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I spent this evening at bellydancing, looking at myself in full length mirrors, thinking about what I would write for this post. Looking at yourself in a mirror as you attempt to dance for an hour is pretty confronting!

But I was quite pleased to think that, actually, I rather like my body. As you know, this hasn’t always been the case. But I’ve realised that the times I have felt terrible about it have been when I either compare myself to others, or when I have thought that people would like me more if I looked a certain way.

Both those thoughts are absolute codswallop. Firstly, I’m me, not anyone else. Nobody else looks like me and I don’t look like anyone else. And secondly, if I was only friends with people who liked me because of how I looked, well they wouldn’t be great friends, would they?

I get it. It’s all very well to know these truths, but so easy to let the insidious, subtle body shaming and negative self talk to creep into your thinking without even realising it. Our relationship with food, fitness and body image in the West is pretty messed up. The messages we get about the sorts of bodies we’re supposed to want are so pervasive a lot of the time we don’t even recognise that they’re being reinforced every time we see a billboard, walk through a shopping centre, turn on the TV, see a magazine cover in the petrol station…and on and on.

But challenging those messages in my own small way has been one of the best things I’ve ever done, in terms of my self esteem. Here’s what works for me:

  • I banned fat talk – I made a conscious decision not to talk about “feeling fat” or labelling myself things like “whale” or saying “I look like the side of a house” or “The diet starts tomorrow” or…you get the idea. No fat talk.
  • I tried to consciously reduce the comments I made about appearance, especially critical ones (both of myself and other people), but even “positive” ones – saying to someone “have you lost weight? You look great!” might seem like a compliment, but it’s basically reinforcing the idea that you’re only your best self when you’re thinner (also they could infer that you’re saying they looked like crap before).
  • I put away the scales. I have a vague idea what weight I am now, but no longer obsess over the numbers.
  • Speaking of numbers, I don’t care about what size clothes I “should” be, but go for what fits (because clothes sizing is so variable, the number on the tag can become meaningless!) – from Out of Shape by Mel Campbell: “Here’s what your size says about you: absolutely nothing. Feeling good about yourself cannot be measured against an arbitrary scale.”
  • I enjoy what I eat and choose to only eat things I will enjoy.
  • I move when I can and in a way that will be fun.

Those things might not work for everyone. But that’s how I’m kicking it at the moment.

If you are interested in thinking more about this sort of stuff, there’s heaps out there to read. Here are some things I’ve found helpful:

  • Don’t compare yourself to celebrities Pinterest board by Teri Modisette – I appreciate the frequent visual reminder that the ‘ideal’ we’re supposed to strive for isn’t possible because people in real life aren’t photoshopped
  • Why Teri Modisette started the above board part 1 and part 2 – really worth reading!
  • Things you get away with by being skinny by Kate Fridkis – just because someone is thin, doesn’t mean they’re healthy
  • Health at every size: the surprising truth about your weight by Linda Bacon – I still haven’t finished reading this, but it’s a very interesting book. I particularly found fascinating the concept that our bodies are wired to maintain a healthy weight, that we have a setpoint weight – “think of it as the preferred temperature on a fat thermostat” – but we keep messing with the setpoint by dieting, and so that inbuilt mechanism doesn’t work the way it should anymore. 
  • Out of Shape by Mel Campbell – a book about why it’s so hard to find clothes that fit (whether you’re large or small).
  • Ha – as I just sat down to write this, this handy guide to body shapes by Gemma Correll popped up on my Facebook feed. I can’t decide whether I’m a broken slinky or a turkey leg.