Body Image 101

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Body Image

“Instead of looking in the mirror and focusing on your flaws, look in the mirror and appreciate your best features…everyone has them.” — Demi Lovato

Written by Melissa A. Fabello, M.Ed.

Body image is exactly what it sounds like – the image that you hold of your body, as well as the bodies of others. It encompasses both how you feel about your body (its level of attractiveness, for example) and how you feel in your body (what it’s like to move through space). Body image can be positive (“I’m hot af”), negative (“I feel ugly”), or neutral (“My body is my body – nothing more, nothing less”). Most people experience all of these categories, depending on the moment or day.

Our culture makes body image really complicated. In a world that constantly bombards you with narrow definitions of beauty, it can be difficult to cultivate a healthy sense of self. We might find ourselves comparing our bodies to the ones that we see on TV, in pornography, or on Instagram. We might start to think that dieting and exercising are easy routes to changing our bodies and gaining self-esteem. And when we’re first starting to explore our sexuality – with ourselves and with others – we can feel a lot of pressure to look as “perfect” as possible, knowing that our partners are consuming the same messages we are! And that’s really confusing.

But here’s the thing: A positive attitude toward sex starts with a positive attitude toward yourself, and that includes your body. When our body image is positive, we’re more likely to engage in sexual behaviors in ways that feel good for us. When our body image is negative, we might be less likely to try new things because we don’t feel confident. We need to remember that our bodies IRL aren’t Photoshopped or filtered. We have stretch marks and cellulite and flab and hair and scars and acne. Some breasts are lopsided. Some penises curve. Some labia minora are longer than labia majora. We jiggle. All of this is normal – and we need to extend appreciation for these “flaws” in both ourselves and our partners. Understanding that bodies come in different shapes and sizes – and that all of them are awesome – is a great first step in sex positivity.

Remember: It’s common to struggle with body image, regardless of gender, size, race, disability, or any other characteristic. However, if negative body thoughts begin to consume your mind and prevent you from leading a happy, fulfilling life, it’s important to talk to someone you trust (like a parent, doctor, teacher, or counselor) because it’s possible for you to get help with that.

How can I have a positive relationship with my body?

  • Treat your body with kindness and respect.
  • Keep a list of your positive attributes that have nothing to do with your looks.
  • Compliment yourself!
  • Realize that health and appearance are two different things – and that you don’t owe either to anyone.
  • Cherish your genes. You probably inherited a lot of qualities from family members, so accept and value them.
  • Surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself.
  • Be careful who you follow on social media. If you feel sad when you look at pictures of someone, it might be a good idea to unfollow.
  • Find super cool body-positive activists to follow online to give you a daily boost of confidence.

How can I make myself feel better on a bad body image day?

  • Sit with your feelings. Know that it’s okay to feel how you feel – and that this day will pass.
  • If fitness is your jam, do something active to remember how cool your body is. Even if you’re not Olympic athlete material, going for a walk or having a nice stretch can feel good.
  • Take and post a selfie that you feel cute in. Or post an old one that you love to remind yourself that you have positive body image days, too!
  • Journal about how you feel – or maybe call or text a friend to talk it out.

More information and support:

National Eating Disorders Association

Binge Eating Disorders Association

Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation

The Trevor Project

tabú tip!

You deserve to have a relationship with your body that feels like a friendship. After all, it’s the only body that you have (barring reincarnation, of course), and it does so many amazing things for you day in and day out. We all have insecurities, but it’s important to focus on your positive qualities that make you who you are, and to recognize that your body is just one small part of the whole that makes you you.

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