No one’s judging you; they’re too busy judging themselves, so relax! Here are some tips to help you on your journey to accepting your body.
Trigger Warning: In this piece, you will read about my journey to accepting my body. The content might be triggering to some, as I have approached unhealthy habits and self-diet. If you feel uncomfortable, I advise you to stop reading, as your mental safety comes first.
When I was 16, I went on my first diet. My take on that experience is clear and concise: don’t ever try a self-diet. During that time, my approach to food was very experimental and not necessarily healthy. I did not know about food science nor how to eat based on my body type and weight. I lacked the support, and mostly, the expertise that goes along with a diet prescribed by a nutritionist.
Let me clarify a couple of things: First, I was a smart kid; good in school, loved reading, always asking questions. I knew that, deep down, a self-diet was no solution to losing weight.
Second, I didn’t need to diet.
What I needed was confidence.
I define body image as the perception, thoughts, and attitude we have towards our body. At the core of body image is identity, our true self.
Body image isn’t static; it’s going to change, both for men and women, because our bodies won’t stay the same forever.
During my first year of high school, I was hanging out with one of the most popular girls. She had a strong appearance, and we couldn’t have been more different. She was very sociable and always laughed; I was shy, especially with people I didn’t know. Most importantly, she had the attention of the older guys, whereas nobody really knew my name.
One day, as I was eating a snack during classes, she said to me, “I think you should eat less.”
That simple phrase resonated with me so much, I ditched what I was eating and threw it into the bin. How hadn’t I noticed this before?
To me, her opinion mattered because it was the only one I could have; I was orbiting around her and her thoughts like the earth orbits around the sun. But unlike the earth, I wasn’t receiving the warmth I needed to sprout.
At that time, I considered her my closest friend. So I decided to do something nobody should ever do: put my confidence into someone else’s hands.
But I couldn’t sprout in her shadow. No surprise there.
At first, I immediately agreed with her: I needed to eat less. Unfortunately, instead of just eating less food, I ate the bare minimum until I developed insomnia because stomach cramps wouldn’t let me sleep.
I remember that time with sadness and compassion for my younger self.
Even though it lasted about a month, I know I caused suffering, not only for myself but for the people close to me—like my mother.
Shopping was one of the best activities I enjoyed doing with her; however, when I developed body image issues, shopping turned into a death sentence. Before going on a diet, I would simply buy clothes of my size. Now, I could not accept that number. Instead, I would enter the changing room and squeeze myself in some tight and uncomfortable jeans.
“Where does all of that flesh come from?” was a regular question I asked my mirrored self.
Here is the first tip I have to give you (there is no order of importance): Don’t ever make any sort of judgment on your body based on what you see in the mirrors of changing rooms.
Those lights are made to enhance every minor part of your body. Things you wouldn’t normally notice in a changing room become huge—so don’t bother.
As I said, that time didn’t last for long. When my period disappeared, my mother took the lead and told me we were heading straight to the doctor.
I didn’t want that! There was no way I would talk to a stranger about how I decided to self-diet (mostly because I still did not know it myself).
What really made me gain back confidence in my body was hanging out with other people. And this happened quite naturally. That girl who I thought had been my friend failed her exams after the first year, meaning we wouldn’t be in the same class again. As a result, I truly bonded with other people in my class who never spoke about my body. They often offered me compliments instead of criticism.
It’s totally normal to have issues with body image, especially during puberty, a time when confidence is usually at its lowest. I don’t know anyone who has never had a problem with it.
Because we all have different body image perceptions, I talked to different people about their own body image journeys.
Silvia, a Tourism and Management student, spoke about how her body has gone through many different changes.
She said: “I have always been skinny, but when I began university, I started to gain and lose weight during certain periods. For me, it was strange, yet it was nice to see that my chest was now different. Lately, I have put some weight on my belly; I know that weight usually ends up here. However, I don’t see it as a problem: I rely on social media focused on body positivity, and my friends helped me see the whole spectrum of female bodies.”
I understand that many people focus so much on body image because they believe that body image alone will make them feel accepted and respected. They are not to blame. As Silvia mentioned, the media plays a huge role in our everyday life and makes us believe that the only important things are the ones we can see. We spend most of our time on our phones—Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook are a daily part of our lives.
The type of media we allow in our lives has a huge impact on our physical and mental wellbeing.
So, my second tip is this: Make your social space as varied and inclusive as possible.
Only lately have I made my Instagram an inclusive place: I've begun following accounts that support body positivity, feminism, and the LGBTQ community, as well as models, comedians, influencers, and singers coming from different backgrounds. They all help me see the world as a place where there is no universal truth.
In the end, we all have our own personal truths. We are all on an individual journey. This is why comparison simply doesn’t work.
Body image has an impact on men as well. Estevan, a student in artificial intelligence and a former judo athlete, used to focus a lot on his body image.
“Among friends, we often say that biceps are like tits for men. At the time, I wanted to have mine sculpted,” he said. Some years after leaving judo, he realized, “It’s not about having a good body shape; it’s about feeling good in your body.”
Alex, an English teacher, and digital creator, began his Instagram project called “the diaries of my body” to raise awareness on body positivity and end toxic masculinity.
When I asked him about his personal journey, he said:
“Of course, I also experienced a time in my life when I really didn’t like myself too much. I am not a really tall guy, and I did not like my nose. I was also comparing myself a lot to others. What really helped me was having a positive environment: people that supported me and made me feel proud about my body. This cannot always be achieved with family, but that’s what friends and partners are for. I think it is important to ask for feedback, but only from people who really matter to us.”
What really strikes me is Alex’s additional piece of advice: “We have to start teaching children not to comment on other people’s bodies and expose them to the wide variety that surrounds us.”
Nobody really cares about your body image; everybody is busy dealing with theirs. So my third tip is to relax.
I also want to encourage you to explore the idea that your body is capable of amazing things. Maybe you don’t realize it now, but your body takes you to school every day. Your body protects you when you become ill; your body makes you show affection, love, and the whole spectrum of human emotions to others.
You have to take care of it, honor it, and most importantly, listen to it.
Here’s another thing: only when you listen to your body can you truly connect to yourself.
If each journey has self-growth as a destination, the starting point must be awareness.
My fourth tip is this: be aware of what you can change, what you cannot change, and what you should not change.
You will never win the fight against yourself. So ditch that fight beforehand and forgive yourself—that’s my fifth tip.
Forgive yourself for everything they told you to be and for everything you told yourself to be.
For every time you said no to a cake shared with friends. For every time you were tempted to vomit all the food you ate.
For every time you ironed your curly hair because you thought, “That’s too afro.”
For every time you squeezed yourself into tight clothes when all you wanted to wear were sweatpants.
It’s overwhelming to deal with our insecurities, but that’s not all there is to life! So have fun along the journey—that’s my final tip.
You don’t need to have it all figured out in one day. Give yourself the time you need to embrace a healthy body image!