In the health world, there are the two relatively new kids on the block. They’ve been around for a few years but they’ve been gaining popularity recently. The two that I am talking about are body positivity and health at every size.
While often spoken of together, Body Positivity and Health at Every Size (HAES) are two separate approaches. As the name implies, with body positivity the focus is on making peace with your body and focusing on the positives it has rather than the negatives. The goal is to appreciate your body, recognize its “imperfections” but still express gratitude for all that it has given you.
Everyone experiences changes to their body as they go through life, a prime example being women who have had children. While many people focus on getting back to their pre-pregnancy weight, they also tend to shame their current body for not being what it was. In reality, that current body is what created that new life. If you ask most mom’s they wouldn’t give their child up in order to get their pre-baby weight.
Friends don’t let friends fat talk. To build on that, friends don’t let friends stay in abusive relationships with anyone, including themselves. Talking negatively about ourselves can come in the form of excusing our appearance on video meetings/chats, talking negatively about our appearance, phrases such as “I gotta put my face on” or “Whoa, I look scary” or “Sorry you have to see me before I’m presentable” and so on. It is important to recognize that this approach to ourselves is not kind, uplifting, or edifying.
Imagine if your child was with you and every time you said that statement about yourself you were actually saying it about them. You wouldn’t want anyone else to internalize that message and yet we can do it many times a day to ourselves without a second thought. This is the idea behind the Body Positivity movement.
With Health at Every Size (HAES) the desire is to encourage individuals to approach healthy behaviors, starting where they are. I have had many people say that they want a gym membership but they’re not going to get one until they’ve lost X number of pounds to prove to themselves that they are committed.
The HAES movement is based in science and the understanding that when we do healthy things we are in fact healthier, regardless of our weight. One key distinction here is that the proponents of HAES are not saying that when you do healthier things you lose weight and then you are healthier. Instead, the research shows that regardless of weight change, increased participation in healthy behaviors improves health. So, again, regardless of weight change during participation in healthy lifestyle behaviors, when you do healthy things, you are healthier. This can be a hard concept for many people to understand because our culture has so intertwined health and weight that divorcing the two seems insane.
Despite what those who oppose either of these approaches tells you, they are not aimed at telling people that they should be obese, or that they should gain weight. This is often tied up with the misguided conundrum that if we aren’t dieting, then how are we supposed to be healthy. Research actually shows that continued involvement in dieting can lead to weight gain. The unrealistic expectations, regimens, and timelines cause more problems than they solve.
Instead, Body Positivity and HAES are focused on helping individuals improve their health (physical, mental and emotional) by allowing people to give themselves permission to be who they are in the body they are in, at that time. You are not blind to who you are, but rather you are focusing on the positive in yourself.
One way to recognize how we talk with our bodies is to perform this simple activity.
First, draw picture of yourself. I know that, in and of itself can cause anxiety but you do not need to be an artist to do this. No one is going to see this and you could easily use stick figures. However, giving that abdomen a little more detail than one vertical line can help with the next step.
Next, label the drawing with the things that you don’t like about yourself. Give yourself 5 minutes to really think about it.
Now, draw another picture of yourself and this time label your drawing with the things that you do like about yourself. Again, give yourself time to reflect.
Once you have spent time writing down what you like about yourself, reflect on your drawings. Ask yourself the following questions: which drawing has more labels on it? Are you okay with that? Why do you think it is that way? Who has influenced your thinking? Do they have the right to do that? Should they?
Once you’ve reflected on this whole activity, consider setting a goal to add to the positive list every day. Then every once in a while, take the time to listen to how you talk to yourself, you’re worth it.