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Don't tell me to love my body

One of the most exhausting experiences I ever had on Facebook was a time I posted a status about how I’d just seen a photo of myself that was so bad it had immediately made me take out a million-dollar loan for cosmetic surgery.

So far, so boring, right? However, the comments – well meaning though I’m sure they were – soon began to flow: "Not true, you’re beautiful", "I bet it was a great photo", "Love yourself", "Model material", blah blah blah.

I couldn’t get a word in edgeways and, despite the fact that we’re told Facebook is a place to Say What’s On Our Mind, what was on my mind was deemed unacceptable. All I had to do was Embrace Myself™!!

(From memory, my response was something along the lines of “for Christ’s sake, it was a shit photo and I’m allowed to think so”. Only probably less polite than that.)

This experience is not uncommon. We’ve all seen crappy photos and wondered, “IS THAT REALLY WHAT I LOOK LIKE??”

And yet – and yet – indoctrinated as we have been by a decade or so of Body Positive ideology – much of it hopelessly intertwined with capitalism, thanks to Dove and other mega corporations’ realisation that making women feel slightly less shit about their bodies might encourage them to “treat themselves” with expensive lotion – these days it seems it’s nearly impossible to effect a “body neutral” stance.


As anyone who has tried, against the judgment of their brain chemistry, to "think positive" about anything will tell you, maintaining a general sense of positivity is hard enough. Couple that with enforced body positivity and the notion that thinking your body is anything less than a heavenly vessel is enough to make you feel like a traitor to modern feminism.

Endless hand-drawn Instagram artworks and pillows and pencil cases and Rookie magazine articles encourage us to treasure each and every spider vein, bunion and expanse of cellulite. Underarm hair isn’t just a fact of life, it’s a solemn and powerful statement.


As is increasingly becoming common, The Onion capably skewered “body positive” advertising last week (and just in time for International Womens’ Day, too) with the news piece, “New Body Negativity Campaign Promotes Idea That Ugliness Comes In All Shapes And Sizes”.

“It doesn’t matter if you have acne, wide hips, or wrinkles, because that’s the least of your problems – your real unsightliness is inside,” the fictional "Face It: You’re Hideous" PSA campaign was quoted as saying. “And as ugly as you feel, never believe you don’t look even worse. We’re here to tell you that you can, and you do.”

Hey, you might as well laugh, right? At least, that’s the political stance I’ve ended up taking when it comes to the white-knuckle hellride through my own body image.

There have been times in my life when I thought I was almost physically nauseating to behold and I will later see photos and discover the reality was far from the truth. (There has also been the opposite experience.) At the tender age of 24 I was so obsessed with the “wrinkles” I was developing that I would sleep in a sarcophagus of anti-ageing creams (in the end they just gave me pimples). I’ve had consultations about getting fillers in the scar on my forehead, and played around with Photoshop to see which nose job would be right for me.

I know that the “facts” are that I’m a certain height (178cm), certain size (according to clothing labels, at least, a deeply average 14-16), and have a truly spectacular amount of chin hair. But having lived with dysmorphic thoughts, if not full-blown Body Dysmorphic Disorder, for much of my life, I’ve finally reached a place of peace: I just accept that I never really know what my body or face looks like at any given time, and that’s fine.

What that doesn’t mean, however, is that what I need on a dodgy day is to repeat a body love mantra until I find everything about my body beautiful. I might as well sing an advertising jingle.

Your experience is almost certainly different, though perhaps you feel a common thread connects us all. Self-love is complex and tough, and the intersections of class, gender, sexuality, race, disability and countless other factors further complicate the matter.

A person who is fuming about their invisible disability and having an acne breakout does not need to be barked at to “TREASURE YOURSELF!!” A person experiencing gender dysphoria may very well not agree that they are “beautiful just the way you are”. People need to be allowed to engage in an authentic relationship with their body that accepts that some days are diamonds, some days are dogshit, without a chorus immediately rushing in to surround them with self-love slogans.

When thinking about bodies, I often return to a quote from Joan Chrisler, a professor of psychology at Connecticut College, on the topic of body neutrality: “If you’re even a tiny bit of a critical person, there are always things that are wrong with everything. We have this notion of love that is connected to perfectionism – the image that we should be in bliss all the time is so strong in our culture. You have the body you have and accept what you have. It’s an essential part of yourself.”

It’s okay to feel beautiful today and ugly tomorrow. Have you got a body? Great. Let’s leave it at that for today.