How Loving Your Body Could Change The World

Photo: Courtesy of Jes Baker.
This story was originally published on July 8, 2015.

Let me just start out with this whammy of a statement: Loving your body can change the world. Not just your world (which is super important and reason enough), but the entire world.

It sounds farfetched, I know, but I'm sayin' this with a straight face. I believe this with every fiber of my being. Here's why:

I spend the year lecturing at universities, and in one presentation called "Change the world, Love Your Body: The Social Impact of Body Love," I always ask how many people in the room would feel comfortable calling themselves beautiful (or handsome/attractive, whatever their word choice). Consistently, a small percentage shyly raises their hands. I'm always thrilled to see those hands, but never surprised by those who don't feel confident enough to join in. This group is most certainly not alone in their insecurities. According to one international study, only 4% of women aged 18-29 would call themselves beautiful.

Four. Holy shit, y'all.

"Beautiful" can mean different things to different people, but the purpose behind this question is to ask who feels physically valid. With that in mind, 4% makes me incredibly sad. Especially as I've found this statistic is true across the board, not just for those who identify as women.

Want more distressing statistics? Here's the state of our world's body image:

There are many ten-year-olds who are afraid of being fat, in fact, 81% feel this way. These ten-year-olds are more frightened of becoming fat than they are of cancer, war, or losing both their parents. For women, 91% are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting. And nearly 90% of men are uncomfortable with their bodies, some wishing they were bigger, and others smaller. Some studies show that transgender individuals feel even more "body dissatisfaction" and "weight and shape concerns."

Now if that paragraph isn't fucked up, I don't know what is. While this isn't an all-inclusive list of body image statistics, where there is smoke, there's almost always fire. And holy shit, there is a huge fucking fire consuming our world right now.

Now, how does this translate into daily life? Here are some distressing ways that body image can impact us on in the big picture:

We develop low self-esteem. People have really terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days just because of their perception of their bodies. Have you ever looked in the mirror and felt your heart sink because of your reflection? Yep, me too. And it's completely unnecessary. We've been trained to compare ourselves to an absurd ideal, so we never feel good enough — and we take that feeling with us wherever we go.

As a result, we suffer employment losses. Those who have low self-esteem make considerably less money than their confident counterparts. They also take fewer risks, and with that magnitude of insecurity, they are far less successful in reaching their goals.

We put our lives on hold. How many of us have waited to do something until we've lost weight? I'll buy jeans AFTER I lose ten pounds. I'll start dating AFTER. Sound familiar? Whenever I ask a room full of people if they've done this in their lives, almost all hands immediately fly into the air. We painfully stunt our lives because we have decided that our bodies are simply not good enough to work with now. Consider the progress we're not making because of this. Tragic.

We establish poor relationship skills. When we dislike our bodies, we tend to feel unlovable and undeserving. Feeling this way can affect our relationships in a lot of ways: from not approaching those we're interested in, to staying in abusive relationships much longer than we should.

We're at risk for even bigger issues. Extremely low self-esteem and self-hatred is clearly significant enough to smother happiness and growth. And, evidence suggests that severe body image obsession puts us at higher risk of suicide. Sadly, we see case after case of this: people (adults and teens alike) who would rather die than live in the body the world has told them is inferior.
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Photo: Courtesy of Jes Baker.
Body acceptance is about so much more than warm fuzzies, y'all. It's about challenging hateful lies that ruin lives, and then creating a space for truth, love and fulfilling existences.
One of my favorite humans, Sonya Renee Taylor, started a movement called The Body Is Not An Apology. Sonya often talks about how creating a space for these things transcends the individual and can mend the world; making it a better place for all. She says:

"[The Body Is Not An Apology believes] that discrimination, social inequality, and injustice are manifestations of our inability to make peace with the body, our own, and others.

Through information dissemination, personal and social transformation projects and community building, The Body is Not An Apology fosters global, radical, unapologetic self-love which translates to radical human love and action in service toward a more just, equitable, and compassionate world."

It's that big of a deal. I'll say it again: Loving your body can change the world.

Picture a handful of people letting go of the oppressive thought that they're not good enough. Things would change in a big way for them. More than likely, they would see happier days — and higher self-esteem. They would set more goals. They would find themselves with thousands of additional dollars (the weight loss industry is now worth more than $60 billion) and discover better ways to spend them. They would be more productive in all areas, no longer occupied with hiding their "flaws." They would have better communication and relationships. They would feel lovable and would be able to love.

And, I have absolutely no research to back this up, but I have a feeling that there would be more sex. Dear god, a world full of orgasms is one I want to live in.

Sounds great, right? Now imagine if not just a handful of people, but everyone believed themselves good enough. Picture everyone living, loving, taking risks, investing in themselves, and others. Billions of people doing this together would most certainly shift the face of the world we live in.

The race toward perfection would end. Kindness would ensue. Systemic injustice around bodies would cease to exist. Equality would find its place. Judgment would decrease. Diversity would actually be diverse. Health care would be unbiased. Hiring processes would be just. Compassion would make a comeback. Connections would be made.

Everyone would get a seat at the motherfucking table.

Okay, fine. I'm a little bit of an idealist. But, real talk: If we were all to embrace the concept of body love (every single one of us), we would breathe life into our communities on a monumental level, and our world would shift into a more copacetic and compassionate place.

The cool thing about all this change? It starts with one person at a time.

Me. Her. Him. Them. And, you.

Because YOUR decision to make a shift toward body love isn't one that can be made by someone else. Even better, it can't be taken away by anyone else. It's yours, and if you decide you're okay, guess what? You're okay. If you decide you're perfect just the way you are, you are perfect just the way you are. No one can touch that. It's not by any means easy, but it is possible.

You have the power to change the world, one person at a time. How about starting with you?

It's your body. It's your summer. Enjoy them both. Check out more #TakeBackTheBeach here.
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