Thursday, 21 July 2016

Standing Up For Self Love in a Self Loathing World

For my 18th birthday my dad wrote me a letter. He told me that no matter where I go, what I do or who I become, the most important thing I could ever have is integrity. The strength to stand up for what I believe in, for what's right, even if there are a million other people standing up for what's wrong. Before body positivity, I didn't believe in very much (and I definitely didn't believe in myself), but these days I understand exactly what he meant.

When it comes to standing up for body positivity, I'm sure most bopo babes will tell you the same thing - sometimes it's damn overwhelming. Sometimes you'll go out and be hit by so much diet culture that you wonder how you'll ever make a dent in all the self hatred out there. Or you'll hear people reciting the same tired, inaccurate opinions about fat people, and you'll realise just how heart achingly deep that prejudice runs. Sometimes it's your own friends or family refusing to accept the thing that's finally healed you.
Other days you feel like you'd rather move to an isolated gingerbread house in the woods with no wifi connection than face the trolls lurking in your notifications. 

It is really fucking hard to stand up for something that most of the world refuses to acknowledge, believe, or respect. Especially when you know with every fibre of your being that what you're standing for is right, and good, and necessary in the world. Some days it truly feels like we're part of a body love revolution, like things are really changing, other days it feels like women are falling deeper into body dissatisfaction than ever before. It's okay to have those days. Even the most badass bopo superheroes have days filled with doubt about how the hell they're going to make a difference. So this is a reminder that you're not alone in those moments, and that you've got this.

1. The Motherf*cking Media

The media is the most powerful lens we have to view the world (and ourselves) through, and with the messages they deliver to us, it's a miracle that any of us get out alive. Let's just think about a typical daily dosage of media and advertising that any woman might see:


7am: Wake up, make breakfast, read on the back on your cereal box that 'you could lose up to 2 dress sizes on the cereal diet!'. Have toast instead.

7:30am: Switch on the TV to catch the morning news. Within 10 minutes be bombarded with adverts for breast enhancement surgery, weight loss programmes, and more headlines about how obesity is killing us all (with the usual undertones that make people believe that fat bodies are less than human and fuel already widespread prejudice). News show comes back on, with a segment featuring the results of their bikini body promise competition! All female presenters appear slim, youthful, and perfectly polished, male presenters actually allowed to age visibly, have body fat and look like your Uncle Joe. Turn TV off.

8:30am: On the train to work. More adverts about bikini bodies and diet pills plastered on the tube.

12:30pm: Lunch. Try to get a sandwich from the shop which you end up measuring against all the low-cal, fat free diet versions while trying to work out why we need skinny water and whether ordinary water has been making you gain weight all this time. More adverts walking back to work, giant billboards bigger than your house with 'perfect' bodies reaching sky high.

12:35pm: Stop off at public bathroom and end up reading a poster for a new gym and their special 'tone up!' offer while sitting on the loo. Models used have same body type as the billboard giants.

3pm: Doing work type things on the computer, endless adverts online for waist trainers, detox teas, beach body blah blah blah. Just trying to research how to use Microsoft Excel.

5pm: Train home from work. More adverts. Try to distract yourself with women's magazine filled with articles about how you need a whole new body, a whole new relationship, and a whole new life. Interspersed with stylish, flawless ads for things you can't afford worn by models you can't match.

7pm: Ready to unwind with some TV. Notice how every single female character in this show is thin, beautiful, young, and white. Notice that most shows are exactly the same.

9pm: Log onto social media for break from all the photoshopped, unrealistic, impossible ideals. Fight your way through fitspo, thinspo, photoshopped, unrealistic, impossible ideals. More adverts. More diet culture.

Wake up the next day. Repeat.

HOW THE HELL ARE ANY OF US SUPPOSED TO FEEL ANYTHING OTHER THAN TERRIBLE ABOUT OURSELVES FACING THAT EVERYDAY?! AND HOW ARE WE SUPPOSED TO SHOW A COMPLETELY BRAINWASHED POPULATION THAT THEY DON'T HAVE TO BUY INTO IT?! The scariest part is that those are just the things that people have paid to make us see. What about all the moments that the media gives birth to from that? All the overheard conversations about how naughty someone was having dessert last night. All the diet talk and weight loss competition in the street, at work, at home. All the moments alone with our mirrors tearing ourselves to pieces because of how little we look like those images we've seen all day long (those images we've internalised as the only way to be beautiful, or happy). Seriously, how are we supposed to stand up against that?

Sure, you can curate body positive spaces on your social media and drown out a lot of the bullshit, but offline, in the real world, sometimes there's just no escaping it. So throw away the magazine. Turn off the TV. Get an ad blocker on your computer and report harmful Facebook suggestions. Eat the regular sandwich and refuse to rationalise or apologize for it. Vandalize the posters and write self love slogans instead. Write to companies calling them out on their ridiculous diet propaganda. Change seats on the train. Put your headphones on. Protect your own mental health, especially when your bopo resources feel depleted.

And if it wasn't hard enough to fight for what you believe in through all of that, there are always people in your life who refuse to see the problem, and who are more than willing to criticise what you see so clearly.

2. The Ones Who You Thought Would Support You

Recently I found out that one of my oldest friends said 'I don't really get Megan's whole body positivity thing' to another friend. This is someone who I've had multiple conversations with about it. Someone who's celebrated good bopo news with me. Someone who (worst of all), knew me when I was a hollow shell of myself battling anorexia, knew me when I was crash dieting, knew me for years while I hated myself... how could she not get it? Other friends have made comments about how body positivity just seems like excuse to be fat and unhealthy. Other friends still won't stop talking about their diets around me. Other friends have told me I'm going a bit too far. Other friends have never even mentioned body positivity to me, pretend they haven't noticed my Instagram, have never read a single blog post or shown any support for the thing that's saved my life. And that's only the tip of the iceburg.

I get messages all the time from people who's families refuse to accept them learning to love themselves. Who won't stop body shaming, food policing, belittling body positivity or even consider that their mindsets might be harmful. How do you cope when the people you thought cared for you the most, can't see how much they're hurting you? The only thing you can do is explain, as much as you have the patience for. Tell them how hard you're trying to heal yourself and how damaging what they're saying/doing is. Ask for their respect and understanding. Disengage with toxic conversations. Stand up for yourself. And if that doesn't work, you are allowed to walk away. Whether that's for good, or just until you've secured your defenses back in place. Easier said than done, I know. Just know that nobody has the right to take your self love from you. No matter how much they try to convince you that you're wrong, remember that there are people out there who know how right you are. And who will stand with you.

3. The Trolls

Even if you manage to claw your way through the diet culture, the poisonous media messages, the day to day reminders that you're not good enough, the disbelief and misunderstanding from those around you, and you build the confidence to stand up for self love online and inspire others, the backlash isn't over. I won't give trolls too much time here, because they don't deserve it. Just know that you are so much more than anything a stranger on the internet with a private account and profile picture of a car can say to you. The problem isn't you, it's them, and whatever insecurities they're dealing with that make them feel the need to try and bring you down. 

Block and delete. Always. Nine times out of ten engaging with a troll will only leave you feeling deflated, angry, upset, and disappointed in the world. Remember that all a troll wants is a negative reaction, they don't want an open minded discussion, they want to get to you. Don't let them. And the thing that's going to piss them off the most? Carry on. Keep standing up for what you believe in. And if you need to log out for the day, turn the phone off and ignore it all, you have permission to do that. Put. Your. Mental. Health. First.

For everyone out there who occasionally feels the bopo burnout, the fat acceptance failures, the self love lethargy, you're not alone. This is your reminder that what you're fighting for IS worthwhile, and that you ARE capable of carrying on the battle. And that most of all, it's okay if you need to take the armour off once in a while and hide away from the war zone. Again, it is really fucking hard to stand up for something that most of the world refuses to acknowledge, believe, or respect. You're allowed to feel that. But ultimately, I know you'll keep going. I need you to keep going. Even if we don't make a dent, we can still make a difference. We can still hold onto our integrity, and stand up for what we believe in. You are more powerful than you realise, and the world needs you (even if it doesn't know it yet).


This post is part of the Confidence Blog Carnival hosted by Victoria of www.BamPowLife.com (@bampowlife). Victoria asked a bunch of badass bopo babes to contribute to this project, so go check her out to see more blog posts all about confidence!