What is body positivity?
Body positivity means accepting your body just the way it is–easier said than done.
We all know we should love ourselves no matter what our shape, size, age or skin color, but living in a heavy media-consuming world can make it tricky. We see the slogans: ‘beauty is on the inside’ and ‘love your body,’ but often other subconscious messages and social expectations overpower these.
When we see a slim model on a billboard, often we don’t even question it. We’re so used to this being the ‘norm’. It’s the same in Hollywood films. Society holds up a picture of a slim, white, young woman and a tanned, muscly man as the ideal. Realistically, very few of us look like that. The dieting industry is worth millions of dollars, so it’s hardly surprising they’re not supportive of people being happy with their bodies. If we all loved ourselves just the way we are, they wouldn’t make any money.
In the last decade, the rise of social media brought both pros and cons for body positivity. The images and adverts we see every day may not make us feel particularly positive about our bodies, especially in the current ‘selfie culture’ with photoshop, filters and all sorts of ways to enhance our appearance. However, there are body positivity pioneers who are spreading their message through social media, embracing their differences. This includes disabled and plus-size people, as well as people from different ethnic backgrounds and of different gender expressions. Jessamyn Stanley is one of these pioneers. She is a plus-size woman of color who also happens to be a yoga teacher. Her Instagram account has 366K followers to date, spreading the message that any body can be a yoga body.
What can we do to be more body positive?
- Have a social media spring clean! Hide or unfollow any accounts that don’t make you feel good about yourself. Follow body positivity accounts such as @mynameisjessamyn or @bodyposipanda. We also recommend following accounts filled with positivity: nature, cute cats or dogs, rabbits or lizards – whatever you’re into. This will help bring the focus off body image altogether.
- Read and learn. There are lots of body positivity articles and blogs. To be aware of the problem gives us the opportunity to challenge the message that we have to look a certain way to be happy.
- Recognize and understand your negative thought patterns. Is the voice that tells you you’re ugly and not good enough a voice from the past? Counseling may help. Journalling can be another helpful way to work out past emotions that are no longer serving you.
- Cultivate a positive daily routine. Practice self-care, particularly yoga and meditation.
How can yoga help body positivity?
‘Stretching next to all those skinny girls in yoga pants? How will that help?’ Here’s the thing: there are thin people doing yoga, but there are larger people doing yoga too. People all over the world, of all different ages with different lives and backgrounds, practice yoga. It originated in India with a focus on the connection between body and mind. Now adapted to the West, we seem to have added our own fitness expectations based on our unrealistic beauty ideals. However, many styles of yoga are offered now, so there’s always something for everybody: from seated yoga and relaxing Yin, to energetic sweaty styles such as Ashtanga or Vinyasa.
The idea of attending a class as someone who isn’t a slim, attractive white woman in a crop top (which, let’s face it, is most of us) can be quite daunting. Yoga is often treated as another type of workout class you have to drag yourself to, which for some can trigger an association to sports classes at school. This isn’t often a good memory for many people. Bad experiences such as bullying, teasing or being picked last for a sports team can have negative long-term effects on people.
However, a good yoga teacher will always welcome everybody and won’t judge a person’s appearance. They will be able to offer alternatives to asanas (poses) you may find tricky. Some poses just don’t work on different body shapes, while others do. Through yoga, we can learn to observe that, but not judge. In the way that some people are good at English but not math, some people can touch their toes and others can’t. Yoga can teach us is how to appreciate what our bodies can do, but also not to worry about the things they can’t do.
Let it go
Yoga and meditation can help us let go of the mental clutter. We can learn to ignore the voices that say ‘I’m too fat to do this’ or ‘everybody is looking at me.’ We might even start to see those negative thoughts as clouds passing through, simply observing them as they come and go. Ultimately, yoga is about learning to let go. Letting go of any preconceptions or judgments. Letting go of the worry and the stories. Allowing space in the mind for peace. Yoga can help us think beyond our physical bodies and can allow us to bring the message of peace to people around us in the world.
Wonderland Healing Center is a friendly community, welcoming different people from all over the globe. We offer yoga classes for beginners and experienced yogis, as well as meditation classes and a full calendar of events. Wonderland is nestled in the lush jungle–full of prana–on the beautiful island of Koh Phangan. We offer the mental and physical space you need to start your body positive yoga retreat and your journey into letting go. Namaste.
Written by Mel Ciavucco