by Erin McKelle

Let’s face it: our society is full of messed up messages about our bodies. We are told that we are too fat, too old, too short, too hairy, too saggy…and the list never ends. Our culture doesn’t embrace diversity in bodies, instead glorifying a certain type– a type that less than 5% of us have and can never achieve. If you don’t fit that type, you are shamed, made fun of, and discriminated against.

The world is telling us that we are not good enough, that we must be actively taking drastic measures to change this—measures like plastic surgery, Botox injections, hair treatments and extreme dieting. If we aren’t taking these steps, then we’re “lazy” and are treated as if we don’t care about our bodies or our lives. Society gives others permission to criticize and mock us, based on how we look.

This is wrong. No one has the right to tell you how your body should look. Your body belongs to you, and that means that means that it is unique and specialized for YOU and no one else. There is no universal physical ideal and anyone who says otherwise is selling something.

This is where body positivity comes in! Body positivity means that you embrace, accept, and even love your own body for what it is right now, and not because it meets a societal standard of beauty. It means rejecting the notion that there is only one type of beautiful. It means freeing yourself from the societal expectations about your body.

Body positivity isn’t easy. It’s a journey that often comes with setbacks and frustration. But it’s better than the alternatives: insecurity, self-hate, and shame. Eventually, body positivity will take you to a place where you truly do feel good about yourself and your body.  It takes time, but it’s well worth the effort.

So in a world flooded with advertisements, TV shows, magazines and people telling you to hate yourself, how do you learn to shut out all the negative messages?

Start by cleansing and getting rid of the body negativity in your life. Recycle your beauty magazines, turn off fat-shaming TV shows (like The Biggest Loser), unlike body negative pages on Facebook (like  I’m Drunk and You’re Still Ugly!!) , and stop buying those wretched diet pills. You’ll probably always hear some negative messages in one form or another, but by being proactive about what you watch and consume, you can boost your body posi feelings.

Next, surround yourself with positive messages. Read body positive blogs (one of my favorites is Adios Barbie), look at magazines that feature women of all shapes and sizes (think BUSTMs. Fit Magazine, She Loves Magazine, Plus Model Magazine), read books that are size inclusive and challenge the current cultural ideas about health and weight, like Fat! So?, Can’t Buy My Love, Our Bodies, Ourselves, The Beauty Myth, and Health at Every Size.

Then, practice it.  Think about how your body works, move your body in new ways, and try new types of exercise.  We focus so much on beauty that we forgot about how important it is to be active and embrace all that your body can do for you physically! Write and talk about body positivity, start discussions about body image with friends and family, and refuse to fat-shame. Don’t buy products from companies that degrade others for their bodies. Wear what you want, no matter your size. Don’t let other people’s bad attitudes about your body stop you from doing anything, like going to the beach on a hot day.

The path to body positivity looks different for everyone, and it’s hard work. But it’s so worth it, because you can kiss away all of your stress, anxiety, shame and guilt about your body goodbye. You won’t have to spend hours agonizing over how to lose 10 pounds before your sister’s wedding anymore, because you’ll be too busy loving yourself. It’s a truly beautiful thing to know that you are one within yourself and don’t need anyone’s approval to live your life.