Eradicating Body-Shaming with Radical Self-Love
The world today is obsessed with looks. Media, in every form, exacerbates the importance of the “perfect look”. Definitions of size, shape, colour, hair, etc. have been blown out of proportion. Moreover, the compulsion to fit within others’ ideas of perfection has made body-shaming and self-hatred more common, leading to people having unhealthy relationships with their own bodies.
The Body Is Not An Apology (2018) by Sonya Renee Taylor calls out this unhealthy habit. It proposes the concept of radical self-love, a way to overthrow unhealthy relationships, understand the mental processes that encourage people to hate their bodies, accept and appreciate the uniqueness of one’s own body, and work towards reconstructing a society that accepts physical differences rather than shaming them.
In order to understand radical self-love, one has to understand how different it is from self-esteem and self-acceptance.
Consider an analogy. Radical self-love can be perceived as a tropical island where self-esteem thrives. However, the two are not the same. For example, if self-esteem were to be a ship, it is pushed across the oceans by wins of ego and willpower. Such ideals can cause a ship of self-esteem to crash. While selfish and arrogant people have confidence and high levels of self-esteem, they don’t epitomize love.
Radical self-esteem differs from self-acceptance too. If one thinks back to any time in one’s life when one merely accepted something, one will find that the feelings weren’t inspiring or enjoyable. Self-acceptance is merely accepting oneself and is far placed from radical self-love. Anyone can do better than merely accepting oneself, especially when it comes to respecting and loving oneself.
In order to get closer to radical self-love, one has to learn how to better one’s attitudes toward oneself and towards others.
Acceptance And Celebration Of Oneself And Others
In radical self-love, loving oneself is primary. One’s body, (spiritual energies and soul aside) is physically present in the here and now. It is therefore sensible to direct one’s self-love towards it first.
Judgements are external ideas. One needs to accept that any harmful thoughts one harbours about oneself aren’t one’s own. They are comments and ideas that others have made. These judgements are constructs that have entered one’s mind and aren’t based on truth.
Loving one’s own body is highly beneficial. It not only benefits an individual but also those around. For example, loving one’s own body and celebrating it teaches children, family and friends to respect and appreciate their own bodies too. Radical self-love is more than just acceptance f one’s own body. It is about acceptance and celebration of the uniqueness of others’ bodies too.
In 2015, Dr Deb Burgard, a specialist in eating disorders made a movie called The Danger Of Poodle Science. The satirical film highlights the crazy concept that a dog’s health is determined based on how closely it resembles a poodle. Considering this idea, a St. Bernard would be a very unhealthy dog. The film focuses on how the world views health, happiness and beauty as a one-size-fits-all concept.
A Body-shamer who claims to worry for the health of a friend is more likely to use the word ‘health’ as a means to justify his own critique of the friend’s body. This is a problem more concerning than it is made out to be. People who have disabilities, or those who live with illnesses do not need to change themselves for the benefit of others.
The Body-shaming Initiation
Body-shaming, for many, originates in childhood, or during early puberty. The adolescent years, when bodies undergo change and are typically vulnerable, is when most learn to feel ashamed of their bodies.
According to a yahoo health study conducted in 2016 on about 2000 adults and teens, Body-shaming starts around the ages of 13-14, and for younger generations, around the ages of 9-10! While girls are told that they are fat, ugly or are humiliated for their breasts, boys get called out for being skinny or small. Gender non-conforming children are admonished that their self-expressions are entirely wrong!
The author recalls that as a child, while she was playing with the kids in the neighbourhood, the parents called out a girl called Nia – who was just entering puberty – and asked her if she was “stung by a bee”. While the author was confused at first, she learned that adults were making fun of her friend. The result? Nia learnt that breasts were something to be ashamed of, and consequently stayed inside most of the summer.
Such Body-shaming that one encounter in childhood gets reinforced in adulthood.
The Reinforcement Of Body-shaming
The ideals of gender and beauty are flexible. Moreover, notions about the body are formed by political, economic and social landscapes. This makes the ideals of a perfect body a reflection of a society’s power structures.
That said anyone can be the face of beauty. It is not unrealistic. For example, in the 16th century, a fat body was a symbol of wealth and abundance, and hence, considered beautiful. Similarly, the perception of gender in society has also changed over generations. Queen Hatshepsut, in 1503, dressed like a man in a beard when she ascended the throne to show her subjects that she intended to rule like her male predecessors.
Today, it is unfortunate that the flexibility of gender and beauty do not conform to capitalism or media, and hence body-shaming is reinforced and emphasised. The sheer enormity of monetary incentives that are found in making people feel ashamed about their bodies is enticing. Products are advertised and sold, giving businesses and the advertising industry a boost.
The statistics say it all, while in 2015, EMarketer reported $513 billion were spent on advertising in the US alone, Business Wire reported that in 2014 global sales of beauty products hit a whopping $460 billion, that sky-rocketed to $675 billion in 2020.
Developing Radical-Self Love
Today, combating body-shaming and developing radical self-love can prove to be a daunting task – especially with the amount of media propagating body-shaming that is aimed at people.
Thus, it is vital to reduce one’s media intake. In fact, the average American adult, according to the technology company TiVo, spends about 12 hours consuming one or the other form of media. Reducing media intake becomes essential, as media tries to dictate how one should feel about one’s body.
Putting on radical self-love glasses, one will be able to see that everything, right from Netflix to YouTube to that favourite TV show, all portrays stereotypes about race, gender, disabilities, and body size in some way or another.
Often, the body is perceived merely as an accessory, whereas the mind is the identity. In order to develop radical self-love, one has to recognize that one is one’s body first.
In Eve Ensler’s TED Talk she too described how she felt not only disconnected and estranged from her body, but also felt unattached to it. She wrote The Vagina Monologues in an effort to reconnect with her body. She became sexually active too. Despite these efforts, she continued to feel detached from it and viewed it as a means to an end to sexual activity. It was only after she was diagnosed with cancer that she really began to view her body as her own, as something more and began to pay attention to it.
If one has to practice radical self-love, one has to reconcile with one’s own body.
Active Involvement With One’s Body
The voice of radical self-love will grow louder as one starts reducing media intake and starts reconciling with one’s own body. One has to be able to familiarize with one’s own body, and this requires practice.
One way is to learn about and get to know one’s own body intimately.
The body, for many years, has been perceived and associated with nasty features such as defecation and sweat. It is a conditioning that one needs to let go of. One should view the body as a miracle, and examine each and every part of the body, its structures, and how it performs simple as well as complicated functions. One has to get acquainted with it and then get active with it.
With radical self-love, one can rediscover the most beautiful thing about one’s body – movement. Sports, performing arts and even sex will then seem less like chores. One has to keep in mind that the movement of the body isn’t about losing weight or about changing it. It is about loving and enjoying what the body is capable of. That is what radical self-love aims to achieve.
Not Participating In Body-shaming
Everyone is involved in Body-shaming at some point in time. It is, in fact, easier to view Body-shamers as others who bully. Body-shaming, like mentioned above, is a deeply conditioned behaviour that sets in during childhood years – mainly through observation.
Social behaviours are learnt by watching grown-ups, and children learn that these are appropriate ways to act when they see the adults around them display these behaviours. Moreover, these behaviours are also reinforced at school. The Author recalls chants of ‘ Keisha, Keisha, bald spots’ directed toward a girl suffering from hair loss.
When there is no one to defend the person who is body-shamed, then these acts are encouraged in society. By not participating in defending, one indirectly participates in Body-shaming. The notion that differences in the body are to be felt ashamed of gets reinforced and internalized.
Hence it is vital that one recognized internal biases. One of the reasons this is difficult to do is because mostly, these behaviours are unconscious. This phenomenon is called implicit bias. Addressing implicit bias is vital to be able to accept one’s own as well as others’ bodies just as they are.
Mutual Body-shaming friendship is a common problem. For example, when one person tells a friend that the friend is actually beautiful, but they themselves are ugly is a mutual Body-shaming friendship.
It has to be stopped. People should start changing the way they talk about themselves. One has to understand the difference between vanity and self-appreciation. Society teaches one to be modest and never boast, but one should be able to recognize one’s place in society, and not hesitate to celebrate oneself.
Practising meditation is a great way to increase radical self-love. When one talks negatively about oneself, it reflects one’s own personal feelings. These feelings can be changed via mediation. A Carnegie Mellon University study in 2016 showed that meditation can increase one’s sense of well-being and reduce stress. Meditation can stimulate parts of the brain that process stress and the production of calm feelings.
Clearing one’s mind through meditation helps one to view one’s body in a positive light, and see it for what it’s worth. This can steer one on the path to radical self-love.
Radical self-love is unconditionally and unashamedly loving one’s own body. Moreover, it involves respecting others’ bodies for what they are. It has to be developed and practised.
Body shaming is an underrated social evil that is reinforced during one’s childhood. It is further fuelled by media and society’s perceptions of what beauty is. If one becomes aware of one’s own implicit biases, accepts and celebrates one’s own body, and gets actively involved in understanding one’s own body, one can work towards radical self-love.