6 principles to body-love: my experiences and methods
replace comparison with celebration of variety:
This is about "different than" versus "better than." I used to have a habit of looking at other people's bodies to rate myself. If I thought that some aspect of my body was "more attractive" than theirs, I felt vindicated for all of the work I did to maintain a particular look in my body. Instead of seeing them for themselves, as human beings, I saw them as a sample that I could take to see if I was "achieving" "prettiness." And if I thought that some aspect of my body was "less attractive" than theirs, then I felt panic and despair at not being able to "achieve" that aspect. Most people inspired BOTH reactions.
I overcame this by practicing celebration of variety. If I caught myself comparing, I consciously mentally corrected myself; told myself that there was no "achievement" nor "failure" when it comes to bodies, that beauty is uniqueness and everyone is unique. I practiced this with every body part, from nose to knees to belly to bum, etc. I taught myself to look at other people to appreciate them, and crowded out comparison with appreciation. This leads to the second principle:
replace false images with real ones:
The media are FLOODED with false images; if we were to take our cue from the media, one perceived as "woman/girl" should always be wearing makeup, be white or light-skinned, (usually) be blonde and blue eyed, have a small nose and large eyes and full lips, have body hair shaven, have straight or sleekly coiled hair, have flat bellies, long slim legs, and adolescent-shaped yet heavily large breasts (mainstream media doesn't like to show many women of color, but there are further restrictive demands if it does show them). That is a VERY specific and VERY unlikely collection of traits. The 'ideal' for one perceived as "man/boy" is also restrictive, and there are few to no images of anyone other than "woman/girl/man/boy." (that lack of images is in itself a false image of invisible/non-existent, also harmful) You can reduce your consumption of these images by not watching TV (especially ads) and not reading magazines; but you will still be forced to see them on billboards and the covers of novels, etc.
To get rid of the idea that that 'ideal' is what beauty is, I reduced my consumption, and I think even more importantly, I surrounded myself with photos that I found beautiful of people of a variety of shapes and sizes and colors (one place to find them is curvygirls). I made those images my computer desktop and my screensaver and I hung them on my walls and I looked for more on an at-least-weekly basis. I also surrounded myself with mirrors. Once I realized that there is a very real "oh that's weird" reaction when I see anything I'm not used to, I determined to change what I was used to.
replace negative body talk with positive:
I used to punish myself all day long with negative body talk. I don't care to repeat specifics but I would insult every part of my body; most particularly my belly. I have always had a poky-outy belly -- even when I was underweight and doing crunches daily. It's my natural shape. But it was what my bioparent M mocked, and my bioparent P commiserated with, so I believed absolutely that it was wrong and ugly, and that I could and should change it.
Two things helped me to overcome this habit. 1) I started with the "women's belly book" (which really could be used by anyone, but is genderified :-[) -- since my belly was the hardest part for me to love, it was the most emergency in need of love, and that book helped. There are rituals, exercises, and explanations of what is "natural" for a woman's belly, which were things I needed to read. (It also helped with cramps.) 2) Every time I would mentally say something negative about my body, I would correct myself, and replace with several compliments. Example: "Ugh, I'm so [negative adjective] -- No, I'm not. I am beautiful, and I love my body, my [body part] is wonderful and beautiful and I love it." If I was alone, I would look at the body part and caress it lovingly. When I first started saying these things, I didn't believe them. I felt ridiculous saying what seemed to me to be obvious lies. But if a person is willing to be persuaded, whatever they hear the most will be what they will believe. It does take a long time to catch up with years of self-loathing, so just a few weeks won't get most people to the point of belief. It took me months to get to the not-feeling-ridiculous point, and way longer to get to the actually-happy-and-believing point, and even longer to get to the point where I just didn't think negative body-talk.
replace hiding with highlighting:
I used to wear gigantic baggy shirts to hide myself -- and underneath that, wear belly-binding clothing just in case the wind blew my shirt against me. I hid my face with makeup (I never wore it very heavy, but it felt like a mask when I wore it to hide). This was a reflection of how ashamed I was of my body, but it also reinforced that shame. A day after hiding, it was far more difficult to simply feel comfortable being me.
The most helpful thing for me with this was nude modeling. Seeing myself without ANY hiding, in pretty lighting with good compositions, helped me to see my body as an artistic tool. That's difficult to do alone, so I know it's not an option for everyone -- but if you live near me and you want me to take photos I'd love to, btdubs. Also helpful was practicing acting as if the parts I had the most trouble loving were my favorites. For a long time the purple under my eyes was something I disliked: I covered it with makeup or photoshopped it out. When I asked myself how I'd act if I loved it, I decorated it with shimmer and suddenly discovered that I did love it -- that it added so much dimension and expression to my face. My belly was a similar experience -- I used to try and smush it flat. Now I wear clothes that gently hug it, and it pokes out all it wants, and I think it's cute. This is a scarier process than the ones I've already listed, but I think it was the most revolutionary for me.
replace body-shaping with body-care:
I used to have an idea in my mind of what my body "should" look like. I did things to my body in an effort to make it look like that image; I took weightloss drugs, I restricted my amount of food and/or my type of food and/or my frequency of food, I did exercises intended to make my belly flat or my breasts "higher" or my bum rounder. When I talked about this behavior I used the socially correct terms: I described myself as trying to get "fit" or "healthy" but that was not my intent -- I wanted to shape my body. I don't think shaping one's body is inherently bad; but I think that most of the urge to do this comes from a society that tells you you are not good enough, and it's nearly impossible to sort out the self-expression from the self-"fixing." For me, I needed to quit entirely and learn to love myself without trying to "fix" myself. Maybe I could do body-shaping now and not relapse into self-loathing but I'm not willing to risk it.
Now I have no specific idea of what my body "should" look like. I feed myself good things, in portions that satisfy me. I am active for a purpose, and not to change my body. I want to be stronger and have more endurance so I do things like park on campus at the furthest point from my classes, and take the stairs. (I refuse to do anything just for the exercise, but if I have to walk anyway, I'll use it) I get enough sleep. These are ways I caretake my body; there are many more ways than mine. I've found that if I do not caretake my body with good food, good sleep, exercise, then I feel at odds with my body and my body-love is hard to feel.
replace understanding of compliments/insults -- no longer as assessment-of-your-attractiveness, but rather as expressions-of-emotion:
I used to reject compliments because I was afraid that if I accepted them people would think I was conceited, and because I thought people were lying to me out of pity. I think it's still possible that some people would have those reactions/motivations, but I no longer care. What is important is not the compliment itself, but how I understand it. When someone says, "you're so pretty" I do not hear an objective judgement (as I did before practicing non-comparison); I hear, "it makes me happy to look at you -- your features appeal to me." And I expect this statement to be 100% genuine, and I take it as I expect it to be intended; as an expression of affection. If the person does not know me, I expect that I remind them of someone they love, and they're feeling reminded of that love by the similarity in my features or attitude (etc). I do not hear compliments as a reflection on ME, but as a reflection on the person speaking them. This is also true of insults. I get loads of attempted insults from being fat and naked on the internet, but they don't affect me because they're not about me: I can see straight through to the emotion, and it's the same panic and competition I used to feel.
The specifics under each category are not intended as a how-to for everyone, just as examples or jumping-off points. Feel free to use them if you can and want to, but please do not take this as advice that applies to everyone, because these things worked in the context of my privilege (as a white, sighted, non-physically-disabled, internet-having, free-time-having, non-op and cis-passing, comfortable-with-'femme'-expressions person) and may not work without it. (it doesn't address sex/gender dysphoria or physical disability as my experience in the first is unusual and I haven't experienced the second) I do hope that everyone can find at least one useful bit.