Body Image and Self-Esteem

People representing diverse backgroundes gathered together surrounded by flowers

All bodies deserve to be loved, celebrated, and represented in positive ways. We deserve to feel good about our own bodies regardless of being big, small, short, tall, fat, skinny, muscular, using a wheelchair, or a cane.

How we feel about ourselves and our bodies plays a big part in our health and wellbeing. The media, people around us, news, pornography, school, and culture all influence our body image. What we see and don’t see around us can affect how we feel about ourselves.

If we see representations of disability, it is usually in the context of inspiration porn, which is when disabled folks are presented as “inspirational” just because of their disability. If there are Black characters in movies, they are often stereotyped or in supporting roles. Queer and trans celebrities are often fetishized and ridiculed. Fat bodies are belittled, the butt of a joke, or the “before picture” in magazines and “health” blogs. Intersex representations are pretty much non-existent, not to mention how rare it is to see positive, fully formed representations of people who hold many identities separate from the mainstream (like someone who is Indigenous and queer for instance).

Unless we look for it, we don’t see the actual diversity that exists in the world represented in popular culture.

Instead, we’re constantly exposed to pictures that only show being young, thin, muscular, able-bodied, and white as beautiful and deserving of love and respect. Movies, TV shows, and our social media feeds are full of images like that. Seeing such pictures all the time can make us feel bad about ourselves and our bodies, and like we should be or look different.

There are no “good” or “bad” bodies. For example, people who are thin are not necessarily “healthy” just like being fat doesn’t necessarily mean you are “unhealthy.” Straight hair is not better than curly or kinky hair, and lighter skin complexions are not better than darker skin complexions. Even though in many societies white people are often represented in positive ways, Black and Brown folks deserve to be equally loved and celebrated.

There’s so much pressure to conform to what we see and the very narrow rules of what is “beautiful.” These feelings can affect our self-esteem and mental health.

We may get into the habit of comparing ourselves to our friends and to celebrities but we shouldn’t have to try and make ourselves into something we’re not. Instead, we should embrace what makes us uniquely beautiful.

What can we do?

  • Talk about beauty standards (and how unrealistic they are).
  • Talk about the things that influence beauty standards (fatphobia, racism, transphobia, homophobia, misogyny, ableism, ageism, etc.)
  • Surround ourselves with people who accept and support each other and don’t talk down about their bodies or the bodies of others.
  • Check ourselves when it comes to how much time we spend on social media and who and what we follow.
  • Follow people who make us feel good about who we are..
  • Talk with our friends and trusted adults about what we see in the media and the injustice of celebrating only one type of body.
  • Talk about how filters and airbrushing and other kinds of photoshops are used to change images we see in ads, movies, and social media feeds. 
  • Fuel our bodies with what it needs including love,  respect, food,  movement, touch, and pleasure.
  • Read about principles of body-positivity and body-neutrality.

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