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Body Positivity / Self Worth

How I Made Peace With My Body

"You can’t build up a good relationship with your body if you refuse to get to know it."

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Written by Pippa Sterk.

Art by Amanda Lucidi.

Now that we are going through a pandemic, we can finally confirm that there are literally no circumstances under which women’s appearances are not up for debate. In the UK, mainstream media are lamenting the weight-gain that has occurred under lockdown, and tutorials on how to get “Zoom-ready” can be found all over YouTube. Like many women, I have a complicated relationship with my body. But over the years I have learned ways to work with this relationship and how to slowly improve it. Women are told to “love our bodies” often today, but we aren’t necessarily given instructions on how to achieve this. So instead of simply adding my #HotTake to the mix, here are some tips that have helped me calm the storm that is my body image.

Step 1: Make an effort to encounter body diversity.

Growing up in the Netherlands, I was surrounded by people who were tall, slim, and fair-skinned. My own South-East Asian body (tiny, round-ish, brown skin, dark body hair) felt bulky and out of place. It is easy to think negatively about yourself if you feel like your looks make you stand out. (E.g., Maybe I don’t look like everyone else because something is wrong with me.)

Moving to London was a revelation for me – so many people with my shape, my height, my hue, and even more people looking radically different. I started following blogs that posted images of Black and Brown models of all shapes and sizes, and seeing them photographed beautifully made me appreciate the same features in myself. Sometimes the most sobering thought can be: “Would I care if another person looked like this? No? Then people aren’t going to care if I look like this. Do I find this facial feature pretty on others? Yes? Then I can like it in myself.”

We can’t escape mainstream media, but we can take it upon ourselves to think critically about what we consider “normal” bodies, and show ourselves the bodies that are left out of mainstream beauty narratives. It is easier than ever to digitally surround yourself with images of people who break with conventions. There are blogs for acne positivity, trans body positivity, and a variety of Insta-tags for people with visible disabilities. Use these to remind yourself of what exists outside the mainstream.

Step 2: Learn how your body reacts to changes in your routine.

I’m not suggesting you force  yourself to diet or exercise. But do try new or different things, like going outside more, drinking more water, or spending more time away from screens. Just try a few things out and how they make you feel… if you like them.

The key is to be honest with yourself about what you do and do not enjoy. Don’t stick to a change if it makes you unhappy – these changes aren’t one-size-fits-all, and trying things out will guide you to what you do enjoy, even if you don’t stick with a change permanently. If you try running every day for a week, you might realise that you hate intense exercise, but being outside improves your mood. A walk every now and then might be more your speed. You might not want to stick to a strictly vegetarian diet, but eating less meat might make you feel more energized. It’s not about proving to others (or to yourself) that you are ‘strong enough’ to make a change, it’s about getting to know yourself and what your body needs.

Step 3: Know what you look like.

This is the scariest step, because it’s the most confrontational. Women’s bodies are so hotly debated that it becomes difficult not to constantly analyse yourself. This can be very alienating, and a downside of social media is that this alienation feels amplified – I have certainly felt like my body is on display 24/7, that I should always have a particular feeling (positive or negative) about my body and broadcast this to the world.

Stop.

We do not ‘inhabit’ our body, we are our body. Alienation from our physique is alienation from ourselves. Make time to allow yourself to simply be with yourself, without intellectualizing it. Find time in your day to look at yourself, and try to empty your head while doing so. Pull faces in the mirror. Move around, and see how different parts of your body react. Trace your skin and see where you have birthmarks, scratches, scars.

You can’t build up a good relationship with your body if you refuse to get to know it.

Step 4: Accept that it takes time.

There is a strong drive within feminism to subvert and deny conventional beauty standards, and this is absolutely necessary. After all, many beauty standards reinforce racist, cissexist, ableist, classist, and sexist ideals of what people should look like. It is right that we strive to abolish these arbitrary rules. There is something very powerful about proclaiming that you don’t give a fuck about the way people perceive you.

However, on an individual scale, this can be very difficult to do, especially when everyday spaces like the workplace, places of education, and families still put a lot of value on traditional femininity as an ideal. It is simply not realistic to expect yourself to be immune to these pressures all the time. Don’t feel bad for feeling bad, you are not alone in this.

It might be that for a long time, you will still find flaws with your own body, and that is totally normal. Just take a breath, look at where this thought pattern is coming from (from yourself,  someone else, wider society?), and how you are going to work with it. Improving your relationship to your body isn’t about finding yourself beautiful all the time, or trying to suppress any anxieties you have around your body image. It is knowing how to get along with your body, even on days when it seems impossible to do so.


About the Author

Pippa Sterk is a mixed-race lesbian writer of fiction and non-fiction. She is originally from the Netherlands, and currently based at King’s College London as a PhD student. Her work integrates topics of sexuality, education, language, and everything deemed ‘strange’. She has previously written opinion pieces and reviews for the London Feminist Film Festival website, The F-Word, LesFlicks, and Strand Magazine. Pippa holds a BA in Film Studies from the University of Sussex, and an MA in Gender, Media and Culture from Goldsmiths College, University of London.

Follow on IG: @precariouslives | Follow on Twitter: @PippaSterk


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