Big Issues

What Is Body Positivity, And How Can We Embrace It?

It actually has less to do with the body and a lot to do with the mind.

As students, we have no shortage of stressors: grades, work, the uncertainty of the future. On top of that, as young people, we’re also in the top demographic band affected by body image issues.

Body image concerns significantly affect the lives of over 30 per cent of Australian young people. We spoke to Christine Morgan, CEO of The Butterfly Foundation, to discover how we can beat the beast that is negative body image.

What Is Body Positivity?

Body positivity, a.k.a positive body image, actually has little to do with the body, and a whole lot to do with the mind.

“The best way to describe positive body image is that you’re comfortable in your own skin,” Christine says. “You don’t define your value according to what you look like, and you appreciate what your body can do, rather that being too hung up on its size and shape.”

On the other end of the scale is negative body image, which is among the primary concerns for young people. While there is a healthy extent to which we should care about what we look like, there is cause for concern when this goes too far.

When we start to move into thinking the way we look determines our value as a person, or our body needs to change for us to be successful, that’s when you’re starting to get into an unbalanced and potentially dangerous area.”

A disproportionate focus on body image in conversation, and allowing activities, events or lifestyle to be impacted by body image, are key indicators that a friend or family member might be struggling with negative body image.

Why Are Young People So Susceptible To Body Image Issues?

As young people, we are bombarded by potentially unhealthy ideas: through our peers, our communities, and through social media.

“We live in a society where, on so many different levels, it’s reinforced that our appearance affects how successful we are in life.”

“Our actual form of communication has transitioned into images. We don’t just accept them as static images; we either like them or we don’t, we Photoshop them,” Christine says. “We live in a society where, on so many different levels, it’s reinforced that our appearance affects how successful we are in life.”

Faced with a competitive job market and a whole lot of uncertainty, for students, this can be a daunting notion.

While Instagram provides no shortage of “miracle fix” trends – from “skinny tea” to F45— these are often too time-consuming or expensive for most students to participate in. While this may be damaging for the self-esteem or mindset of those young people who can’t take part, Christine says not being able to afford these trends is often a blessing.

“We tend to become armchair experts at something we’re not really expert in: what is healthy, what we should or shouldn’t be doing. If you start to eliminate some of the macro food groups, you’re really going to mess around with your nutrition. If you have a vulnerability to an eating or exercise disorder, it could well be triggered. It’s just so dangerous.”

How Can We Improve Our Body Image?

The road to body positivity can be a difficult, but potentially life-saving journey. According to Christine, it’s all to do with “rebalancing the conversation” — developing a healthy perspective on bodies in the media, and setting goals that focus on health, rather than appearance.

“Sometimes the hardest thing is to give up doing something, but the way to overcome it is to introduce something new. It’s not about having to completely ditch being concerned about appearance but balancing it out with an understanding of how fantastic your body really is, and what it enables you to do.”

If you or anyone you know is experiencing an eating disorder or body image concerns, you can call the Butterfly Foundation National Helpline on 1800 33 4673 (ED HOPE) or email [email protected].

(Lead image: pink-bits/Instagram)