Sometimes scrolling through Instagram drives me crazy. I only follow people I know in real life, and none of them are celebrities, so why do some of my adult women friends (and it’s almost always women) feel the need to use apps like Facetune or Photoshop to widen their eyes, smooth their skin, and swipe away wrinkles? Who are they trying to please? I know the answer, and it makes me sad. They aren’t editing their faces to impress me or their other followers. They’re doing it to please themselves, because when they look at a selfie, all they can see are their flaws.
I have no interest in apps that let me tweak my face to look more beautiful, and it’s not because I’ve got lots of self-esteem. (I don’t.) To me, those face-editing apps feel like a lie, and it also seems like a slippery slope. How much photo editing is acceptable? If I used an app like Facetune, I worry I’d get obsessed with it, and gradually start changing more and more about my appearance. Then, I’d probably start to feel like the real me looked ugly compared to the edited photos. These tools might make people feel prettier in the moment, but I think in the long run, they’re damaging to users’ self-esteem.
Instead of trying to look like pore-less mannequins, aren’t we better off trying to love what we really look like, pores and all?
Please note that I said “trying” to love what we really look like. I know it’s not always easy to love your body, but it is worth the effort.
Renee Cafaro, one of my fellow Like A Boss Girl contributors (check out this great piece she wrote on how setting boundaries can set you free) also happens to be the U.S. Editor of SLiNK, a plus-size fashion magazine. She’s been writing about body positivity and size diversity for years, so I asked her what advice she’d give to someone who’s trying to love their body, but just isn’t quite there yet. She said, “First off, no matter what size we are, I’m not sure we are ever ‘there.’ Body image isn’t a destination, because we are bombarded with challenges to our self-esteem every day. Some days I still lose the battle, but it’s important that I pick myself up to ultimately win the war.”
I found that helpful, because it made me realize there’s no finish line to “love your body.” Renee reminded me that I’m not going to wake up one magical day and realize I love everything about myself. It sounds silly in retrospect, but I had convinced myself that was the goal: TOTAL SELF-LOVE, FOREVER. Now my plans are more realistic:
1. Understand that loving your body is a journey, not a destination.
If you’ve been criticizing what you see in the mirror for years, you won’t be able to shut that off overnight. It’s a process, and it’s going to take some time. Renee advises, “Start with anything. I started by loving my lips and eyes, then my legs, then my hips, etc. Once I could stare at a part of myself and feel genuinely proud I knew I could do it for the rest of me.”
Imagining myself as a collection of potentially lovable parts does seem to help. I like my eyes, my long legs, and my eternally-pink hair, so when I look in the mirror, I’m going to try to focus on those things instead of paying attention to my flaws.
2. Appreciate what your body and mind do for you.
I love swimming underwater. I love the way my leg muscles feel as I hike up a steep hill. I love writing weird short stories and making little paintings for my friends. Even when I’m struggling with the way I look, I value the things I can accomplish by being creative or doing something physical. There are plenty of other things I want to do that still feel out of reach (like getting a YA novel published, or running a 5K without stopping), but instead of worrying about what I haven’t accomplished, I’m trying to focus on taking small steps that move me closer to those goals.
3. If you need a break from social media, take one.
Once in a while, I catch myself comparing myself to the people I follow on Instagram and Facebook. I start to feel like my life is a mess, and that everyone else I know is beautiful and happy and doing things like running marathons in Hawaii. I realize that those feelings aren’t accurate, but it still helps to remove the social media apps from my phone for a while. I continue to communicate with my friends, but we talk or text one-on-one, so I’m more likely to get an accurate picture of what’s going on in their lives—and it’s never as perfect as it looks on social media.
4. Put your scale in a closet, and close the door.
Even if you’re trying to lose weight, it’s not necessarily a good idea to weigh yourself first thing every morning. (That digital readout can be an instant mood-killer, so why take that risk every day?) Instead of basing your self-esteem on how that number fluctuates from day to day, try weighing yourself once a week—or give up on the scale altogether and focus on how you feel.
5. Stop listening to the negative people in your life.
Do you have friends, family members, or acquaintances who comment on your appearance in negative ways? Maybe they say seemingly-innocuous things like “You look tired” on a regular basis and it’s starting to bug you. Or maybe they make “helpful” comments like, “The shape of that dress isn’t doing you any favors.” If you notice certain people in your life saying things that make you feel bad about yourself, do your self-esteem a favor and spend less time with those people. If someone you’re close to is saying that stuff, let them know that you find their comments hurtful. (If you think they’ll get defensive, it might be easier not to address it directly. Either way, remind yourself that your critics are probably dealing with self-esteem issues of their own.)
Iskra Lawrence is a British model and body positivity activist who refuses to Photoshop her Instagram pics. When she was growing up, all seven of her aunts warned her that she’d eventually get a “Lawrence bum.” This week she proudly posted a pic of her “Lawrence bum” modeling jeans on an American Eagle billboard in New York. I find this so inspiring:
Grew up being warned I'd get a "lawrence bum". All 7 of my aunts making it sound like something to be scared of… well look my beautiful aunties 😬our lawrence bum made it on a NY billboard🙌😜 Turns out it was a blessing in disguise and a body shape should never be something to be dreaded or feared you're so much more than that. #everyBODYisbeautiful Thank you @americaneagle & @aerie for loving the real me and making me feel good enough to be part of your campaigns I'm forever grateful and humbled✨🙏💕 #iCan & so can you… . And you already know @jagmodels without your belief in me and giving me the chance to change my life forever and come to NY none of this would be possible ILY 😘
6. Talk yourself up – to yourself.
Renee says, “Tell yourself every day that YOU determine your worth, not other people or media.” If you hear yourself having self-critical thoughts, or even saying something negative out loud like, “I’m so awkward,” or “My thighs look fat today,” try to stop yourself for a minute and refocus. Silencing your inner critic isn’t easy, but you may be able to drown that negative voice out with positive self-talk.
7. Still feeling judgmental? Forgive yourself, and focus on moving through it.
One of my favorite quotes is, “If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be seasick every day.” I know Leonard Cohen wasn’t talking about body positivity when he wrote that, but it’s a good reminder that if you’re having a low self-esteem day, the best thing you can do is relax and trust that tomorrow will be easier. Just like the tide, learning to love your body will involve lots of ups and downs. We just have to do the best we can and go with the flow. If anything, we have to love ourselves even more on the bad days, because that’s when we need it most.
Do you feel like your body mindset is beyond the scope of these reminders? Read this.
Just about everyone has something they’d change about their appearance, but if you’re obsessing over your flaws to the point where it’s affecting your social life, you might be dealing with a more serious issue like body dysmorphic disorder. Talk to a doctor or counselor about what you’re going through. Please ask for help, because you deserve to love yourself just as much as anyone else does.
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