3 Steps towards a Body Positive 2018

Ok so disclaimer: if you’re not currently body positive (ie. If you don’t already feel 100% confortable and happy with your body) then it’s gonna take some time to get you there. There is no quick fix for undoing years, decades even, of social conditioning. But don’t let that stop you from embarking on the most important journey of your life! In this blog post I’m sharing 3 steps you can take right now to get off to a really good start and set you up for a body positive 2018! 


Step 1. Put the Me in Social Media

We constantly hear about how social media has become the downfall of society. Trolling and online bullying are rife, random scrolling is deteriorating our social skills, the temptation to pop on our phones is weakening interpersonal skills and shortening our attention spans etc. But what if I told you that when it comes to becoming body positive, social media can be your best friend and strongest ally? 

When I say “put the me in social media”, here’s what I mean. How much of your social media feeds is actually helping you to become body positive, and how much is getting in your way? Those influencers and bloggers, the ones that make you wish you were prettier, thinner, more “put together”, more successful, fitter, a healthier eater, more stylish, better travelled, what does following them actually do for you? You might think it motivates you. I argue that it disempowers you. Let’s flip that on it’s head and imagine your social media feeds were full of body positive accounts. Imagine seeing men and women of all shapes and sizes and abilities and experiences celebrating their unfiltered bodies every time you popped online throughout the day. Imagine seeing stretch marks and cellulite and rolls of fat and bingo wings and double chins and saggy boobs. At first, those images would probably shock you. I know they shocked me. But begore long, you’d notice yourself becoming desensitized. And slowly but surely, your idea of what’s normal will shift. Out of nowhere, one day you’ll find yourself shocked by how fake the models in the magazines look. 

That’s all very well and good, I hear you say. But how does that help me start to love and accept my body? Well it’s simple really. The more often you see bodies like yours, the more relaxed you’ll start to feel about your own. You’ll notice your stretch marks one day and think to yourself, “they’re really not that bad”. Maybe a week or two later you’ll dare to wear something you’ve never tried before, a body con dress or a crop top maybe, and you’ll think to yourself as you look in the mirror “damn, I look good”. 

In no time at all you’ll be scoffing at low kcal options and feeling lit AF. 

Step 2. Get Naked

When we hate our bodies we go out of our way to avoid them don’t we? Can you remember the last time you stood in front of a full length mirror completely naked? Do you even know what your naked body looks like anymore? Believe it or not, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “yes Sarah, I know exactly what it looks like… a disgusting pile of shite!!!” I understand that reaction. 

Don’t forget that I’ve been there, I know how that feels. I know what it is to actually be fearful of seeing your body for the first time in years. It’s bloody terrifying! But it’s gotta be done, so here’s how to ease yourself into it. 

Start by spending some time everyday in just your undies and a tshirt. This could be while you’re cooking dinner, it could be watching tv in the evening, it could be when you’re reading your book or on the phone to a friend. It’s ok to be distracted by something. You don’t even need to look in the mirror. This is just about getting comfortable in your skin in your own home. If you house share, stick to your bedroom. Then after a few weeks and once it starts to feel normal, ditch the t shirt. Again, distract yourself by going about your usually routine at home. You’ll catch your reflection in mirrors as you walk around, don’t worry too much about it. Just focus on feeling good moving around in your undies. And when this starts to feel normal, and I promise that it will, you guessed it! Get naked! Now the practicalities of cooking while naked aren’t great, so once you’ve gotten to this level of comfort with your body you can shorten the amount of time spent by as much as you like. Even five minutes a day in the nip will work wonders for your body positivity. You’ll be amazed at just how good it feels to dance around your bedroom in your birthday suit, embracing every wobble, every bounce, and loving the freedom that body positivity gives you! And you’ll be so proud of yourself you’ll want to tell the whole world! 

Step 3. Always Affirm 

I am a huge believer in affirmations. I wasn’t always. The first time my therapist started talking about affirmations I actually sneered at him. But boy oh boy did I learn fast that not only do they work, but they are absolutely essential to any meaningful personal development. 

Affirmations are particularly important when it comes to body positivity for three reasons. 

A) they can erase the negative thought patterns that we’ve learned, developed and perfected from childhood that lead us to self criticise.

B) they can replace those old patterns with new ones that encourage us to accept and love our beautiful bodies. 

C) we can practice affirmations anywhere, any time, in the company of anyone, and nobody will ever know. 

Think of every thought as an affirmation. Every time you think, “I hate my body, I’m so fat, I’d kill to look like her, I’ll never find anyone until I loose weight”, those are all affirmations. You might not mean them to be, but they are. So by choosing to create your own positive affirmations and say them to yourself instead, you push the self hate out and welcome in self love and body positivity instead. 

And it’s so spectacularly simple! The affirmations I used worked really well for me, because I timed them to the rhythm of my breath. It went like this:

Inhale: I love myself 

Exhale: I accept myself 

Inhale: I am enough

Exhale: Pause and repeat 

The great thing about timing them to my breath was that I could practice them pretty much anytime I was breathing. So I’d be sitting on the loo, affirming. I’d be walking to the bus stop, affirming. I’d be lying in bed at night, affirming. I’d be doing my groccery shop, affirming. And although it can be slow to get into the habit at first, once you do it is the easiest most natural thing in the world. So much so that I still catch myself doing it unintentionally sometimes!

So for your final step towards a body positive 2018, I want you to start using the same affirmations I did to tackle those negative thought patterns and replace then with buckets of self love instead. Couple this with Steps 1. and 2. and you’ll be a bopo queen in no time! 

Three Things I Wish Thin People Understood 

I’m not one for ‘thin bashing’. In fact if I’ve learned anything at all from body positivity its that all bodies are subject to impossible beauty stanards. Buuuuut… As a fat person, I have experienced discrimination at the hands of thin people, a lot. So I’ve put together this post to highlight the top three things I wish thin people understood about fat people. 

1. Fat People Deserve Respect

I can’t speak for every single fat person on the planet. But I can say that through the body positivity community I’ve met and formed friendships with a lot of fat chicks, and we all have one thing in common; the experience of being disrespected because of our size. 

If I had a euro for every time someone has  made a disrespectful comment about my weight, well let’s just say my wardrobe would be a lot fuller. Everyone from so called friends to parents, colleagues and even complete strangers have made snide comments to my face in the past. 

I was once in a River Island store, perusing for a present for a friend, when a snooty sales assistant marched right over to me, intentionally looked me up and down and said ‘we don’t have your size’. 

On another occasion I was in the smoking area of a nightclub when a lad started shouting ‘heffer’ at me at the top of his voice. 

These are just two examples taken from well over a dozen that come to mind when I think of being humiliated and disrespected in public places. There are so many more I could choose from.

But I want to know at what point in history did mankind make the apparently unanimous decision that fat people didn’t deserve respect? When did our thinking shift from the idea that all people deserved a basic level of respect, to one which was based on size? And also – where were all the fat people when that decision was being made? Why was it made by thin people? When did thin people decide it was acceptable to treat fat people this way? And why is it still an acceptable form of discrimination when almost all other forms have been outlawed? 

Thin person – you don’t need to think I’m beautiful or want to get in my pants. You don’t need to approve of my choices or my life style. But I demand you’re respect, because you have always had mine even though you can be a real asshole! 

2. Our Health is None of Your Business 

This really gets my goat. Do I walk around with a sign on my head that says, ‘please question me aggressively about my health’? No I bloody well don’t, but it seems that I may as well have one. 

There is something about fatness that makes thin people think they have the right to cross a line, a line that they wouldn’t dream of crossing with another thin person. Have you ever heard a thin person ask another thin person if they’re worried about diabetes, or high blood pressure? I certainly haven’t. But these are questions I face regularly. 

If you’re answer to this is that the health of fat people costs the state millions every year in hospital care etc., then why don’t we ask thin people about osteoporosis (a very common result of lifelong thinness) or the wide scale and long term joint damage caused by regular running? We don’t question rugby players about the constant trauma they are causing their bodies, do we? We don’t interrogate people as they walk into their local gym about whether or not they’re taking necessary precautions to avoid injury, do we? 

No, we do not. And this is because those people aren’t fat. We only feel we have the right to invade a persons privacy and demand extremely personal information about their bodies if they’re fat. But the truth is that my health is none of your business, and yours is none of mine. 

Thin person – please stop asking me about my health. Have I ever asked you about yours? Can we just establish some boundaries for Christ’s sake? Or would you like me to start asking how regular your poos are? 

3. Don’t Assume We Want Advice 

If you’re a fat person, you’ve probably learned to do the smile and nod and raised eyebrows thing every time a person offers you some ‘friendly’ diet advice. It’s a skill we all learn at one point or another, how to appear interested and grateful when a thin person starts preaching to you about how to lose that weight. 

The ironic thing is, the thin person usually thinks they’re doing us a massive favour. Because after all, we’re fat so we’re probably stupid and the advice to eat less and move more (on which every single diet/weight loss plan in history is based) will be revolutionary to our poor uneducated and ignorant minds. My eyes are hurting from rolling so much. But the truth is that when this thin person (and let’s face it, only thin people preach about diets) starts raving to us about this diet or that diet, what they’re actually saying is that we need to be different, we need to be more like them. 

The person offering the advice does not have our backs. They are not interested in our happiness. They are not concerned about our health (otherwise they’d be asking us about our sleeping pattern, stress level, bowl movements, etc) (also see point 2 – our health is none of their business!!). They are simply telling us to conform. 

Advice should only be given when asked for. Is that not a universally known truth? Surely everybody gets that? Apparently not. 

Thin person – please stop advising me. I neither want nor need nor appreciate it. And with every piece of unsolicited advice you offer I am edging closer and closer to punching you in the face. 

Challenging Fatphobia

When I first started following bopo accounts, I have to admit that the images I saw of fat bodies unfiltered, unashamed and unapologetic made me extremely uncomfortable. Unfortunately, sometimes they still do. 

When I feel that discomfort though, I ask myself one thing; would I feel this way if the body in the image was thin? 

More often than not, the answer is no. I don’t feel uncomfortable when I see thin women in their underwear. I don’t feel uncomfortable when I see thin women unfiltered. I only feel that way when the body in question is fat. 

What does this mean? Does it mean that I’m a bad person? Does it mean that I’m hypocritical? The answer to both is no. 

It means that I’m a product of my environment and unfortunately my environment is and always has been a fatphobic society. I have been taught since I was a child that fat bodies are bad. They’re bad because they’re unhealthy, unattractive, undesirable and unfeminine. I’ve been taught that fat people are lazy, irresponsible, compulsive, uneducated, and undeserving of respect. 

Because of this, I am fatphobic. 

Because of this, you are fatphobic. 

How do we combat this major social issue? How do we change the environment? What steps can we take to ensure that our children grow up in a more diverse, inclusive, body positive environment? 

How do we challenge fatphobia? 

The first thing that we have to do is challenge our own fatphobic relentlessly, every damn day. We do this by forcing ourselves to confront the uncomfortable. We do this by carefully selecting our influencers. We do this by consciously seeking new perspectives. We do this by desensitising ourselves to the taboo. We do this by challenging everything we think we know about our bodies, our weight and our worth. 

The Instagram bopo community has helped me to take these steps. By following women of all shapes and sizes, I’ve had to get used to seeing fat women in their underwear. I’ve had to get used to seeing fat women dancing in their underwear. I’ve been exposed to the perspectives of fat women in ed recovery. I’ve been exposed to the perspectives of fat women in mental health recovery. I’ve been forced to question my beliefs around the very word ‘fat’. I’ve been forced to think about inclusivity and diversity and intersectionality for the first time in my life. I’ve basically had to relearn most of what I thought I knew about the world we live in. 

It’s been bloody intense. 

Has it been easy? 

Hell no!

Have I learned everything there is to learn? 

Hell no!

Will I ever know everything there is to know about fat acceptance and body positivity? 

Probably not! 

Will I always be a little bit fatphobic?

Maybe.

Has it been worthwhile? 

You bet your fat ass it has! 

Call Me Fat. Please.

The word ‘fat’ is one of the most loaded words in the English language. Fat means ugly, lazy, irresponsible, slob, unsuccessful, unattractive, unsexy, undesirable, unhealthy, uneducated, weak willed, and about a hundred other negative things. 

Growing up I was always mortified when other people called me fat. And they did. To my face. All the time. They used it as an insult, so to me that’s what it was. To me the word ‘fat’ was a weapon, quick to fire but hard to recover from. By the time I was in my late teens I had developed a deep hatred for the word. I flinched every time I heard it, even when it was used to describe an inanimate object. Every time I heard that word it hurt me. Every time I heard it, it reinforced that self loathing that had been building inside me for years. Every time I heard it, the little girl inside me burst into tears all over again, reliving those horrific memories of humiliation that scattered my childhood. 

So its not surprising that soon after stumbling upon the body positivity movement, I was appalled by how often seemingly bopo activists were referring to themselves as fat. As if it was no big deal, these girls described themselves as ‘fat chicks’, ‘fat babes’, and ‘fat activists’. I couldn’t believe what I was reading, seeing and hearing. I almost felt betrayed by these women. They were supposed to be on my side, but here they were throwing that word around without a moments consideration for how much it was hurting me and countless others. 

However one day I stumbled on a post by one of my favourite bopo activists. The post described how words can be used as weapons only if we allow them to be. She talked about how by having a fear of a word, we give it a power over us, and in turn we give power to others who use it against us. She referenced Fat Amy from the Pitch Perfect movies as an example of how taking that word for yourself and owning it as part of your identity dissolves that power and immunises you from the pain. 

I was gobsmacked. This made sense to me. Suddenly I was questioning my attitude to the word that I had allowed to terrorise me for years. Maybe if I could change it’s meaning I could change its impact? 

I realised that I had allowed the word ‘fat’ to mean so many things to me over the years that I had forgotten what it actually meant. Like bones, or platelets, or eyelashes, it was simply an anatomical term for a part of the body. It was not an emotional weapon but a scientific term. Like any other word used to describe my appearance, such as blond for example, it wasnt a reflection on who or what I am. 

Eurika! 

Though I still felt uncomfortable using it, I began to work the word fat into my language on my Instagram. I started using hashtags like #fatacceptance and #fatblogger. The more I used it the more comfortable I became with it. 

Then, one  day last week a guy commented on one of my posts. The post included a topless picture of me from behind, showing the rolls of fat on my back. He commented under the picture saying that I was fat. And a wonderful thing happened. My first thought when I saw that comment wasn’t that I hated my body, or that I felt humiliated or degraded, or any of the thoughts and feelings that used to wash over me when I heard that word. This time, my first thought was this; ‘no shit Sherlock’. 

I wanted to jump up and down to celebrate, to phone all my friends and tell them about this major breakthrough, to run to my counsellors office and share my joy with him. I was so proud of myself for overcoming such a deep rooted fear. I couldn’t believe it. I knew then that the word fat couldn’t hurt me anymore. 

Now I use it all the time, in my Instagram posts, on my Facebook page, in my conversations with people. I can see that people react with shock at hearing a fat person call themselves and others fat. But I explain that to me, the word fat isn’t a weapon to hurt people with, but a descriptive word just like blond, or tall, or freckly. 

How I Handle Pressure

There’s no doubt about it; once you embrace self love and body positivity there’s no looking back!!! But what do you do when other people don’t share your enthusiasm? How do you handle the pressure to conform?

I’m a year into my self love/body positive journey, and there’s no question that I’m immeasurably happier and healthier for it. But unfortunately not everybody in my life gets it. And the pressure to conform persists. 

In my experience, the pressure comes primarily from family. I come from a big but very closely knit family full of avocado loving, athletic, juicing runners who take vigilant care of their physical health. As the fat sheep of the family, I’ve always felt under massive amounts of pressure to tow the line, get my shit together and fit in with the rest of them. 

And while I don’t put myself under that pressure anymore, I do still feel that their expectations of me haven’t changed. Now let me be clear about something, my family love me. They don’t want me to lose weight because they hate me, but because they want me to be happy, to be healthy, and to thrive. And while I don’t internalise that pressure anymore like I used to, it can still be hard to deal with the inevitable, ‘how’s the diet going’ questions that come my way at family occasions. 

So how do I handle that continuing pressure? 

Its easy to get frustrated when you feel you’re constantly having to defend your new found self love. Its just as easy to become defensive about your choice to stop hating yourself. Why can’t people get it? Why can’t they just see that I’m happier than ever before and accept that? 

The key thing to managung your response to this is to be compassionate towards whoever it is that’s putting you under pressure. 

In my case, I have to remind myself that this person, whether it’s a parent or an uncle, has been conditioned by society in the same way that I have to believe that there is only one right way to have a body. More often than not they’ve been conditioned in that way for forty/fifty/sixty years. And what’s more, they’ve lived their lives according to the standards of society without ever having had those standards challenged. The bopo movement is still new, still niche and still unkown to most people. So of course it’s going to be difficult for them to get their heads around your comparatively radical way of thinking. 

Thinking this way helps me to find the compassion to respect where they’re coming from. In the same way that their need to change me is wrong, it’s also wrong for me to try to change them. I have no right to impose my beliefs on them. I have no right to denounce them as conservative or backward. So I don’t. 

Instead I simply try to respect their experience, understand their perspective and be grateful for their love. 

The pressure to conform is something that we’ve all lived with from the day we were born. Society says we need to look a certain way, be a certain size, shape, weight, live a certain lifestyle and behave a certain way. And the harsh truth is that even after you’ve made the commitment to yourself not to conform, to live an authentic and loving life, there will always be pressure from society to do the opposite. You can’t change that, so don’t waste your precious energy trying. 

But we have the power to choose how we respond. Do we internalise that pressure? Do we allow the claims of others to infringe on our own convictions about who and what we are? Or do we accept that every single one of us, body positive AND body negative, is simply trying to do our best with the knowledge, understanding and awareness available to us? And that at the end of the day, our only goal should be to love ourselves so unconditionally that the opinions of others simply don’t matter.

 

Body Positivity And Weight… 

One of the major criticisms of the body positivity movement is the argument that it promotes obesity and the negative health impacts of obesity. This is something which frustrates and infuriates me. As far as I can see, there are two major flaws in this argument. 

First of all, the implication that body positivity promotes obesity is based on the idea that body positivity is only for fat people. This couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Body positivity is for everyone. People of every gender, age, race, religion, sexuality, ability, weight, height, shape and other group have the right to love their bodies. We all know at least one girl who is the ‘perfect’ weight with the ‘perfect’ body but who hates their body nonetheless, right? Body positivity isn’t something that’s bestowed on people once they reach their ideal weight or shape. It isn’t achieved by conforming to society’s standards. It isn’t earned by sacrificing and working out. It isn’t tied to a BMI or clothes size. 

Body positivity is for everyone. That includes the Mum of three who’s nipples tickle her knees. It includes the teenage boy who wakes up every morning to a new bright red stretch mark. It includes the girl in the gym who’s been running for an hour straight but still can’t get that thigh gap she’s dreamed of. It includes the man in his sixties who’s ashamed of his  aging sagging skin. It includes the young girl who’s embarrassed by her flat chest. It includes every single one of us. Regardless of weight or shape. So the implication that there’s a link between body positivity and obesity is false. 
Second of all, the health implications of obesity shouldn’t be demonized the way they are. I’m not going to contradict all accepted and respected medical research and say that obesity is good for the body. I’m not going to imply that there aren’t serious implications for obesity in terms of the physical condition of our bodies. 

But there are also seriously and well recorded negative health impacts of being too thin. Osteoporosis and arthritis are infinitely more likely to occur in people who have been regular runners throughout their lives. Why don’t we talk about that? Falls are infinitely more dangerous to frail elderly people than they are to their more robust peers. Why don’t we talk about that? Fertility in women is reduced significantly in women who are very thin. Why don’t we talk about that? 

When people complain about how much obesity costs the state every year, why don’t they complain about the cost of dieting and malnutrition? Why don’t they talk about the cost of arthritis and osteoporosis?

Why is it that we measure the cost of obesity to the state, but not the cost of fad diets, eating disorders and compulsive exercise?

Why do we demonize obesity to such an extent, but forgive the rest? 

Here is the answer; because we’ve been told to. We’ve been told since the day we were born that obesity is bad, and that obese people are bad people by extension. We’ve been told that obese people are lazy, stupid, unprofessional, unreliable, irresponsible and shameless. We’ve been told these things in subtle and not so subtle ways. Every ad on TV, every picture in a magazine, every heroine in a book, every lead actress in a movie, every toy sold to our children, every documentary on health. It’s like we’ve been plugged into the matrix all of our lives, and are only now coming to realise that the matrix exists. 
And so, to all of those people who criticise the body positive movement I have one question of my own; are you ready to unplug? 

Why The BoPo Community is so Important

For those of you who don’t know, ‘bopo’ stands for body positivity. And there is an enormous, and rapidly growing, bopo community online, particularly on Instagram.

The online bopo community has had such an impact on my life over the past few months. But I have noticed that when I mention it to my family and friends, they typically brush it off as more social media bs. So I decided to write a post explaining why it’s been so much more than that to me.

First of all let me provide some context. This time last year I found myself on antidepressants and in intensive counselling. I won’t go into all of the details (follow me on the gram for deets of my experience with depression @sarah_tyrrell_), but it’s fair to say that I was profoundly unhappy. Over the course of the following twelve months I came to realise that every problem I was facing in my life was rooted in my relationship with myself. I hated myself. I absolutely hated myself. And this negativity had seeped into every single area of my life.

Once we (my counsellor and I) had identified my self hatred as the root of all my unhappiness, it became clear that by addressing this alone everything else would fall into place. So as part of my ‘homework’, my counsellor asked me to start searching for body positivity online. I was pretty dubious initially, but as soon as I typed those words into my Instagram discovery page I was blown away and have never looked back.

Here was a world of girls who were every possible shape and size, every colour, height, sexuality, religion, nationality, age and ability. The only thing that they had in common was that they were promoting unapologetic, no strings attached self love.

They weren’t saying I could love myself if I lost a little weight, or if I made more of an effort with my appearance, or if I dressed differently, or if I was a little more successful. Nooooooo. What they were saying was really quite radical. They were saying, every body has the right to love themselves. Every body. As in, every single person. No matter what! 

I found so much comfort in that message having spent more than a decade feeling the exact opposite. I immersed myself in this community and bathed my soul in the self love they shared. I felt my mind absorb their words. I felt my subconscious shift its beliefs. I felt myself come alive with hope.

I watched others post pictures of their bodies in nothing but underwear, pictures that highlighted the parts of their bodies we are taught to hate. I watched videos of girls dancing round their bedrooms in a bra and nickers, smiling from ear to ear as their bodies shook and jiggled and jirated to the music. They challenged everything I thought I knew. They seemed to ooze sunshine. I was mesmorized. I wanted to feel like that.

I began to participate in the community, posting about my own experiences, my own challenges, my own demons. Rather than the ridicule and intolerance I know aired I might encounter, I found support and compassion. I got messages from my followers that filled me with so much relief, they often brought tears to my eyes. They understood me. They understood what it was to feel worthless. They were there for me. They were becoming my friends.

I took it a step further by posting pictures of my own body, my cellulite, my stretch marks, my rolls of fat and double chin. Every time I did it I experienced the same initial anxiety. The same anticipation of rejection. The same fear of vulnerability. But invariably that was replaced by a feeling of profound empowerment when my followers commented on how I was inspiring them, or how they could relate to my words. I felt I had purpose for the first time in years.

For me the bopo community has been transformative. It’s provided me with a safe space where I can find comfort and support, where I can explore my own relationship to my body and my self, where I can learn from others and where I can find peers and people to look up to. When you hate yourself and your body, you’re so ruled by shame and fear that to do these things is really quite impossible unless you find that community to envelope, protect and nurture you.

I don’t think that my relationship with myself could have improved as much as it has done without this community. And I’m so grateful for it everyday.

X

2017; New Year, same me!

This time of year is like a cespit for self hatred, self doubt, comparison and negativity. Some people would say it’s a time of inspiration, motivation and action. But I wonder how a widespread media driven desire to change yourself dramatically can be anything but negative?

That’s not to say that January isn’t as good a time as any to take stock and plan for the future. The trick is, are you motivated by self love, or by self hatred?

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