What is body positivity, and how do we improve it?
In an ideal world, we’d all think positively about our body image. We’d wake up each morning, greet ourselves with a smile, and only ever think kind thoughts about how we look. But, for many of us, this simply isn’t a reality.
The inescapable truth is that we live in an image-obsessed world. We can’t move for airbrushed photos of toned, buff influencers on social media, perfectly manicured contestants on reality TV shows, or news about the latest celebrity-endorsed diet. And this atmosphere of idealising body types has subliminally seeped into our collective psyche.
Though struggling with a poor image can impact people of all ages and genders, it generally affects women the most. And we only have to look at the unrealistic beauty standards placed on women in films, TV, and other media to understand why. Even an innocent comment from a doting relative on how the appearance of a female child can play its role.
Unsurprisingly, poor body image can be a risk factor in mental health conditions. According to the Mental Health Foundation, higher body dissatisfaction is often associated with psychological distress, poorer quality of life, and increases the likelihood of disordered eating (1).
The good news is that little adjustments in your self-talk can go a long way. Here, we take a look at how to improve your body positivity.
How do hormones affect body image?
Aside from cultural and societal expectations, the hormonal fluctuations that happen throughout the menstrual cycle can also impact your body image perception if you’re a woman.
Ever noticed how, in the days leading up to your period, you tend to feel a bit ‘meh’ about yourself? You feel bloated. Your appetite might increase. And nothing falls right on your body. Well, you’re not alone.
Period-related body dysmorphia
Research suggests body dissatisfaction increases during the premenstrual and menstrual phases of a woman’s cycle (2). Some experts have called this period-related body dysmorphia.
Though more data is needed to understand why this phenomenon exists, some speculate that it’s down to the amplification of certain emotions. During this stage of the menstrual cycle, oestrogen and progesterone – which are responsible for emotional regulation – fluctuate sharply, often leading to increased anxiety, sadness, and, potentially, symptoms of body dysmorphia.
Vitamin B6 contributes to the regulation of hormonal activity, so it may be a useful addition. It might be worth choosing a multivitamin that provides high levels of vitamin B6, such as Premtis.
How can I gain more body positivity?
A pioneer in the field of self-compassion research, Dr Kristin Neff believes cultivating more kindness towards oneself can be a tremendously powerful tool to help navigate body image concerns (3).
Self-compassion isn’t about pursuing perfection or virtue signalling; it’s about being kind to yourself, no matter what. The oversimplified definition of self-compassion is treating yourself the way a caring friend might. Would a good friend berate you for your appearance or body size? Absolutely not.
Instead of incessantly criticising and judging yourself for so-called shortcomings or inadequacies, self-compassion means practising unconditional self-love when confronted with negative emotions about your body. After all, who said you needed to be perfect?
Many people find integrating positive affirmations into their daily life can help reverse the deeply entrenched negative beliefs that often accompany body dissatisfaction. Affirmations are statements you make in an attempt to transform your reasoning. They have the power to help shift your thinking in a different trajectory: from self-loathing to self-love.
Consider starting your day with some mantras. You can write them down or say them aloud. The more you say these affirmations, the easier it will be for your brain to internalise them. In time, these positive statements will start to trickle into your mind through osmosis.
Here are a few you might say:
I am grateful for my body
My body radiates kindness
I feel strong and confident in my body
My body deserves love and respect
I am more than my physical appearance
The high five habit
Many people who struggle with body image concerns are often afraid of the mirror. Seeing your reflection may bring up feelings of judgement or criticism. But looking at yourself – and truly seeing yourself – can actually help cultivate feelings of self-acceptance.
Mel Robbins’ high five habit promises to help you feel good about yourself and show up with confidence and positivity (4). After brushing your teeth in the morning, look at yourself in the mirror, set an intention (‘I love and accept my body’, for instance) and high-five yourself. As soon as your hand meets the mirror, you’ll seal your intention and silence your inner critic.
What’s more, all the positive messaging associated with high-fiving – ‘let’s go’, ‘you’ve got this’, ‘I believe in you’, ‘pick yourself up’, ‘come on now’, ‘keep going’ – is already in your brain. All of this positive programming marries up with your reflection when you need it most.
Rethink your social media habit
There’s no doubt that seeing the highlight reel of everyone’s flawlessness on social media can impact the way you perceive yourself. From holidays in the Bahamas to #fitspo, social media – especially Instagram – is saturated with images of ‘perfection’. But people can airbrush their lives in the same way they airbrush their photos.
Curating your social media feed is a simple yet effective way to improve the way you feel about yourself. Try following body-positive accounts that celebrate self-love in all shapes, sizes, genders, body types, skin colours, and beyond. Exercise a zero-tolerance policy against any accounts that make you feel insecure or inadequate.
You may even consider taking a hiatus from social media altogether and see how you feel.
Support your emotional health
Adding more feel-good nutrients to your diet can support your overall emotional health, which may help you feel better in your skin.
MagnesiumColloquially known as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’, magnesium contributes to normal psychological function, making it an especially helpful addition. Eat it: Spinach
L-theanineYou may be familiar with the magic of a clever cup of tea. As it happens, the amino acid, l-theanine, is responsible for making the nation’s favourite brew oh-so-calming.
AshwagandhaAshwagandha is a revered herb of the Indian Ayurvedic system of medicine. This herb is otherwise known as ‘Indian Ginseng’ since it has similar adaptogenic qualities.
St John’s Wort
A perennial plant with yellow, star-shaped flowers, St John’s Wort is a traditional herbal remedy used for the relief of mild anxiety and slightly low mood.
How can we create an environment of body positivity?
We all need to think carefully about the language we use in common parlance, especially when it comes to ‘fat talk’ and ‘old talk’ – and especially around children since perceptions of our body image start from a young age.
Complimenting someone by telling them: “you look great for your age; what’s your secret” or “you look incredible; have you lost weight?” only further perpetuates our fixation with body image.
To cultivate a healthier relationship with body image, it’s worth steering conversations away from looks. Instead, consider asking loved ones and children how they’ve been or what they’ve been up to. After all, there’s far, far more to us than our appearance.
Struggling with body dissatisfaction is, unfortunately, very common, especially amongst women. If you need more help managing body image concerns, we’d encourage you to seek professional advice. There’s plenty of support available. Consider having a chat with your GP or a therapist.
Body image report - Executive Summary. (2022). https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/body-image-report/exec-summary
Jappe, L., & Gardner, R. (2009). Body-Image Perception and Dissatisfaction Throughout Phases of the Female Menstrual Cycle. Perceptual And Motor Skills, 108(1), 74-80.
For more information on self-compassion, visit: https://self-compassion.org/
The High 5 Habit. (2022). https://www.high5habit.com/
Disclaimer: The information presented by Nature's Best is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.
Keri Filtness has worked in the Nutrition Industry for 19 years. She is regularly called upon for her professional comments on health and nutrition related news. Her opinions have been featured by BBC3, Prima, Vitality, The Mirror, Woman’s Own and Cycling Weekly, amongst others. She has also worked one to one with journalists, analysing their diets and health concerns and recommending changes and additions, where appropriate.