The first time I felt ashamed of my body was when I was 14 years old. I was competing at the Victorian State Swimming Championships. My mum, being the proud mum she is, was taking lots of photos to document the event. That night I was flicking through the images when I stopped at one particular shot. It was of me standing behind the starting blocks before my race. I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “Are my thighs really that big?” Up until that point, my legs were amazing, powerful things that helped propel me through the water to in record time. Ever since that moment I’ve seen my legs as something different – fat.
The Body Project is a body acceptance intervention, designed to help adolescent girls and young women resist sociocultural pressures to conform to the thin-ideal and to reduce their pursuit of thinness.
Over the two 2-hour sessions, topics such as the ‘ideal body’, fat talk and personal insecurities are discussed. Participants are also asked to complete take-home activities. An example of this is the ‘Mirror Exercise’, which challenges you to stand in front of a mirror, in as little clothing as possible, and write down at least 15 positive qualities about yourself.
The exercise that I found most eye-opening and challenging was to avoid discussion of the beauty ideal in conversation. So often we make small comments like “I’m so fat” or respond to others criticising themselves with “me too” without realising that this is perpetuating negative body images. Learning to avoid these statements and to reply with words of positivity that take the focus away from image and direct it towards health and happiness is so important.
For example, if a friend was to say, “I look disgusting at this weight.” Instead of replying by saying, “No, you’re don’t” or “Same!”, which might be what first comes to mind, saying, “You’re in college. You need to be eating enough to fuel your brain and you want to be able to enjoy outings with friends” resists the thin ideal and emphasises the functional over the physical.
Other ways to be a body love activist are:
1. Put post-its saying “you look great the way you are” into weight loss books at a bookstore.
2. Share an anti-thin-ideal video on social media.
3. Keep a jar in your room and have everyone contribute 10 cents if they make a fat talk statement. This money can be donated to a relevant charity.
It’s been shown time and time again that social media also has an impact on our body image, which is why I wanted to share some of my favourite body positive Instagrams.
Self-love doesn’t happen overnight. I still have days where I don’t like what I see in the mirror, but The Body Project has given me helpful strategies to ensure that any negative feelings I have about myself only last a day or two and do not linger longer. If your college or workplace offers The Body Project, I highly recommend participating – if not for you, for a friend, a family member or a future daughter.