It's summer, it's getting hot and many of us are looking to wear less clothing, feeling pressured to wear less or possibly wishing we looked a certain way in less clothing. All of this is tied to our relationships with our bodies and the way in which we talk about them to others and to ourselves. Insecurities, doubt and inconsistent feelings about our bodies and how comfortable we are in them is natural, however the language we choose to refer to our bodies can have a huge impact on our wellbeing. 

It might seem like an arbitrary change, but choosing to talk about our bodies in a different way really can change how we feel

Ways to judge, discuss and edit our bodies are more numerous than ever before. From Instagram to TikTok, opportunities to learn new healthy ways of relating to your body from diverse people are just as common as the unhealthy ways.

A body positive activist and TikTok user, Melody Young, spoke to NBC News in the US about how TikTok has become the go-to place for people to consume and create content about body image, recently it has taken a turn for the worst.

Speaking on TikTok and its links to eating disorders Melody said, “‘Fitspo’ images are back, unhealthy eating habits are constantly documented, and it can make it really difficult to avoid relapse when you’re randomly shown content that glorifies eating disorders.”

Here, Melody is referring to the growing concern that TikTok has replaced the ‘pro-ana’ (pro anorexia) take over of Tumblr, a micro-blogging site, from the early 2010s to around 2014.

This is a serious problem as in a highly visual space, with users and creators who are all young, toxic language around body image can become normalised very quickly. 

Recently, a trend on TikTok involved young women pointing out that the ‘fat’ on their stomach, specifically around the abdomen isn’t actually as a result of being fat, but because cisgendered women have a cervix and therefore that area of the stomach will always appear rounded.

This narrative was veiled under the ‘body positive’ movement to target young women who are feeling insecure about their bodies. However, the connotations that any fat is bad meant that it sat firmly in the realm of women being forced into feeling negatively toward their bodies, not to mention fat people who have fat there just because they do are inevitably going to feel as though society is telling them that their bodies are shameful or bad.

With all of the evidence that apps such as TikTok, can either trigger eating disorders or cause relapse in those who already had an eating disorder, it’s a complex and difficult conversation to have around how we, in our relationship with ourselves and each other, can begin to bring more acceptance into the culture around body image.

Words, inner voices and societal pressure

In The Mental Health Foundation’s (MHF) ‘Mind Over Mirror’ campaign, they set out healthy body image as having its roots in acceptance, whereas an unhealthy body image seeks perfection. On MHF’s page for the campaign they explain:

“We begin to seek perfection, based on ideals that we see around us. Even though we know, really, no one is perfect – we sometimes convince ourselves that we should aim towards perfection. The result? We feel like we’re never enough…It’s exhausting”

In another section of their campaign, the MHF highlight ‘top tips’ for acceptance and healthy body image, these include:

  • taking note of the accounts you follow online and how they make you feel: MHF suggest unfollowing people or pages that make you unhappy about yourself, instead follow diverse and different people and people who reflect reality.

  • being mindful of unrealistic ideals: being aware of just how much content online is edited, or that models and influencers you follow spend a lot of money and time on their bodies that most people don’t have the option of.
  • taking breaks from social media: this one is pretty self-explanatory but important.
  • building positive feedback loops with friends: nurturing a culture with friends where positive comments about personality, achievements and about each other’s bodies are common will create a more accepting relationship with yourself.

This last one is one of the most important, not only because it teaches you how to support and accept other people, but because in this there are lessons to be learnt about how you talk about and to yourself.

Everyone has an inner critic, yours might be loudest when it comes to life achievements or whether or not you’re in a relationship, but most people have likely heard this critic when it comes to our bodies.

It is important to distinguish this inner critic and it’s perspective on your body from how you actually feel and what is really present in reality

To make this distinguishing easier, it might be helpful to see this voice as an embodiment of all the societal pressures to be and look a certain way.

This pressure is harshly felt for everyone, but for members of the LGBTQ+ community is even more pervasive. Particularly for young trans men and women or non-binary folk who also have to battle with the fact that their bodies may cause them to be misgendered or harassed.

Prioritising acceptance won’t fix this, but it could nourish an attitude that encourages acceptance of all bodies, in all stages of development, gender identity and transition.

In acknowledging that this voice isn’t ‘you’ the road to acceptance can become a little clearer. Instead of talking about the fact that you put on weight over the pandemic to your friends in a negative way, because the voice is negative, choose to make it a positive or just simply accept that it’s happened and that’s ok.

Instead of, “I’ve put on weight, I look bad” it can be “I’ve put on some weight, I look a bit different, but that’s okay, in fact I’ve just bought a new dress/t-shirt I feel great in”.

Nurturing this acceptance in how you talk about yourself might feel silly, or fake at first, especially if we don’t believe it. But it is key to developing that healthier body image that the MHF are discussing in their ‘Mind Over Mirror’ campaign.

If we learn to distinguish that inner critic voice as separate from how we choose to talk about ourselves outside of our heads, eventually that choice will empower how we think of ourselves and of others.

Coming to love or even just, accept your body and see it as an ever-changing thing is a lifelong journey that many of us will never complete, and maybe it’s a journey we shouldn’t finish? With every year, new radical thinkers with fresh perspectives, pushing the boundaries of what ‘body positivity’ is come forward; so the opportunity to learn, grow and develop our relationships with our bodies should be an ever-evolving book of knowledge and learning.