"LOVE YOUR BODY!" you might hear all around social media at the moment. There has been a very much needed online movement towards self-love recently, encouraging women to love their bodies and embrace their imperfections. It really is so refreshing to see and an extremely important message in a society where putting yourself down is deemed normal and loving yourself is classed as arrogant or narcissistic.
But HOW do you learn to love yourself? What if you are struggling to even like yourself? While loving yourself may come naturally for some people, it can be extremely hard for the rest of us. How can you come to love your body if you see so many things wrong with it? How can you get past the flaws, learn to accept them and embrace them?
For someone who has struggled with an eating disorder, let me tell you it is not easy to learn to love your body. It has taken me years to come to accept and love my body, and even now there are days, or weeks, when I struggle. However, the way I view my body has changed massively over the past few years and I am going to share some tips with you that I have learnt on my journey.
A good starting point is acceptance. You might find it difficult to truly love, or even like, every part of yourself, but the first thing that you can do is to ACCEPT yourself.
I'll be honest with you and tell you that my biggest insecurity has always been my legs. A fixation with my legs really drove my eating disorder - no matter how thin I became I would still hate them and tell myself that they were 'fat' and not good enough. I would bodycheck them a ridiculous number of times a day to 'keep an eye on them' - adjusting what I ate according to how they looked. The problem was I just WOULDN'T accept them. I spent my time looking at other people, wishing mine were like theirs. I spent my time punishing myself with restriction in the hope that they'd change. I didn't want to accept that they were mine.
Fast forward a few years, I can say that I fully accept my legs and shock horror, I even like them (obviously, there are still days when I don't - it's normal). How? Well, I focused on acceptance.
Acceptance can be simply acknowledging to yourself that although you may not like a certain part of yourself, it's OK not to. It's ok not to be perfect (I still repeat this to myself on days when I struggle and it helps massively). Everyone has insecurities and it's ok to have them. You don't need to beat yourself up about a tiny, insignificant detail because everyone has flaws and thats what makes us all different. You can choose to hate the fact or choose to accept it. It's also important for you to accept that your body is YOURS and yours for LIFE. That's right - life! Whats the point in having a horrible and abusive relationship with something that's going to be with you for the rest of your life? Accept it as yours, including that part you don't like, and learn to love it. Theres no point to me scrolling through social media or looking through magazines at pictures of amazing legs I wish I had, because my body is UNIQUE and I will never have someone else's. There really is no point to comparison- it only makes you feel worse, and nothing good ever comes from it.
It may seem a tiny thing to some, but when something so small can cause you to have such a negative body image, you have to start somewhere. Acceptance is a great place to start, and once you can accept yourself, loving yourself will come naturally.
What are you grateful for? A healthy, loving family? Your partner? Your friends? Your career? We are all incredibly lucky and we take it for granted. Take the time to reflect on your life and all the things that make it so special. These are the things that truly matter, not how good you look in a bikini.
But what about being grateful for your body too? Focus on what your body does for you rather than what it looks like. Those legs that carry you everywhere you want to go. That allow you to run, to walk, to squat your bodyweight at the gym. That stomach that perhaps carried your baby. Your body is amazing. Focus on what you are grateful for. You will start to be THANKFUL to your body, appreciate it and love it.
Try writing down something that you are grateful for every morning when you wake up or evening before you go to bed. Every night, I write something from my day that has made me happy in my journal "The Happiness Project". It gives me the opportunity to reflect on my day and write down something that made me happy. It also means that when I have a bad day, I'm forced to still find that one thing that made me smile. I go to bed feeling grateful and it makes me focus on the more important things in life. I now have a whole book of moments that have made me smile over the past few months which I love to read back on, especially when I'm having a down day!
Would you ever put your friend in front of a mirror and tell her she was fat and ugly? Would you ever tell your friend that she shouldn't have eaten that burger because now she looks disgusting? Would you starve her? Would you put her on the treadmill for hours on end until she's completely exhausted?
No. That would be ridiculous and down right awful. In fact, it would be abuse. So why do we find it so easy to be cruel and abusive to ourselves? The examples I've just given might be extreme but I did it to myself for years and I know a lot of others do too.
Self-compassion is about how we speak to ourselves. It means being kind, warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than punishing ourselves and filling ourselves with self-criticism. During recovery from my eating disorder, I received "Compassion-Focused Therapy" and it was this that changed my outlook on everything. It had never crossed my mind that I could perhaps be kind and loving towards myself like I would my friends. I will do a longer blog post about self-compassion another time but for now, just think about the way you speak to yourself.
When you have a bad day, do you take it out on yourself? Or do you consolidate yourself, tell yourself it'll be OK and give yourself some rest.
When you have a bad body image day, do you criticise yourself all day long - calling yourself every name under the sun, or do you be patient with yourself, show yourself warmth and understanding?
When you fail, do you tell yourself your worthless and pathetic, or do you consolidate yourself, tell yourself everyone fails and pick yourself back up?
Self-talk is the most important part of this whole process. Next time you find yourself criticising yourself, as yourself "would I talk to my friend like this?" If not, don't talk like that to yourself either.
4. Realise that you are more than your body
Society puts so much focus on physical appearance that it is instilled into us from a young age that we should base our self-worth on what we look like. We flick through magazines full of air-brushed models. We read articles analysing women's "post-pregnancy figures". We walk around shops displaying stick thin mannequins wearing clothes that barely touch their sides. Even Disney films equate beauty with good and ugly with bad (ever noticed that the heroine is always thin and beautiful and the villain is ugly?). It's no surprise that we have a generation of women who are obsessed with their appearances. It isn't our fault either, but we can try to change it.
Focus on yourself as a WHOLE person, independent of your body. Focus on your personality. Focus on developing yourself as a person - helping people, being kinder or more knowledgeable. This is so much more valuable and productive than investing all of your time into looking better. It may sound morbid but what do you want people to say about you after you die? How kind you were, how many people you helped, the amazing career you led, or just the fact you had a good set of abs? I know which one I'd want to hear.
Remember - You are much, MUCH more than your body.
5. Take daily steps.
Start by taking daily steps towards self-love. Your mindset is going to take a LOT of hard work to change. If you want a better relationship with yourself, you need to be willing to put time and effort into it. Start by telling yourself one thing that you love about yourself every day. It doesn't have to be something you love about your body at first, it could be something you love about yourself as a person. Do try and find things you love about your body too though - even if it is something so tiny, it matters. Write it down somewhere, perhaps a post-it note and stick it on your wall where you'll see it. Try and think of something different that you love about yourself each time, no matter how small or silly it sounds. I'm pledging to do this from now on. I have shared my first few with you below. I challenge you to do it too!
So there we go - those are my tips to learning to love yourself. It is NOT going to happen overnight and will take time. It is something that I am still working on myself and just because I am sharing these tips with you, does not mean that I don't still struggle. We are all a work in progress! And that's OK. I am still learning every day and trying my best to implement all of these tips myself. They have helped me an incredible amount and I hope they help you too.
Remember, you only have one body and it's yours for life. Make your relationship with it a positive, loving and caring one. Once you start loving yourself, your life will improve in more ways than you could ever imagine!
Beth is a girl gains ambassador in Manchester, find her on social media here!