I feel like I’ve got all the body positive politics down, but it just doesn’t want to sink in. Even though I know that diet culture has taught me the shitty things I believe about myself, I still have a hard time not believing them. Am I doing it all wrong?
Dear Friend Who Doesn’t Need To Feel Insecure,
No, you are not doing it wrong. I promise.
And guess what? You’re not alone. This is one of the most commonly voiced concerns I hear from people who are breaking up with diet culture.
I like to think of body positivity in the way I think of learning a language. If you’ve ever learned a language you’ll know that understanding a new language is very different than speaking a new language. These skills, though related, are not one-in-the-same.
Just because you know the language doesn’t mean that you can speak it fluently. It takes a little longer to get there sometimes, and that’s normal.
The good news – that not many people tell you – is that body love is both a mindset and a skill. The skill part is good news because, as with any skill, the more you practice the more intuitive it becomes.
Here’s my advice on working toward integrating body positive ideology into your life:
1. Practice thinking the thoughts
I want you to make a list of all the thoughts that you want your brain to be filled with. Post it somewhere you can access readily. Then I want you to read the list, and repeat the thoughts as often as you want. Practicing to replace old thoughts with new ones is one really great way of encouraging a mental shift.
2. Trust yourself
This is always harder than it sounds, right? Whenever people ask me this question, I always feel the impulse to remind them who they’re asking and how they got to the point in their life where we are even talking. Oh, right.. they knew they were dissatisfied with dieting, they knew they deserved better, they dedicated a bunch of time to thinking all that stuff through, then they probably read some articles, and then they found me and liked what I had to say (and I have some pretty radical stuff to say). So, at the end of the day, they (i.e. YOU) have already made the commitment.
One of the byproducts of sexism is an occasional inability to recognize and really own what we want for our lives, and that makes it hard to recognize when we have turned a corner, or made a commitment from which we are not backing down. But trust me – if you’re at the point where you’re writing me to ask me questions, you’re already past the hump. You’ve already made the commitment. You’re at the fine tuning point, now.
3. Self love is WORK
Yes, girl. Being politically savvy and a discerning consumer of media and culture is legit work. One of my favorite observations about the idea of love comes from bell hooks, who writes: “Genuine love is rarely an emotional space where needs are instantly gratified. To know love we have to invest time and commitment.. Dreaming that love will solve all our problems or provide a steady state of bliss only keeps us stuck in wishful fantasy, undermining the real power of the love – which is it to transform us.” The work is, in my opinion, totally totally worth it, but when you hit a moment where it feels difficult just remember that this is what it feels like to invest in yourself, and you will survive.
4. Have a plan when the thoughts come up
I have actually been working on this one in therapy. Whenever a thought pops into my head that makes me feel guilty/wrong/weird, I have been informed to (1) write out the thought, then (2) name the fear by answering the question: “what do I believe will happen if __________ actually happens?” In your case the question might be: what do I believe will happen if I’m not able to really internalize my body positive politics?, then (3) reframe the thought to something that works for you, and that positions you as the person in control of the desired outcome.
5. Remember that the trauma isn’t behind you
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating! One of the ways in which your (and my) healing journey is a little bit unique is that the trauma is not safely in our rearview mirrors. Many people who begin healing journeys have the advantage of the awful thing that started the whole drive for a journey has already happened and is likely not to happen again (e.g., childhood or a terrible divorce). Diet culture is ALL AROUND US, girl. It permeates even the smallest exchanges. I can’t leave my house (or turn on my internets, even) without getting messages telling me to lose weight. It’s important to remember this so that you can cut yourself some much-deserved slack.
Dear Virgie is a weekly advice column by Virgie Tovar, MA, author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012) and the mastermind behind #LoseHateNotWeight. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race and gender. Virgie has been featured by the New York Times, MTV, Al Jazeera, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine Online, and Bust Magazine. Find her at www.virgietovar.com.