Body image activist from the Body Image Movement, Taryn Brumfit, hit a global nerve when she posted an unconventional before-and-after image of herself in 2013. The first image was her post three babies, as a buff, bronze fitness model at the height of her game. The second image was her naked body in all its glory after giving up the rigorous training required for that pursuit as it was too much sacrifice.
She became a normal, healthy woman with curves but after realising she was deeply unhappy with her reflection in the mirror she underwent an exploration into body image and why so many women are unhappy with their bodies. The movie Embrace is the result of this journey.
Promoting self-acceptance is an undoubtedly empowering gift, but with 63.4%of our population classified as overweight or obese, where is the line between self-acceptance and wanting to look and feel your best?
Jessica Vander Leahy is an international model who understands the pressure to look a certain way. Jessica is known for her curvaceous body, and she began projectwomanKIND as her own movement towards self-acceptance at any size.
“I started projectwomanKIND because I saw that there was a need to encourage women who didn’t fit the narrow norms of ‘beauty’ to be inspired to embrace themselves. It might sound so superficial but I think it’s important we all feel beautiful and valued and not less than to get the best out of ourselves,” says Jessica.
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While self-acceptance and self-love are two ideals everyone should aspire to, self-care is an equally important factor in loving yourself. Engaging endlessly in unhealthy behaviour whilst telling yourself you love yourself no matter what is kind of missing the point.
“I think it’s difficult to clearly cut the line between people embracing themselves versus living their healthiest life. I always say that the relationship with your body is the same as any relationship; you have to make a decision to nourish it with goodness and positivity every day in order for it to flourish, Jessica tells.
Nurturing the relationship with yourself through the mental and physical ups and downs of life is often a constant challenging internal dialogue, but according to clinical psychologist and eating disorder specialist, Dr Helen Rydge, female assent is key.
“A key aspect of a woman’s emotional wellbeing and sense of self worth is love and respect for her body, both appearance wise and functionality wise, despite the messages we constantly get about our body needing to fit a certain aesthetic ideal. At its heart I believe the self-acceptance movement is about female empowerment,” says Dr Rydge.
Shunning the beauty ideals of the media in favour of diversity and attainable body image is a step in the right direction, but it does not mean simply letting the whole idea of self-care go.
“Putting effort into your appearance is a way of telling yourself that you are worthy and deserve to be treated well, respected and nurtured.
“It is actually a key part of self-acceptance. Promoting and encouraging self-nurturing and self-care activities, including things like painting your nails, or blow-drying your hair, is often a big part of my work with women with eating disorders. This is because often that critical voice that tells someone they don’t deserve to nourish themselves properly also tells them they don’t deserve to look after their appearance at all,” Dr Rydge says.
When you’re unhappy with the way you look because you’re not practicing self-care, it can affect many facets of your life. Conversely, many aspects of your life can affect your desire to truly love and accept yourself. Feeling the self- love in times of adversity is when you’ve truly got this nailed, feels wellbeing expert and health “glutton,” Casey Beros.
“I believe that part of self-acceptance is accepting that you won’t always look and feel your best and loving yourself anyway. We can’t feel our best all the time – there are times in life where we’ll be unwell, struck down with injury or tragedy or mental health issues, or going through a rough time financially or in terms of our relationships,” tells Casey.
“Loving ourselves through those times I believe is one of the most important parts of self-acceptance. It’s easy to feel more self-esteem, self-love and self-acceptance when we’re on a good wicket – it’s during the more challenging times when that’s tested.”
It’s not to suggest that self-acceptance is solely about physical appearance and high-fiving yourself in the mirror, however, wellbeing is a balance between physical and mental.
“Of course one feeds directly into the other – when you look good you feel good and vice versa. We know more about mind-body connection now and the science is backing that up so things like exercise and relaxation are critical, but I think it’s important to define wellbeing in terms of everything it entails – it’s the people we love, the homes we live in, the way we contribute to society be it via work, charity or family… all of that feeds into how we feel about ourselves,” Casey says.
The relationship with yourself is likely to be an ongoing tightrope walk for your whole life. Whatever the best version of you is, aim for that, take small daily steps towards it, and love yourself whether you hit the bullseye or not.
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