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Yesterday we talked about how systems of oppression teach us to get out of our bodies and into our heads, constantly “watching” ourselves and focusing on our looks.

If we’re busy obsessing over food, weight, or appearance, then we can’t focus on important things (like making art, helping people, or the revolution). We are encouraged to stay in our place and police ourselves into complicity.

So let’s go back to when we were kids again.

As young children, we are more integrated.

We don’t care about how our bodies look.

We aren’t born intrinsically “knowing” one body is better than another.

This behavior is learned.

What *is* positive body image, anyway?

Body image and our perception of our own beauty or attractiveness changes over time (minute to minute, honestly!).

And if patriarchy and white supremacy get their way, we won’t only obsess over size and shape. We’ll also obsess over our skin tone, height, eyes, ears, lips, teeth, skin texture, hair texture, and on and on.

I laughed out loud in Mean Girls at “My nail beds suck!” because this clip rings so true about how micromanagey we can get about our appearance.

My definition of positive body image? When you perceive yourself accurately.

When you can accept, appreciate, or celebrate your body just as it is. When you believe that your appearance doesn’t really mean much when it comes to your worth as a human being. When you accept your body and then move the f*ck on with your life, and stop worrying so much about your size, shape, weight, what you eat, or how much you exercise.

Positive body image reminds me of how young kids are about their bodies. They don’t have time for worrying about that! They’ve got better, more interesting stuff to do! Now get out of their way so they can go do that thing!

You probably already know what negative body image is like. You have a distorted perception of what you look like. You constantly compare yourself to others and come up short. You believe body size is an important indicator of beauty or worth. You obsess over food, exercise, or your body all the time, and you feel shame and anxiety about all these things.

How did we get so messed up about bodies?

Body image is multifaceted and complicated!

Our body image is certainly influenced by the people closest to us. Our parents, families, friends, churches, teachers, and coaches give us direct and indirect messages about body size, appearance, and what a “good” person looks like and does in life.

Our unique personalities also have an impact on our body image. Some of us do the world in a tightly controlled and rigid way, others are more easygoing. This affects how we interpret the messages we receive about our bodies as well as how we apply those messages in everyday life when it comes to our appearance.

Gender certainly plays a role, especially when your gender expression doesn’t line up with society’s expectation of what it “should” be.

Finally, society sends us subliminal messages all the time that contribute to body image. Through marketing, movies, TV, social media, advertising, and many other “channels”, we get shown thousands of images a day of what beauty and worth “look like”.

Inevitably this looks like someone who represents only a tiny fraction of humanity. By controlling what is considered beautiful, those in privilege continue to hold the power in our culture.

The media is powerful, and none of us is exempt from it’s effects. But let’s explore some ways to become more media literate so we can be conscious consumers of our inputs.

Don’t let the media control your mind

I was actually pretty lucky – I started my work on self-acceptance at about the same time I found my yoga practice.

The tools in yoga taught me how to be present with uncomfortable feelings, how to understand when I had a thought I didn’t like, and how it would pass because no feeling is ever final.

When the onslaught of messages about my body seemed too much to handle, when the thoughts borne of patriarchy and diet culture came up, I came up with a practice to do (using the tools I learned in yoga).

Every time I would get triggered, or felt insecure or ashamed because of my appearance, I would practice this… instead of trying to change my body’s appearance by slumping over, holding something in front of my stomach, sucking in my stomach, or adjusting my clothing, I would focus on the sensations inside my body and how I was feeling. I would actually go into my body, and start a simple breathing exercise to stay present.

Want to do it together now?

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What’s next? Tomorrow I’m going to actually encourage you to go on a detox to drop some weight (as you may have guessed, it’s not the typical juice cleanse or crash diet). We’ll also look at ways that diet culture turns us against one another and how we can subvert their plans to keep us in place!

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