me: “The body is not an apology.”

This mantra, coined by world-renowned activist, poet and author Sonya Renee Taylor, challenges us to shift away from shame for living in a perfectly imperfect human body.

Instead of viewing our bodies as problems that need to be fixed, we can heal from generations of body shame created by cultural messaging based on assumptions about health and perfectionist body ideals.

We can dismantle body shame by understanding its origins and the myths that cultivate it, by learning to separate wellness from weight and celebrating body diversity as part of the human experience.

‘Crappy inheritance’

First, we need to remember that we weren’t born feeling ashamed of our bodies. We learned it.

A study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found 50% of girls internalized the thin ideal by the age of 5. In my practice clients can easily pinpoint when they began to feel shame for the bodies, and, yes, it’s predominantly during childhood.

Body shame is a “fantastically crappy inheritance,” Taylor said. We continue to pass it down generation after generation, but we aren’t obligated to keep it.

We’ve been programmed to believe a culturally created idea that we should attain this “perfect” body type, at any cost, if we want to be viewed as healthy and attractive. It puts us at war with ourselves, according to “Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Leave Out, Get Wrong and Just Plain Fail to Understand About Weight,” by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor.

“Our culture perpetuates the anti-fat myths that keep people depressed and at war with their own bodies: a war where little battles might be won in the short term with a diet, but then lost overall because those who turn to dieting can rarely maintain long term the look that is accepted as norm — one that is not necessarily the best weight for them and they feel worse about themselves for their failure,” the book states.

When we understand that health comes in a variety of sizes and shapes, we can dismantle the myth that thin equals healthy. Health improvements, such as changing diet and exercise habits, are beneficial independent of weight loss.

In addition, weight and BMI — body mass index — are poor predictors of disease and longevity.

Millions of people became “overweight” overnight when in 1997 a panel of nine medical experts chosen by the National Institutes of Health voted to lower the BMI cutoff from 27 to 25 in order to stay in line with the World Health Organization Criteria. They argued that a “round” number like 25 would be easy to remember, according to Harriet Brown, author of “Body of Truth: How Science, History and Culture Drive Our Obsession With Weight and What We Can Do About It.”

Furthermore, the bulk of epidemiological evidence suggests that five pounds “underweight” is more dangerous than 75 pounds “overweight,” according to the Health at Every Size Fact Sheet.

We need to remember the reason we see so much weight-loss messaging: It’s big business. BusinessWire reports it an industry worth a stunning $72 billion in 2019.

Changing your future, today

I challenge our community to see weight and health differently, whether for our own mental, physical health and emotional health, or for our children or patients.

Instead of basing your health “success” on the number on the scale, create exercise goals based on improved strength, balance, agility and cardiovascular gains. Skip the restrictive 30-day eating plan and practice improving your nutrition without strict “no’s,” as there’s a place for all foods on your plate. And, of course, wellness is not just physical health. How are you caring for your mental and emotional health?

Finally, we need to see and accept body diversity and body changes as part of the human experience. Imagine a world without body judgment, a world in which we no longer had to apologize for our bodies. How would you live differently?

Here’s what Jacksonites had to say:

• “I would enjoy my glass of wine and chocolate guilt-free and not stress over trying to get back my six-pack abs.”

• “I would have breastfed in public instead of hiding myself in my house for days on end, going crazy with boredom.”

• “I would wear a bikini and try a sport I’ve always wanted to try: surfing.”

• “I wouldn’t hate my body and think of normalcies such as stretch marks and cellulite as hideous and disgusting.”

• “That little number on the inside of my clothes wouldn’t be a trigger for disordered eating.”

• “Doctors wouldn’t be worried about my body not returning to ‘normal’ after pregnancy.”

• “My growing sixth grader wouldn’t look in the mirror and say she’s fat and needs to lose weight.”

• “When I get dressed, I would no longer feel like I had to strategically hide body parts.”

• “There would be attractive outdoor clothes that fit me, whatever my size.”

• “My daughter would look at my ‘mom belly’ with its loose skin and stretch marks with wonder and respect for its ability to create a baby.”

• “I would stop obsessing over the 5 to 10 pounds that I am constantly gaining and losing and realize that it’s where my body naturally wants to be, just part of living my life, enjoying a scoop of ice cream with my kids, going for brunch with my girlfriends.”

• “I would finally feel relaxed, at peace, accepted and attractive, just as I am. I would feel liberated.”

There is no wrong way to have a body. Repeat after me: “The body is not an apology.”

‘Fit and ripped’ male ideal breeds body image misery

Fit. Lean. Ripped. Strong.

Men use those powerfully masculine words to describe the “ideal” male, which many Jackson Hole, Wyoming men feel is expected as the norm in our fit-centric mountain town.

Masculine, as defined by Google, is “having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with men, especially strength and aggressiveness: muscular, well built, brawny, shredded.”

Yet many men struggle with worries about their appearance, trying to maintain or attain that “perfect” masculine body type.

Here’s what I heard from men in an anonymous body image survey I shared online last month:

“I have always been insecure with my body even when I was 25 years old and 7% body fat. I still felt fat and unattractive with my shirt off.”

“Age is starting to catch up with me even though I don’t want to admit it.”

“Hate it. Can’t lose weight no matter what I do. I’m on Weight Watchers for the second time.”

“In my late 30s, when I stopped competitive sports, I realized that all of a sudden I developed a gut.”

“I’m starting to get a double chin and my jeans are getting tighter around the waist.”

“I hate my love handles and feel like I have man boobs.”

“I need to lose weight in the mid-section.”

Clearly many men suffer from body anxiety.

The effects of male body dissatisfaction

“Men worry about their appearance more than they worry about their health, their family, their relationships or professional success,” according to a 2014 Today/AOL body image survey. “Only finances topped looks, with 59 percent of men worrying about money weekly.”

• 63 percent of guys said they “always feel like (they) could lose weight

• 53 percent don’t like having their picture taken

• 41 percent said they worry that people judge their appearance

• 44 percent feel uncomfortable wearing swim trunks

Unspoken anxiety

Let’s dig deeper into male body image anxieties and the harm they’re causing, why it’s not discussed, toxic masculinity and, finally, why we need to work together to redefine healthy for men as well as male body image.

“As is the case for women, men’s body dissatisfaction has been linked to health consequences, including excessive exercise, eating pathology, steroid use, depression and low self-esteem,” wrote Elliot Montgomery Sklar in his study “Body Image, Weight, and Self-Concept in Men.”

The men in my recent survey agree:

“My body dissatisfaction affects my emotional wellbeing. I feel self-conscious, even if I know nobody cares.”

“I exercise obsessively and have for 25-plus years and have had weird ‘diets.’”

Even though we rarely hear about male body image challenges, they are affecting men’s health. Furthermore, men have been taught that it’s not OK to talk about their bodies. Or, as one local guy said, “We’re not allowed to talk about our feelings about anything.”

Men feel that expressing themselves and being vulnerable is weakness, which is the opposite of the words used to define masculinity and an ideal male body image. That is part of toxic masculinity.

And when men do talk about their bodies it’s quickly brushed aside.

“Dude, I feel fat.” Met with, “Oh, you’re not fat,” or “You just need to get in the gym more and stop drinking so much beer.”

But that’s the extent of the body conversation for men. There’s no discussion of the real emotion they’re feeling, as fat is not a feeling.

According to researcher Sarah Grogan in her study “Body Image: Focus Groups with Boys and Men,” “Men linked being fat with ‘weakness of will,’” while being lean and muscular was associated with “feelings of confidence and power in social situations.”

More than muscles

And male body image isn’t just about muscle. It includes male anxieties about balding or receding hairlines, too much body hair and being considered short for a man.

“It shouldn’t be extraordinary for men to talk about their bodies,” Huffington Post reporter Tyler Kingkade wrote in the article “I’m a Man, and I’ve Spent My Life Ashamed of My Body.” “We shouldn’t need a goofy term like ‘dad bod’ to admit we aren’t in perfect shape.”

Though the ideal body type may be more commonly seen in athletic Jackson Hole, Wyoming – many of our men, particularly as they grow older, find it increasingly difficult to attain or maintain. Just as life shifts and changes, so do bodies.

Becoming a husband and father, dealing with financial and career pressure, coping with injuries and other responsibilities may take up more time, making less available for exercise or recreating — the main “go-to” to be physically in “good” shape.

But health isn’t as simple as “eat this, not that, exercise more,” which is where most men focus. Health is multifaceted. It’s particularly important for our men and boys to embrace a broader definition of health beyond having a certain masculine aesthetic and to openly discuss how they feel, to include their mental and emotional health.

A healthy body image for all

Together we can redefine a healthy male body image because it’s important for all bodies to be radically accepted.

To do so, we must be mindful of the language we use to describe any body.

“It doesn’t somehow balance the scales for us to ridicule men for being short or tall or bald or too hairy or overweight or too scrawny or any other bullshit social stereotype of masculinity,” wrote Liz Pardue-Schultz in her article “All this body positivity is total BS if we’re still body-shaming men.

“Insulting a male body is just as problematic as belittling a female’s,” she wrote. “Mocking men who don’t fit some arbitrary assumed ideal of ‘perfection’ is not only insulting to both sides, it’s holding us back from escaping these superficial paradigms that keep us miserable with ourselves and each other.”

We’re in this together.

“I bare an incredible amount of respect and admiration for the movement women have created in the direction of love for all shapes and sizes, from plus-size models to the beauty of stretch marks, wrote Euan Findlay in the article “We Need to Talk About the Male Body.” “I want to ask, on this journey women are taking towards self-love, that you take us men with you.”

Men, you’re invited. You don’t need to be “fit, lean, ripped, strong” to be considered a healthy and worthy man.

And the men in my survey feel the same way.

Here’s what the advice they wanted to share with the younger generation about being a healthy male:

“Accept who you are. We all have different body types.”

“Moderation is probably best. Life is short, don’t deprive yourself, develop healthy habits but be reasonable.”

“Surround yourself with good people, good things, and … eat well and exercise.”

“Don’t sweat it. Have fun. Take care of your health, but don’t worry yourself sick over it.”

Let’s openly discuss and redefine healthy male body image. When we live and teach an elevated definition of health, no matter what our gender, all human bodies benefit. This is radical acceptance.

(This article was published in the July 10, 2019 edition of the Jackson Hole News and Guide).

Wellness has become another word for diet

“No one is going to stand up at your funeral and say, ‘She had a small waist and a great thigh gap.’”

—Ailey Jolie, registered clinical counselor

As a woman, former exercise professional and “eat this, not that” nutrition coach, that could have been how I was remembered. My identity was health and wellness. And my professional success, for the most part, used to be measured in pounds and inches lost.

After years of working in the fitness and nutrition fields, I saw the harm the “wellness industry” was perpetuating and my part in it. I felt dishonest teaching that you could have the “healthy” body you desired if you just ate well and exercised more. We are not here on planet earth to spend a heartbreaking amount of time, resources and energy trying to mold our bodies.

That wasn’t the legacy that I wanted to leave behind for future generations.

Trending toward moralistic

“At its core, ‘wellness’ is about weight loss,” author Jessica Knoll wrote in “Smash the Wellness Industry,” an opinion piece printed in the June 8 New York Times. “It demonizes calorically dense and delicious foods, preserving a vicious fallacy: Thin is healthy and healthy is thin.”

Even smart, successful women have fallen prey to weight loss disguised as wellness, Knoll noted. She described a recent lunch with her friends during which they struggled to order off the menu: One was eliminating dairy to lose weight, another was trying to be “good.” And they were all picking apart their perceived flaws: excess body fat, cellulite, post-baby weight. She wondered what the men at the next table were talking about.

I doubt it was weight loss.

Health has become fear-based and moralistic — good, bad, clean, dirty. We believe we must worry about every morsel as if we’re just one bite away from disease. And for many, exercise is a “should,” though at times rest may be the best form of self-care.

How do you determine if a behavior is truly healthful? Simply put, if self-care is creating stress, it’s not self-care. Chronic stress is worse for our health than anything we eat or any workout we skip.

Different word, same diet

Your body at its healthiest and fittest may not look the way you hoped or were led to believe it would. As Beauty Redefined, a nonprofit promoting body image resilience, wrote in a recent Instagram post: “We must learn to separate cultural outward body ideals like thinness from our health and fitness pursuits.”

Although the language we hear every day has shifted away from weight loss to healthy behaviors, the underlying goal of the diet industry disguised as wellness remains: Pounds lost equals success.

Take Weight Watchers, for example, which in September 2018 rebranded to WW with an attempt to redefine the acronym as “Wellness Wins,” a move to “reimagine” the program. But examine the company’s messaging on its Instagram:

“What sweet treats do you save your SmartPoints for?”

“Raise your hand if your scale is always wrong on Mondays”? Laughing emoji.

“Seeking: SmartPoints refund for food that didn’t taste as good as it looked.”

“Me: How you feel is as important as how much you weigh. Also me: Removes dangly earrings before stepping on the scale.” Laughing emoji.

What struck me most was how frequently the laughing emoji is used, a move that seemingly makes light of our perceived food and body failures and preoccupation with the scale and food.

How we feel about our bodies is no joke. I have a well-used tissue box in my office to prove it.

We don’t need more of the same, no matter what it is named. We need honest messaging that frees us from a war with ourselves, that frees us from believing that we even need to start our week out by stepping on a scale.

Your values, your life

Getting clear on your personal values is the start of creating space for a meaningful and impactful life. I love to use value cards, which present 80-plus values sorted into three piles: very important, important and not important.

Once you’ve determined your top five values, go live them. Let these values guide your daily decisions. Let them take up space in your mind that you once dedicated to dieting and weight loss.

To further put things into perspective, I’d like you to answer three profound questions asked by author Martha Beck:

“How much did Florence Nightingale weigh when she founded modern nursing? How much did Rosa Parks weigh when she took a seat on that bus? How much did Malala Yousafzai weigh when she started writing about the lives of girls in Pakistan living under Taliban rule?

“You don’t know? That’s the right answer. Because it doesn’t matter.”

Right on, Martha.

That is the legacy I want to leave behind.

If you, too, find yourself stuck in the toxic messages of the “wellness” industry and it’s distracting you from living fully into your personal values, take heed of this powerful message from News & Guide Deputy Editor Melissa Cassutt:

“I read obituaries for a living, and weight has been mentioned in exactly zero. I never even see beautiful or handsome used. What families and friends often remember is how a person made them feel.”

Don’t allow the diet industry disguised as wellness define your health. Know your values, focus on them, and take care of your whole self. You will be remembered for how you made others feel, not for the size of your waist or thighs.

And that is truly the most beautiful thing about you.

(This article was published in the August 21, 2019 edition of the Jackson Hole News and Guide).