Read this carefully if you are struggling with your body at the minute. Hopefully you might find it helpful but it might also be difficult. I don’t go into any detail about weight, diets or anything like that.
Okay so here is a super long blog post about how to feel better about your body. I’m sorry it’s 3 times longer than my usual blog posts but I just didn’t want it to be basic.
This post is about the societal messages we get about how we should look and how that works with the people around us. We’ve also got top tips for feeling better about your body but also embracing change, if that’s what you want.
I’ve broken the post up into the following sections. Hopefully there will be useful things to think about in each section as well as a whole thing.
But if you’re ready to dive in, here you go….
Be less mainstream
This may sound obvious at first but think about the bodies that you see in mainstream media. That is telly, film, magazines, images on web pages, social media, adverts, porn. What do you expect them to look like?
Spoiler alert. They are usually able bodied, youngish, slim and/or muscular, tall (but not too tall), white or light skin, ‘good’ hair, ‘perfect’ skin, and clearly masculine or clearly feminine. Even if someone isn’t one of those they are usually all of the others.
Think of what these bodies are doing too: having sex, laughing and joking, dancing, flirting. Having classic nights out, wearing cool clothes, and generally being good and nice and having a nice time. So it’s like the beautiful people get to have all the fun.
This might feel like it doesn’t make that much of a difference. We might not personally feel affected by it either. And you know that images are photoshopped, filters are used, lighting is magical, lots of make up is applied. People earn a lot of money to make people look like that. But these ‘Beauty Standards’ (BS) can seep into conversations we have with others and ourselves.
Read how to love yourself
For a lot of people seeing these images all the time can really take its toll on them. There can be a double whammy when we do occasionally see a picture of someone who doesn’t conform to the industry imposed Beauty Standard (BS). It can make us realise how rare that is, but there are the haters who mock those images.
Imagine a world with completely different Beauty Standards (BS). Also imagine a world where there are no Beauty Standards (BS) at all. How would that change our conversations with each other?
So if you work in mainstream media can you show images of people having fun who don’t fit the typical BS. Can we all do more in our social medias to share those kinds of images. Can you look for films, telly, magazines, websites, adverts or porn that shows different bodies in action? You know about Lizzo yes?
Be more political
Ever notice what ads are being sold to you while you’re watching telly? Or what products are being promoted in the actual show (like in Queer Eye)? Or what bodies are on the front covers of books that are promoting ‘healthy eating’ or ‘fitness’? Are they selling you something to make you make you feel like you could fit the Beauty Standard (BS) just a little bit?
A lot of us like things, products and services and it’s totally okay for us to want to change our bodies (more on that later). But it’s just worth noticing whether we are being ‘negged‘ into buying something or making a change.
I don’t want to sound like a total killjoy. It can be fun to buy things and sometimes small changes like a haircut, a nail polish, a vintage jacket from a charity shop can make us feel good about ourselves. A small change can spark bigger changes. But maybe think about the politics of being sold stuff and buying stuff. You are not what you buy!
Also get political about identity too. Beauty Standards (BS) are imposed on all people but think about who is expected to do more to meet them. If you’ve ever complained about women and femmes taking ages to get ready, think about the politics of that. Can you get straight out of bed, put yesterday’s clothes on, ruffle your hair and go out? Society says that this okay for some people and totally not okay for other people. It’s to do with gender but also race and class too.
Boris Johnson can have scruffy hair and yet still be considered the serious political giant he definitely is (lol). But Theresa May couldn’t. Dawn Butler or Zara Sultana can’t. This stuff is real. Talk to your friends about this and see what they say.
Choose your own peer group
Are people around you are a bit obsessed with meeting the Beauty Standard (BS). Do they spend time mocking others if they don’t? Maybe you could slowly try to have different people in your life.
When people in our peer groups slag off other people for how they look, it can make us feel crap. The BS might come from media industry but when it is used to judge other people that’s when it can affect us the most.
Depending on your circumstances you might not get much of a choice and we also live in a society that encourages everyone to be critical all the time. But there are alternatives. There are lots of people out there who are aware of all this stuff and have created spaces, both online and offline, where people can feel more welcomed and accepted.
Do some research and you might find facebook tagging groups, online forums (eg at The Mix or Scarleteen), twitter folk who might be thinking the same stuff as you. IRL you could also try to find events/bars/club nights/talks that are inclusive and accessible. Sometimes these are easy to find but sometimes not — let’s be real, this often depends on where you live and ability to travel.
Or buy my book Can We Talk About Consent? Thank you. Now on with the article.
Create supportive environments
Think about how you support your friends to have conversations about their bodies but also to create a supportive environment where people feel that they can. So for example, if your twitter feed is full of people talking about Donald Trump’s hair, skin colour and penis size then it might make you think twice about asking for support about your own body.
So maybe either don’t mock people because of their body, or explicitly say two things that are more kinder about bodies to make up for the nasty thing. Could you also challenge other people in your environment to lay off the body shaming too?
You might also want to do something about the bullying that goes on in your school, college, or workplace. If you don’t know about bullying then you are probably benefiting from it without realising.
Read this on how bullying happens.
Support your mates
If a mate is saying that they are having a hard time about their body don’t just leap in. Think about what kind of support they may actually want first. Sometimes they might like to hear that you are feeling similarly rubbish, other times that would be well annoying. There’s much more in this post from me about how to support a mate. If your mate isn’t confiding in you about this stuff, or about anything, you could think about the last point and what vibes you are sending out.
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Comparing ourselves to people (either IRL or in media) is very very hard not to do. However it is usually a bad idea. If the people you are comparing yourself to are in the media industry they are the Beauty Standard (BS). They are the thing you judge yourself against, so you can’t win. They are it and you are not. There’s more about this re porn in this post and this post.
However you are also comparing your insides with their outsides. They are also in this critical world and are very aware of how they need to keep sticking to the Beauty Standard (BS) so they can stay on telly. So they don’t always feel great about their bodies either.
When we place value on someone because of how they look, we treat them as an object and not a human. When we compare that object to us, we also treat ourselves like an object. So comparing yourself to other people is not fair or kind to them, and it isn’t fair or kind to ourselves. Think about that next time you catch yourself comparing yourself to someone you know IRL.
You are your body
The more we are outside of our own bodies, treating ourselves as an object, the more unhappy we feel about ourselves. But our mind is our body. So to help you feel better about your body is to feel those moments where you are in your body, instead of being outside looking at yourself. If you could also think about how it feels from the inside then you can really start to feel differently about it.
Think about times when you feel really inside your body, for example:
- like when you’re having a huge belly laugh;
- cosy in bed in the morning;
- that feeling of having a really perfect-for-you temperature bath or shower;
- when you’re out of breath and sweating after some kind of exercise;
- having a really great wank;
- out and about, feeling the temperature, the wind, the rain, the snow against your skin;
- giving your body a rub down with a moisturiser, feeling your skin and flesh in your hands.
You’ll have your own so think about this for yourself. When do you feel embodied, when are you feeling just your body? Are there ways of bringing more of this kind of thing into your life? Are you able to learn how being in your body feels so that you can practice doing this in other aspects of your life too?
The more you can feel inside your body (even to the point of being able to feel your own heartbeat) the better you can feel. Getting to this point is the key for you to feel like you can accept your body more. It’s possible to do, but it’s super hard. It’s not made any easier by people telling you to ‘love your body’ or ‘learn how to accept your true self’ without giving you any skills for how you might actually be able to tune into your body.
So it’s important, when you are trying to accept your body, that you don’t give yourself a hard time about the times when you can’t. Remember, we are living in a world where we are sold the idea of Beauty Standard (BS) to tell us to buy things and which in turn encourages us to assess each other’s worth and value by how we look. I think it’s fucked up, and so accepting our body can be too hard to do.
It also might sometimes not be the right thing to do.
Change is okay
If you thought that this post was all about how you should accept who you are and learn to love yourself you were very much mistaken. That’s a hard thing to do and it won’t be any easier me just telling you to do it. If we were in a society where there were no rules or expectations about how we should look then we might all be able to accept ourselves and each other, but we’re not.
So sometimes, you might want to make changes to your body to help you feel better about it. It could be something like in Queer Eye, like: getting a great haircut, learning some grooming ideas, buying some nice fitting clothes.
It could be something bigger like: for example going for a more femme or masc look; getting a tattoo; getting a piercing; changing your body shape through lifting or exercise (with guidance from instructors).
It could be something with medical advice, for example: making changes to your hormones; surgery (like chest reduction or enlargement); or making big changes your body shape through altering your calorie intake (either more or less).
So think of being on a spectrum of ‘no change accept myself’ ———- ‘make big changes to help accept myself’. Remember also that even if you don’t want to make changes our bodies are in a constant state of change anyway.
The thing with making changes is that they sometimes can lead to other changes and also greater acceptance. However, this only happens if you are able to find your own way with this and to tune into what you need and where you want your body to go. This can be super hard to do because the rules about how you should look are so strict and they trickle down to the people around us.
I guess that’s the thing we can all do though, how can we help everyone to find their own way when it comes to how they feel about their body? How can we help people to find ways to accept their body or to make changes to their body that feel okay for them?
Related Bish Posts
Other sources of help
Beat – which has help and support if you have eating problems
The Mix has got you if you would like some more support too
Here are a few things that I found useful when writing this
This really great Open Learn Course from Open University
Various papers about interoception and self-objectification, nicely summed up here
Also there are really nice articles at my mate Bethany Rutter’s website
LASTLY — you know that I also do a similar thing to Bish but an advanced version for adults right? If you are an adult and want a bit more indepth stuff head to our post/podcast we did about bodies here
Do leave a comment below if you have anything you’d like to add or if you have questions. I moderate all comments before they go live. Click here to ask me a question
© Justin Hancock, 2022
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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health. Find out more about Justin here