Exploring healthy body image and expectations

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Whether we blame the rise of social media or the journalistic reports in magazines, one thing has become increasingly clear, there are too many of us who continuously feel subconscious about our bodies. From both platforms, we have developed year's worth of expectations in regards to our shape, body image and how our bodies should behave. In my honest opinion, this is where some of our lower self-esteem originated, particularly if we read this with an impressionable mind. Having thought this way for a significant amount of time, it's clear to see how we have been affected by body image standards.

Before you continue reading, I just want to make one thing clear. This blog post is not about slandering any body types, will not give any diet or exercise tips and will certainly not make you feel bad about how you look. In fact, my mission is the contrary. As someone who has experienced a thwarted sense of body image for many years, unsurprisingly worse during my adolescent stage, it pains me to know that there are wonderful people out in the world that don't feel confident or comfortable in their own shoes. While I'm not a person who oozes self-confidence every minute of the day, I've altered my mindset to consider loving my body instead of ridiculing it.

First of all, I'd like to define the term "healthy body image." Immediately, this might have conjured up some definitions in your mind, or you might have considered what you deem to be a "healthy body image." If you did, then I'd like you to reflect on this for a moment - what do you perceive "healthy body image" to mean? In this discussion, healthy is not used to resemble someone who is medically fit. Throughout the course of this post, we will come to understand it as accurate and appropriate to our person, and we will explore the ways it is subjective to each of us. But, why is this important? What is the purpose for changing the connotation of the word "healthy" in these circumstances?

If, like me, you have grown up with newspapers slandering a range of celebrities for their body shape, or criticising them for showing a more natural stomach, then you may also have a preconceived notion on what a "healthy body image" is. For a lot of us, it will be predetermined by the things we have read and watched, as well as some of the interactions we have had with those around us and online. Ultimately, our construct of body image has been defined by the things that influence us the most. Suddenly, we begin to realise that everything we have come to understand about body image is just what society has determined to be accurate. The reality is, we are all aware that there is not one set body type and there is never going to be a one-size-fits-all approach to our physiques. Individually, we have all experienced positive and negative criticism in regards to our bodies - whether we asked for them or not -, and we all have different notions of what works for our bodies and what doesn't. This is where the idea of a "healthy body image" starts to become more apparent.

Truthfully, online quizzes about body types or diagrams dictating different patterns of stomach fat are more of a hinderance to us than a help. Some of you may have seen the five different body types image too. While these appear helpful or even revolutionary for us on the outset, it can only cause more frustrations and annoyances for us in the long run. If we start categorising our bodies into pear-shaped, or triangular-shaped then we're reinforcing a very similar mentality again. More often than none, in these circumstances there will also be a more "desirable" body shape that has been dictated by the creators of the post. Such posts are severely detrimental to our self-esteem, especially when you find yourself looking through the comments section. While we may try to have a thick skin, we never really know when someone else's opinion will truly affect us. Such posts might also lead to fitness apps or designate ideal fasting times to help you achieve your dream figure. You might even find exercises for triangular-bodied people looking to become pear-bodied people - which sounds so bizarre! Somehow, these posts sneak into our timelines, either because they're suggested, paid ads or have high-interaction, and due to Facebook's algorithm settings will appear continuously if you pause on it for so many seconds. It's also important to note that the majority of those who highlight body image in an impressionable way, or have an opinion on it, are not experts in anatomy, nutrition or exercise; a significant percentage of these people are also internet trolls. Therefore, they are not credible sources and really shouldn't be taken seriously.

Growing up in the height of body shaming, it wasn't until my early twenties that I noticed activists fighting back against this style of reporting. And it wasn't until I started studying language that I truly realised the extent of the damage that this rhetoric had caused. It consumes so many people who are at a vulnerable point in their lives or have exaggerated expectations of themselves. Speaking from first hand experience, it is so detrimental to self-esteem and positive wellbeing. This is why it is my mission to challenge the constructs.

In theory, if we alter the definition of healthy - in this circumstance - to reflect being accurate and appropriate to each individual, then it should make navigating the topic of body image so much easier. Why is this? The answer is plain and simple: no-one is completely identical to someone else. Even in twins, there will always be minute changes. As you all know, we have different patterns within our fingerprints that make us easily identifiable from another person - even a twin. We all have different markings on our skin, different shades of hair colour and different features defined by family heritage. So, if there's really nothing that makes us all the same body-wise, then why do we all need to have the same goal? Honestly, we don't. We just need to understand what is accurate and appropriate for our bodies to achieve, and we also have to accept that there are engrained expectations that are far-fetched and unrealistic. Of course, this mindset can take a while to grasp and, while these changes may not happen overnight, if you start the groundwork now then it becomes so much easier in the long run. Since my transition in mindset I've eradicated the idea that I'll have super slender hips. This was an unrealistic expectation of mine; unless I remove the bones and reshape my pelvis, this will never happen.

A little something for you to consider is what an accurate and appropriate body image might mean for you. This will be incredibly subjective depending on who you are, the lifestyle you lead, if you've had children, your age, your activity level, any illnesses, your height, the list just continues. In the crux of it all, it is a body image that is more similar to how you are now. It embraces your curves, your skin, your dips, your bones and even your wobbly bits! It's a more accurate sense of yourself. Achieving this doesn't cost a penny. Keep complimenting yourself on a daily basis, verbalise observations you notice about your body, personality or appearance and congratulate yourself on it. I never thought this would work but it's been revolutionary for me.

Altering to this mindset can also be more nurturing for your body as you get older and inevitable changes happen. When you rid yourself of the pressures of being the same as the models in the magazines (who are perfectly beautiful too) and embrace yourself fully, you'll find that you are more understanding and accepting of your body and what it needs. Reinforcing a compliment a day, or simply being mindful of your internalised negativity, can help to set your mindset change on track. Overtime, you will start to challenge your internalised negativity towards yourself and your conscience will be more empathetic and considerate. We are all at the stage of knowing where our body image concepts come from; we just need to find a way to tackle it and stop putting ourselves down in the process.