“I like me! I like my hair. I like my chin. I like the skin I’m wrapped up in! I like me!” I fondly remember this little ditty from my son’s kindergarten class. His teacher would often sit the kids down to recite this fun chant and it would bring smiles and laughter all around. The kids sang it loud and proud, they owned it. Unfortunately, the way we love ourselves with complete abandon as children somehow loses its power as we age. As adults we tend to become more self-conscious about our bodies, our self-esteem takes a big hit, and our positive body image becomes more difficult to maintain. Research shows that self-esteem generally tends to decline in early adolescence for most people.
In their review article “What is and what is not positive body image? Conceptual foundations and construct definition”, authors Tracy L. Tylka and Nichole L Wood-Barclow describe positive body image as being “(a) distinct from negative body image, (b) multifaceted [including body appreciation, body acceptance/love, conceptualizing beauty broadly, adaptive investment in appearance, inner positivity, interpreting information in a body protective manner] …and (g) shaped by social identities.” In essence, body positivity is about accepting our whole selves as we develop and change, despite living in a culture that often emphasizes and values a harmful thin ideal more than healthy bodies and minds. Clinical psychologist and researcher, Niva Piran calls this “embodiment”. Using information gathered in research from folks of all ages from around the world, she describes embodiment as our lived experience, the way we feel in our body versus how we feel about the way it looks, which can get disrupted by the culture.
There’s good news, though! We are seeing a body positive revolution happening in our society that is challenging the negative narrative that we’re exposed to daily. Today, there are more social activists, individuals, and companies who are rebelling against the systems that have contributed to our declining self-image. Many social media influencers, fitness companies, clothing brands, medical community members such as anti-diet dietitians and patient-centered care practitioners are rising up and contributing to a paradigm shift towards body positivity, inclusivity, and embodiment.
In fact, The Body Positive, a Bay Area organization founded in the 90s dedicated to help folks live more peacefully in their unique bodies, helped inform Health at Every Size (HAES), a paradigm shift in the way we think about health. Specifically, the Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) follow the principles of HAES, which has become a growing movement among many disciplines. The principles of HAES invite us to rethink the messages that we accept as truth, reset goals that are appropriate for us, and embrace food instead of fear it. We can re-learn how to love and trust ourselves with as much conviction and abandon as those children in my son’s kindergarten class.
Body positivity is a vital component of self-care. We only have one body. It’s our home for life and we owe it to ourselves to honor and love it. We each deserve to love ourselves, take care of ourselves, receive the same level of health care as others and feel free to take up as much space in this world as we need.
Niva Piran, Embodied possibilities and disruptions: The emergence of the Experience of Embodiment construct from qualitative studies with girls and women, Body Image, Volume 18, 2016, Pages 43-60,ISSN 1740-1445, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2016.04.007.
Tylka TL, Wood-Barcalow NL. What is and what is not positive body image? Conceptual foundations and construct definition. Body Image. 2015 Jun;14:118-29. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2015.04.001. Epub 2015 Apr 25. PMID: 25921657.
Van Schie, C. C., Chiu, C. D., Rombouts, S., Heiser, W. J., & Elzinga, B. M. (2018). When compliments do not hit but critiques do: an fMRI study into self-esteem and self-knowledge in processing social feedback. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 13(4), 404–417. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsy014
Wagner, J., Lüdtke, O., Jonkmann, K., & Trautwein, U. (2013). Cherish yourself: Longitudinal patterns and conditions of self-esteem change in the transition to young adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(1), 148-163. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0029680