Body image – why we need to re-train our brains

girl with lollipop

Following on from last week’s lollipop-gate and a few recent conversations with friends, I’ve been thinking more about our relationship with food, body image and media bullsh*t.

In my post about the whole lollipop ad saga (if you missed it, see this article), I wrote that someone had commented on Kim Kardashian’s original post saying something along the lines of it’s patronising to act like her followers are naive enough to be influenced by one picture. I made the point that we’re the naive ones if we think that the images and messages we consume don’t affect us. Here’s the thing, we didn’t come into this world craving a flat stomach – we learnt somewhere along the way that this was desirable. I think what society deems as attractive becomes almost hard-wired into our brains, to the point where it becomes very difficult to move away from a seriously narrow idea of beauty.

In the nineties, skinny seemed to dominate. It was the era of supermodels like Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Campbell, leading onto the even thinner waif-like models of the grunge era such as Kate Moss and Jodie Kidd. Fast forward to 2018 and it’s okay to have curves, but they have to be in the ‘right’ places. Surprise surprise, the stomach (that naturally curvy area of a lot of women’s bodies that houses most of their vital organs) ain’t one of those places. Whilst society’s vision of beauty seems to shift every few years, some ideals have remained more or less the same my whole lifetime and I suspect they have for yours. Have you EVER seen cellulite or rolls of flesh presented as being beautiful in mainstream media? I personally haven’t. Sure there might be bigger celebrities who are still celebrated as gorgeous, but we talk about how pretty their faces are or how funny their personalities are. And it works both ways – what about our naturally athletic sisters who are told “real women have curves” – how insulting is that?! Even so-called body positivity can be incredibly narrow in what it accepts.

Beyond this, I also want to talk about privilege. As self-doubt coach Sas Petherick wrote so eloquently in a recent Instagram post, “Through learning about unconscious bias and particularly my white (cis-gendered, able-bodied, mentally-well) privilege, I am increasingly aware that my ‘being’ is met with benign acceptance by our culture. This is not true for many humans.” Whilst I’m writing about the problems I personally have with beauty ideals, I have to remember that I’ve not had the much, much harder struggles of so many. It’s important to note that if we’re wanting better and more diverse representation of beauty in the media, this isn’t just about body shape. It’s about race, age, gender, disability (whether physical or mental) and so much more.

I truly believe that we need to re-train our brains to reset how we see beauty, and that this is the first step to accepting and hey – even celebrating – our own appearances as well as those of others. How can we do this? Well it’s something I’m still learning and trying to get better at, but I think the best place to start is with the media we consume. That magazine that you think might make you feel better because it points out celebrities’ ‘flaws’? Don’t buy it. That person on Instagram who extols ‘skinny’ and makes you feel miserable with every post? Unfollow. In fact, why not have a good spring clean of all your social media – take note of how different people or accounts make you feel, and if it’s not positive don’t give them your energy! Instead find people that lift you up, search out media that celebrates diversity and really start to listen to those little messages that pop into your brain. They’re coming from somewhere, and if they’re not helpful, it’s time to cut them off at the source. Let’s start to re-frame beauty and celebrate our bodies.

One body positivity campaigner who I love following on Instagram is @bodyposipanda – she talks a lot of sense and has already helped me to start viewing my so-called ‘imperfections’ with more love. Let me know your recommendations for other people to follow.

p.s. if you liked this post, you might also like “Please don’t punish yourself for egg-shaped chocolate joy” 

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