We may well still have a few cold snaps ahead of us but the energy has shifted.
Both energetically and in the natural world, now is the time we see new growth following the seeming dormancy of Winter. Imbolc is a time of hope, a time filled with the excitement of new possibilities for the future, the time for manifestation of whatever dreams we've been seeding over winter.
And troublingly - but not surprisingly - there are plenty of body-shaming industries ready to capitalise on the collective feelings of hope and excitement that coincide with the change in season.
One industry that plays a huge part in forming the mass constructed social expectations placed on bodies associated with this time of year is, of course, the diet industry.
Being late winter when the growing warmth is reminding us of the bikini season 'just around the corner', this is when we hear an escalation of mantras like, "Summer bodies are made in winter" along with increased pressure to buy those programs and products that employ this infuriating rhetoric.
The marketing strategies of those selling diet plans, weight loss products, 8- or 12-week training regimes and body-beautifying yoga challenges adopt this kind of tagline in order to incite a feeling of urgency or even panic in those who, shamefully, 'still haven't started working on their summer body.'
Well fuck that.
I say, "Body shame is perpetuated by stupid sayings like 'Summer bodies are made in winter.'"
Your body is not the problem. Your belief that your body is the problem, is the problem.
Your body isn't the problem...
What lies beneath thoughts like, "I'm too fat"? "I don't look bikini ready"? "I'm not worthy unless I'm a size x"? What lies beneath the feelings of self-hatred, inadequacy and body shame?
Where does this belief come from? This belief that your body is the problem and therefore the solution is the modification of the body offered by the diet industry (read: torture, over-exercise and starvation that may lead to impermanent weight loss and somewhat more permanent psychological damage)?
Maybe it just comes down to your poor body image. Ah, quandary solved! Or is it?
Your body IMAGE isn't the problem, either...
It's all too easy to blame such negative thoughts on an individual's poor body image. "Silly you, if you just realised how beautiful you are, you'd be right as rain!" Just like blaming someone's issues on their weight, this 'solution' still falls dangerously close to blaming and shaming the individual.
But when we make your poor body image the problem, this leads us to think that the simple solution, therefore, is to fix your broken body image. This oversimplified answer again places the problem and the responsibility to "do something" upon the individual. "Just love yourself!" or "be body positive!" are mantras that, whilst potentially helpful for some people, often get thrown around willy nilly.
Surface-skimming body positive mantras - and the tendency to go full throttle Pollyanna #bopo and #antidiet without deeply exploring what those terms really mean - often fail to elicit the desired effect of improved body image, especially when this is as deep as we dive into the issue.
It's not actually accurate to say that your poor body image is the problem, either, because this too is a symptom of something far more ubiquitous, and far more nebulous.
So let's try one more time. What lies beneath poor body image? It doesn't just appear out of nowhere; we aren't born hating our bodies.
Diet culture is the problem.
In the words of Isabel Foxen Duke: "poor body image (rather than being further proof of your failings as an individual human) is a natural reaction to oppression, and the distribution of social power on the basis of size."
How can we be expected NOT to feel awful about our bodies in a society where people are treated differently on the basis of size...
... in a climate where social resources, respect and safety are a function of how closely you comply or deviate from the overculture’s ideal...
... in a world where the predominant view that 'thin (or lean) is best' affects all individuals (regardless of body size) emotionally, physically and psychologically in ways that detract from their ability to focus on what is really important to them...
... in a culture where we are being constantly bombarded with messages from the media, medical world, and multiple industries that we ought to fit into a very narrow range of acceptable body sizes, for the sake of health, popularity, etc?
In a world where every single one of these is a reality, it's a wonder anyone manages to have a healthy body image.
We live in a world steeped in diet culture - a culture that depends on our thinking that the problem lies with us alone. This self-blame serves multiple industries that profit off of the self- isolation intrinsic in making "our weight" or even "our body image" the problem.
*** Instead of asking, “What is so wrong with me that I can't just lose weight, eat properly, ‘get over’ my poor body image?" and so on...
*** We NEED to start asking questions like, "What can I do to skilfully respond to these forms of oppression when they arise outside of me, or when that external oppression is echoed within me?”
And questions like, "How does living in a diet- and weight- obsessed culture affect you physically, emotionally, psychologically, socially etc?"
Instead of being ashamed that we alone have failed - we can get angry at the way diet culture repeatedly fails us... and anger has the power to spur on action.
Instead of staying small (both physically and metaphorically) to attempt to hide our personal shame from others - we can unite in the knowledge that that shame is an intentional product of an army of industries who stand to profit off of making this problem seem personal to each of us, even though it's not.
Instead of swallowing the tagline that "everything that's wrong in your life is because of your body" (or even your poor body image) - we can understand that poor body image is a natural reaction to oppression, and the distribution of social power on the basis of size, and NOT an automatic and direct result of how fat, ugly, unfit, disproportionate, or whatever 'undesirable' quality you're told your body possesses.
Instead of looking to body love hashtags and affirmations to magically and instantaneously 'cure' our body dissatisfaction issues - we can accept that building a positive or even neutral body image involves developing the mental and emotional skill set required to reject size-based prejudice - both towards ourselves and others - whenever we come across it.
Far from being a quick fix we can buy over the counter, the process of managing oppression is a continual process that we need to work at. But the work is worth it.
Seed moon: New beginnings
To consider the possibility that it's not your weight or body that's the root cause of your poor body image but the social constructs in place, is quite a leap to take. But we need to plant new seeds if we're going to evoke new and positive changes.
At Imbolc we see, feel, smell and hear the first stirrings of Spring. In fact, this lunar cycle is often known as the Seed Moon or Wind Moon. In Southeast Queensland, Australia where I live, the days are getting warmer, the birds are nesting once more, and winds of change are blowing. Seeds are being blown about on the breezes, spreading life all around from one place to the next.
Trees have buds on them and some are already flowering. Green shoots and beautiful flowering displays of azaleas, jasmines, tabebuias, bauhinias, grevilleas, golden wattles plus many other trees and shrubs in the garden and in the bush are a signal that we're on the doorstep of spring in SE QLD. This is a time of conception and fertility and new growth.
As well as a time of new beginnings, Imbolc is a potent time to clear away past disappointments, to let go of old dreams and to step fully into the present, to ‘rebirth’ ourselves in powerful new ways.
The old dream that if you just changed your body enough, everything would be perfect, is just that - OLD. You may have even reached that "ideal" low body weight in the past and far from being totally happy, you were probably terrified about regaining the weight again.
At this time of early spring, a most tempting time to start another diet or body shred challenge to drop the weight that gets in your way of guaranteed happiness (can you detect my sarcasm there?), we have a golden opportunity. The opportunity to let go of the old dream that tells us that weight loss is The Solution to body hatred, the magical key to love and acceptance. This is a dream that instils a false sense of hope and in the long run always hurts us.
Now is the perfect time to create a new dream - a goal to truly liberate ourselves from body shame. Where that takes us: body respect, body neutrality, body positivity, or body love, isn't what's so important;
- what's important is liberating ourselves from externalised and internalised oppression that keep us trapped in body shame.
5 LEGIT ways to improve body image
What does this oppression look like, and how do we skilfully overcome it? There are basically two forms of oppression that hurt our perceptions of our bodies:
1. Oppression in our External Environment. This is where it starts.
What it looks like? Weight-biased, body-shaming and food-shaming messages from media, health professionals, teachers, peers, family, and so on.
How it oppresses? These diet culture-curated messages are reinforced throughout our entire social infrastructure (e.g. medical system, the fashion and wellness industries, education, basic engineering of living spaces, transport, etc.)
2. Internalised Oppression. The summation of beliefs and values we internalise from diet culture.
What this looks like? Negative self-talk and personal beliefs about our bodies.
How it oppresses? If you are told frequently and consistently enough by your environment, authorities, peers etc that your body isn’t good enough the way it is, you will eventually start to believe it. This is not the mere learning of fact; it is brainwashing.
The various forms of oppression that are instituted by diet culture and then internalised by you, are the problem. All the forces that are driving you to put your precious energy, time and resources into changing your physical body, instead of looking deeper to discover - and rise up against - the true source of fear, anxiety and body shame, are the problem.
So what's the solution? Here are 5 ideas to get started with rising up against those two forms of oppression and liberating us from the shackles of body hatred.
- Identify and get rid of fat-phobic, body-shaming, food-shaming or weight-biased messaging in your immediate environment wherever you notice it, wherever possible. Check your social media feeds and your exposure to other media. A social media detox is honestly the best detox you can do this Spring :) (And if you're tempted to do one of those Spring detox cleansy things, read this first). Get rid of or minimise contact with those "friends" and family that perpetuate body-shaming messages. Life is WAY too short.
- Increase your exposure to body-positive messages in place of the above bullshit. This may take the form of exposing yourself to body-diverse imagery as often as you can by following accounts of people of all sizes who love and accept their bodies, or are at least willing to reveal their "imperfect" bodies to the world. While someone telling you “just love the skin you're in!” might do jack shit for your body image, regularly seeing images of people of all shapes and sizes who accept themselves will eventually start to affect your idea of what normal bodies can and do look like.
- Be wary of oppressive, body shame-inducing products and services targeted at you. Examples include diets disguised as health (which usually incorporate food-shaming rhetoric or suggest that food and health are moral imperatives); any product or service with marketing that relies on Sexy, Successful, Spiritual Woman (SSSW) idealism (including those using "Mindful eating for weight loss" or "Love yourself to lose weight" narratives, yoga shred challenges, etc); and health food cafes, health professionals etc who use taglines like "Don't diet - just eat clean!" - basically any business or company that adopts body-positive messaging for commercial diet industry gain.
- Get support. Once you've started weeding out the kinds of products and services intended to make you feel inadequate in your body, go looking for weight-neutral resources that encourage and nurture body-acceptance, body-positivity etc. You can follow any of the myriad weight-neutral, HAES, non-dieting social media accounts, blogs, health professionals, self-care programs, communities, and support groups that are out there. Seek and you shall find; these resources are becoming more popular and prevalent as more and more people wake up and smell the body-shaming bullshit they have been fed.
- Start to challenge internalised oppression - that is, the voice in your head that regularly tells you your body isn't good enough. This requires the same vigilance, identification and paradigm-challenging skills that battling external oppression does, and may be more difficult because we tend to automatically believe our thoughts. Check out this blog for the five-step process I use with my clients to help them identify, challenge, and move beyond internalised body-shaming thoughts and beliefs that arise within their own minds. Getting help from a trained professional can also be incredibly helpful in this area.
"But if I don't hate my body, I'll get even fatter!"
Furthermore, we may think that if we didn't constantly chastise and "keep our bodies in check", we would become "even fatter, even less healthy, even more hopeless" than we already are. That this body shame actually motivates us to stay thin, or healthy, or whatever.
But shame, whether from our environment or from inside us, is never an effective motivator for people - it does the exact opposite.
Think about it. If you felt totally accepting of your body, would your embarrassment about going to the gym increase or decrease?
If there was no longer a magic number to constantly strive for, would you feel pressured to diet and exercise the fat away? Or would you be more inclined towards a more satisfying, balanced, sustainable way of eating and moving that improves both your health and quality of life, regardless of where your weight ended up?
If you were free of body anxiety, would your emotional eating be worse or better?
Far from making you less healthy, positive body feelings help you to take FAR better care of yourself than body-hating narratives. A positive body image - which is possible regardless of actual body weight or shape - actually encourages your body to get closer its most natural and comfortable weight, and closer to your optimal state of health and wellbeing. The main difference is that it's motivated from a place of love, acceptance, and nurturing.
Taking better care of yourself is the goal here. Respecting and accepting your body is the goal.
Body positivity? Love? neutrality? acceptance?
A QUICK WORD ABOUT SEMANTICS
They hear "body positivity, body love" and make it yet another thing they have failed at. But this is just a case of getting mixed up in semantics. If body acceptance or body neutrality, or body respect are better terms for you, go with them. If you vibe with body positivity, then awesome. What we call it doesn't really matter. The point is that we stop believing the internalised weight oppression we hear in our heads as absolute truth.
Weed out oppression, plant seeds of freedom
Already headed that direction? Great. Nurture that dream. Keep making it a reality.
Thinking metaphorically, seeing your life as a Springtime garden where we choose which seeds we sow, and thinking of weeds, what can you see poking it’s head up again? Body shame, internalised weight stigma, self loathing? Do you really want to take that through the next growth cycle again, to grow bigger and stronger?
Or this Seed Moon, can you harness the new Spring energy to nip oppressive body shaming - both external and internal - in the bud and replace it with the growth and blossoming of a healthy body image? Can you plant the seeds of freedom from this cycle of body hatred and do the dirty yard work of weeding out body shaming messages, looking deep inside, and seeking support?
It's time to be the loving gardener at the beginning of Springtime of this next year’s cycle in your life.