I’ve struggled with body confidence at different points in my life, especially in my twenties. But my thirties were a sweet spot for a shift in thinking about body image.
In 2015, shortly after my thirtieth birthday, I started by PhD and began studying many of aspects of sexuality that had been a mystery to me, including why it is that so many women in our culture are unhappy with their bodies.
The Internet has become an important space where people, especially girls and women, can readily compare themselves to hundreds of images daily…
I published a study in 2017 that looked at 2983 women and 2756 men aged between 12 and 29. I found that 15% of girls and 6% of boys reported feeling dissatisfied with their bodies and for women only, higher Internet use was positively correlated with body dissatisfaction.
In researching for this paper, I spent a fair amount of time trying to understand from the science literature how online media, as one form of cultural influence today, manifests in negative thoughts about our bodies.
In the past decade, the Internet has become an important space where people, especially girls and women, can readily compare themselves to hundreds of images daily, images that are often idealized, digitally altered, and focused on female beauty.
But the deep root of women’s body insecurity is not the Internet; it’s that we live in cultures that sexually objectify women.
These cultural norms promote physical appearance as key to female worth, and they are reinforced by media institutions, enacted in various kinds of personal relationships, and ultimately internalized by women.
For me, the most effective thing I did to encourage self-love was to take the attention off my body.
All of these layered, multilevel influences increase the likelihood that women will develop a subjective negative view of their body weight and shape, which can lead to other harms, such as low self-esteem, depression, and disordered eating and exercise patterns, issues that can, in turn, have long-term effects on our physiology and biology.
It doesn’t have to be like this. There is another way. We can change our culture so that women are valued as more than bodies to look like.
Changing culture isn’t easy, of course, and it takes time. But there are things we can do now, in our own lives, that can make a big difference to our wellbeing.
For me, the most effective thing I did to encourage self-love was to take the attention off my body. This was simpler than it seems: I stopped caring about how I look to others.
I usually go without make-up and do nothing with my hair (in fact, most mornings, I don’t even brush it). As for clothes, I choose comfort over everything. And when it comes to food and exercise, I eat and do the things that make me happy. No more guilt and shame!
I also started focusing on what makes me feel good about my body. It turns out, this has much more to do with what my body can do rather than how it looks.
Sex. Laughter. Whipping down a ski run. Riding my first wave. Biking really fast. Dancing. Lazing around in my luxuriously comfy bathrobe. Being naked. So many things make me feel good about my body!
I can’t tell you how emotionally liberating this shift in thinking has been. The moment I stopped focusing on my body and started seeing myself as the strong, capable, worthy, valuable, and fun human being that I am, my happiness and confidence soared.
Not giving a f**k about what I look like has been the most freeing thing I’ve done for myself in my thirties.
Try it. You’ll love it.
This article was originally published on Find Your Pleasure. This photo was taken for This Is Me, a photo project for women that celebrates the female body, individuality and self-love by photographer Julie Adams and editor Georgie Abay.