Struggling with body confidence? These expert-backed tips can help get you through those low self-esteem days.
If you’re out there in the world, living in a body you often struggle to love, then you dear friend, are in excellent company. A recent study from The Butterfly Foundation found that over 90 per cent of young people feel dissatisfaction with their bodies, with further research across multiple English-speaking countries suggesting body image distress is on the rise across all ages and gender identities.
Over the past several years, many of us have been discovering new ways to be in better union with ourselves. But it’s not as easy as simply flipping on that ‘body-love’ switch – it’s a messy job untangling decades of cultural programming, so if you’re at a loss, again, you’re not alone.
The binary we’re often sold about body acceptance is that we’re either stuck in the diet culture trenches, or we’ve negotiated peace. But for those of us arriving on the front lines well into adulthood, it might not be possible to walk away unscarred, and that’s okay.
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I spoke with two women who are out on the front lines, changing the body-liberation game, and rewriting what it means to love our bodies even when we don’t. So, with gentleness front of mind, let’s dive in with some practical ways we can give our bodies the love they need and deserve, on the days it’s hardest to do so.
What does loving our bodies actually look like?
To body liberation activist, April Hélène-Horton, also known as The Bodzilla, self-love has absolutely nothing to do with being selfish. “It’s not about self-aggrandizing,” she says, “it’s about being loving, and giving love to yourself in the same way that you would other people you love.”
One way to do this is by tapping into the idea that our bodies are vulnerable creatures in our care. “Think about your body as if it’s just the grown-up version of a child who needed that nourishment, who needed to be spoken to with enthusiasm and encouragement, and not in a way that’s like, ‘Oh, well, you’d be better if you did this.’ We wouldn’t speak like that to a child,” she says.
Body image activist Bella Davis, known online as ‘Your self-love hype girl’ is on the same page when it comes to what body love means to her. “I think there has been a bit of almost toxic positivity messaging out there, things like, ‘love your body, all the time, no matter what,’” she says. “But I just feel like, that’s not realistic for so many people. If we can just learn to respect and accept our bodies as they are and treat them with kindness, that can be enough.”
Focus on experience and not on appearance
One of the biggest shifts for Davis in her journey to deeper body acceptance has been taking the focus away from how her body looks, and onto what her body is enabling her to experience. “I get a lot of people messaging me saying, ‘I just got these photos back from this event I went to, and I can’t help focussing on how my arms or [another body part] look in the pictures. And I’ve definitely done that before as well, it’s okay,” she says.
To help shift the focus, Davis suggests asking how we felt at the moment the photo was taken. “How was the event though? Did you have a great time? Did you laugh? That drink looks so good was it yummy?” By taking our minds back to what we felt at the times the pictures were taken, we can start to place value on the experience of being in our bodies rather than how they look.
This is a shift Hélène-Horton regularly celebrates in her own mindset, “My favourite thing is having come so far from times where I’ve been with my body image to get to a point where someone’s like, ‘Oh, can we get a photo?’ And I go, ‘Yeah!’, and then we take it, and they say, ‘Do you want to check it?’ And I’m like, ‘it’s a picture of me. So no, as long as I’ve got my eyes open, as long as it reflects to you the experience we’re having here taking the photo, I don’t really mind.”
Flip the script from ‘flaws’ to ‘features’
After diving into the literature about the constantly changing nature of toxic beauty standards, Davis says, “I started to realise, you know, women’s bodies aren’t trends. If you’re trying to make your body fit the current trend, you’re going to hurt yourself, be unhappy and be constantly wanting to change yourself.”
Years ago, Davis recounts going to the beach and looking around at the incredible diversity in body sizes and abilities. “I remember realising, that all these things I’m feeling ashamed of about myself are things that everyone kind of has – like cellulite, rolls, softness. And then I thought, if the majority of people have these features, how can they be flaws?” She says there’s power in changing the language we use when describing all aspects of our bodies as simply ‘features’.
Focus on how you’re impacting others
Hélène-Horton’s work centres around helping to make the world a safer place for people living in marginalised bodies. She reminds us that when we speak about ourselves, especially for those of us with considerable body privilege, it’s important to ask how those words are impacting those around us.
“The most important thing that we can do is remember that every conversation we have with our body, or have about our body, and is not just with ourselves,” she says. “When we’re publicly speaking, whether that be a social media post or a conversation in the tea room, talking about ourselves in front of kids, whatever it is, no conversation about your body is just with yourself,” she explains.
When speaking about our bodies, she encourages us to focus on the positive things they’re allowing us to do in the moment, rather than placing importance on outward appearance. “We can also extend that ideology out to not placing any moral value on food in the same way that there’s no moral value attached to being a certain size, shape, or ability,” she says.
It’s OK to have bad days
Even though her work centres around self-love and body acceptance, Davis knows that a relationship with our bodies is never a static thing. “I still have bad body image days, she says, of course, I do, it’s so bloody normal.”
On those days, she focuses on nourishing herself properly, moving in a way that feels good, resting when she needs it and being compassionate and accepting where her head is that day. “Just remind yourself that you don’t have a bad body. It’s just a bad body image day. That helps me so much in the moment. Because then I focus on all the things my body can do instead of what it looks like,” she shares.
Surround yourself with people who make you feel good
When it comes to finding your people, Hélène-Horton doesn’t mince words – “Don’t be friends with people that make you feel like shit! Honestly, it’s my number one tip,” she laughs.
“I’ve found a community of people who don’t make me feel like I look different. Because I’m able to connect with people who live in bodies that are similar to mine with the same interests, I’m able to make friends with people who are like me -There is no substitute for being friends with people who get it.”
This also extends to our online community. Davis says, “I think that was one of the first things I did – unfollow people that didn’t bring me joy and start following people that celebrate their bodies and feel empowered in their bodies.” She advises, “If you’re following someone and it’s not bringing you joy, or you’re ‘hate following’ them, that’s not helpful for you. You should follow a range of people, with a range of different bodies, different sizes, and different abilities. When you’re scrolling your page, you want to feel good about yourself.”
And lastly, learn to welcome change
For both women, one of the biggest aspects of body acceptance is knowing our bodies are not always going to stay the same. “It’s not only okay for your body to change,” says Hélène-Horton, “it’s literally by design. It’s the miraculous sign of being.”
While healing her own relationship with her body image, Davis shares that while she found changes confronting, the more intimate she got with herself, the more she loved what she saw. “I think really getting to know my body and really spending time with it being naked and actually looking at it was really freeing for me,” she says. “I’d just walk around my house on a Sunday, totally naked and just see how my body moved.”
“I think it really helps because you get to see the way your body bends and folds. And then you get to see things like your stretch marks and your cellulite. They’re not really things to hide. They’re just normal features of a body.”