A beginner’s guide to body positivity

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I’m on a mission this year to love my body unconditionally, and you should be too, whatever it looks like.

I recently read that by the age of 10, around a third of all girls, and 22% of boys, say how their bodies look is their number one worry, and although I was shocked I can't say I was surprised. I’ve always known that my relationship with my body was causing me problems, but I’ve only recently begun to understand how much negative body image impacts on our lives.

Lack of body confidence disproportionately affects women. The 2015 government Body Confidence Campaign progress report found that “poor body image is associated with lower confidence, lower aspirations and lower social participation.” It is a significant contributor to the massive gender divide that is holding women back. This year my body shame stopped me from standing up in front of other people and sharing my ideas. I decided enough was enough, and this is how I found the bopo movement. Since then I’ve tried to surround myself with body positive messages, and this is what I’ve learnt:

1. We don’t have to feel like our bodies aren’t good enough.

They are! We receive so many images every day of idealised bodies that are wildly unrepresentative of what human beings actually look like. Start taking steps to surround yourself with some people who are more representative of the diverse range of bodies out there. This means a massive instagram re-shuffle for starters. Delete the people on your newsfeed who make you feel than and follow some new ones. Here are some accounts you might want to take a look at:

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@bodyposipanda

Megan Jayne Crabbe describes herself as a body positive babe, anorexia conqueror, feminist and bestselling author

@scarrednotscared

Michelle Elman, a body positive activist who has 15 surgeries says “My scars are not here to be hidden, apologised for or to be diminished. They are here to be accepted, embraced and fuck it, praised. They deserve to be praised for what they do to keep me alive.”

@chubbybabe_

Paola is a photographer as well as a body positivity and self-love advocate, and posts beautiful photos of herself that smash societal body standards

2. Do some reading.

There are so many books out there that will make you feel warm and tingly and powerful and cool so what are you waiting for? I would recommend:

Body Positive Power by Megan Jayne Crabbe, which has the tag line "how to stop dieting, make peace with your body and live"

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf, a damning exposé of the beauty industry and a really enlightening read

And even a body positive colouring book - try Fat Ladies in Spaaaaace by Theo Nicole Lorenz

3. Every time you have a negative thought about your body, call yourself out.

At first it can be sad when you realise how often you’re putting yourself down, and exhausting trying to deflect every negative message you send yourself. After a while, though, you’ll start to get the hang of it and it will become an empowering exercise in loving and respecting yourself.

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4. It’s all about the mantras.

Bustle has an amazing list, here are some of our faves:

"I love my body as it is today."

"My body deserves love and respect."

"Body, I promise to love and cherish you always. I am sorry for ever being cruel to you and ask for forgiveness."

Try looking in the mirror and saying them to yourself as you get dressed in the morning.

5. Reclaim words like “fat”, “chubby” and “heavy”.

We’ve been told that they’re awful and had them thrown at us as insults but it’s time to take them back.

In the words of @chooselifewarrior, “Even though others have associated stigmas about the word fat, I had the power to create my own definition to understand that fat is simply a word — a word that describes my body. I love my body. I love myself. Therefore I am cool with the word Fat.”

Say them to yourself, see how they sound, and if you think one of them is the right descriptor for you, adopt it and wear it with pride.

6. Celebrate your body

If you’re feeling up to it, take a photo of yourself without posing to make your body look a bit more this or a bit less that. Sharing your empowerment will make other people feel great about themselves, too, and you’ll be joining thousands of people celebrating their bodies online, just the way they are. Even if you can’t share it, just taking the photo and owning it is a powerful exercise.

These are tricky steps and none of them are going to change your life overnight but if, like me, you’ve been at war with your body for too long then they might be the first step to learning to love yourself as you are, not as you could be.

If you think that you might need support around your relationship with your body, talk to someone you trust or try calling the b-eat helpline.