It’s the way we perceive our bodies, and the way we assume others perceive us. And it’s the thoughts, feelings, attitudes and beliefs we have about our bodies as a result.
The key word here is perceive. Body image is not based on fact.
It is learned.
Learned from our society’s manufactured and constantly changing ideals of beauty, health and fitness. Learned from relatives, friends and other people in our lives. Learned from the cultures and environments we have been exposed to.
Body image is a huge topic. Before listing 20 of my favourite signs that your body image is on the mend, I want to disclose that I am a cis-het biracial woman with thin privilege. This article is geared towards women in particular, because that is my lived experience. I can’t begin to imagine how many more magnitudes of difficulty are involved in body image work for those who are not gender conforming, are BIPOC, and/or live in a larger body, an older body, or a disabled body.
I believe that we all deserve to accept, respect, appreciate and enjoy our bodies and all that they do for us - regardless of size, weight, shape, colour, race, ability, and gender.
I also recognise that developing more body satisfaction, confidence, love, acceptance, or even body neutrality will look and feel different for everyone.
And that this can be fucking hard work.
I am talking about the diet, cosmetic surgery, fashion, and fitness industries, who profit enormously from keeping the self-esteem of women and femmes as low as possible.
Weapons of mass body image destruction are everywhere these days – on the side of a bus plastered with a 7-foot high image of a girl with an 8-pack, who is unlikely to be menstruating. At a yoga class, where the “spiritually evolved” teacher has a fake pair of everything.
Even on the back of a friggin' toilet door in a shopping centre where you think you’d be safe… boom there’s a pharmaceutical ad for weight loss drugs. Featuring a photo of a normal looking woman high-fiving her GP whilst standing on a set of scales, apparently in celebratory mode having lost some weight. Because I need to be told how fat I am whilst taking a dump. Thanks Alphapharm!
So if you’ve managed to rise above this bullshit, you deserve a huge fucking round of applause. Because it’s not easy to dodge constant body image-destroying bullets and self-confidence cannonballs, all day, everyday.
I’m not just talking about diagnosable eating disorders - these are just the most extreme degrees on a spectrum. It might be as seemingly benign as a woman’s mild anxiety at wearing a bikini, or feeling pressured by work colleagues to do a 12-week Michelle Bridges body challenge for summer. But that spectrum extends all the way to full-blown anorexia or bulimia, and these diseases not only steal one’s energy, money, and time - they can kill.
I’m not saying that diet culture is the SOLE cause of ALL disordered eating and body image issues. But it is definitely a huge factor.
Whether I speak with someone who is afraid to wear a bikini in public, or barely surviving a full blown eating disorder, I feel sad and pissed off.
Sad because there are far more important things to spend one’s time and energy on. Things like planning your trip to South America, earning a qualification that will enable you to work in your dream career, having a kid, writing that song or book, and so on. Things that actually matter.
Pissed off because it takes me back to the years I wasted pinching my belly rolls multiple times a day, redesigning clothes so I’d look “better proportioned” in them, starving myself, over-exercising, checking myself, weighing myself, and berating myself for not meeting societal expectations of beauty. Oh and turning the lights off during sex, possibly my biggest regret.
So I’ve come up with 20 positive signs your body image is on the mend. These are things that I’ve noticed in my recovered clients, other body-positive folks, and on good days - myself.
And even if you don’t feel you’re completely on top of this stuff at the moment, just trying one of the following for a day may instil in you a greater sense of self-worth and power.
So go on – give the middle finger to diet culture. A brave new world awaits you.
- You wear midriff tops and don’t give a shit.
- You wear a bikini on the beach and don’t feel like running away. If this is easy for you, try graduating to a Brazilian bottom or G-string bikini. Because fuck it. (You could also wear a one piece, a tutu, or a burqa – just wear what you genuinely feel like wearing, and don't let anyone limit you by what is "acceptable".)
- When friends ask you to go out to dinner, you feel excited rather than scared shitless at the prospect that the restaurant won’t have gluten-free or paleo options. (And if you feel scared, you go anyway. Because social life.)
- If you see something on social media that triggers feelings of unworthiness or thoughts that your body isn’t good enough, you click unfollow. No matter how well a post is disguised as being “healthy” with hashtags like #fitspo or #thinspo or #strongisthenewskinny (as if we need a new standard to replace skinny to live up to!) - you click unfollow. Because it’s not #fitspo if it makes you feel like crap. It’s #SHITSPO. As in, this makes me want to run 10km and eat salad because now I feel like shit, rather than because I really want to do those things.
- You no longer do juice cleanses hoping (covertly or otherwise) that you’ll lose weight. In fact you’re pretty much done with juice fasts and other diets in disguise.
- You can eat ice cream, chocolate, chips and cake whenever the fuck you feel like it and not obsess about it afterwards.
- You can also eat salads, vegetables, green smoothies and veggie juices whenever you feel like them, and don’t feel smug or like you’ve redeemed yourself afterwards. You move on with the rest of your day and forget about it until you get hungry again.
- You don’t spend half a day making dehydrated, raw, paleo crackers to avoid the carbs. Because YOLO.
- When you see somebody on the street wearing something awesome, you don’t judge their body. You go up to them, congratulate them on their excellent taste, and feel inspired to rock a blue wig/PVC tights/lacy shorts/whatever, yourself.
- You don’t freak out if you haven’t hit 10 000 steps for the day on your pedometer. In fact you probably don’t even have a pedometer, so you don’t know. Better still if you don’t know what a pedometer is. Pedometer.
- You no longer own scales.
- Your friends and/or partner love you for who you are, not what you look like. And if they don’t, you’ve ditched them. Again, life is too short.
- You’ve stopped being a bitch to your body. These days when you see yourself in the mirror, you tell that woman she is a fucking goddess.
- You leave the light on during sex.
- When life happens and your body inevitably changes (i.e. you give birth, lose or gain weight, age, get sick or injured, etc) – it doesn’t affect your self-worth. In fact you kinda like your stretch marks, your wrinkles, your newly re-structured post-birth vagina that sings when you do inversions. Because those things mean you have done some pretty awesome shit in your lifetime, or that you’ve been lucky enough to have kids, or grow old.
- You feel sad or disappointed if you miss a workout because it makes you feel wonderful, as opposed to anxious that you’ll have to find another way to burn off that brownie.
- If you fart, have hairy armpits, get menstrual blood on your pants, or flash some side vaj doing AcroYoga, you get the fuck on with it. And maybe chuckle at yourself. Bodies are not meant to fit society’s definition of perfect. They are not disgusting. They are bodies. And they’re pretty good at keeping you alive!
- You can bend over and not notice or care about your tummy rolls.
- You no longer do things for the purpose of weight control. Be it flat out dieting, “intuitive eating” for weight loss, “lifestyle changes”, mindfulness, hypnosis, meditation, or even “loving yourself” – you refuse to bullshit yourself anymore. You recognise that if you’re doing something for the purposes of weight control or weight loss, it’s not healthy. Period.
- You eat, move, relate to others, and live your life in such a way that says, “I care about myself, I accept myself, and I trust myself.”
This article was updated on 7 January 2021.