The Daily Gamecock

What I talk about when I talk about ... body positivity

"My thighs are thick, gapless, covered in bumps like soft sandpaper." That's the first line to a poem I wrote about learning (or more accurately, trying to learn) to accept and love my legs. It's not the most original subject matter, particularly in our society that has taken some great strides to support self-love and body positivity. But just as with so many other societal challenges, the fight must continue even when it seems like we're winning — and the battleground is almost always inside us.

As a runner, I rely on my legs to carry me when they're aching and burning, when my mind has all but given up and I'm just trying to get through the next half-mile. My legs have never failed me, and yet I still find myself envious of my friends, runners or not, who have legs that are longer, leaner, smoother, sexier and/or more athletic than mine. Sometimes I'll see another woman my age who has longer legs, a flatter stomach and more toned arms than I do, and despite years of running, the comparison makes me doubt myself.

My generation has seen a strong push for body positivity and self-acceptance. In January 2016, Mattel announced three new body types for their iconic Barbie dolls: tall, petite and curvy. In May 2017, France passed a law that requires fashion models to get a doctor's approval for a healthy body mass index. Plenty of celebrities have spoken publicly in favor of body positivity. In June 2017, writer Roxane Gay published "Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body," which the New York Times called "at it's simplest ... a memoir about being fat — Gay's preferred term — in a hostile, fat-phobic world." People are sharing their stories of insecurity, and a lot of us are listening.

But the truth of the world is in my own head. I still worry that my legs are too meaty and look stumpy sometimes. I still get uncomfortable with the little pouch of tummy that literally exists as part of my female anatomy. I still take care care to not have a double-chin in pictures.

In the interest of total transparency, I'm 5-foot-2 and about 130 pounds. I've been lucky to get very little negative talk and a good bit of positive feedback about my body from others. Based on my personal interactions with people, I have no reason to think anything bad about my body.

But I do. And I can't really imagine what it feels like for people whose bodies do get talked about in a bad way.

What I can do (I hope) is reassure you that your body is valuable. Not for how it looks, not even for what it can do. It is lovable and worthy simply because it is.

Society is working towards better self-acceptance, but the process is slow. It requires a cultural shift in priorities and values, which starts with individuals. With us, with you. External messages can only change so much, so we have to internalize them. But what's been missing in a lot of the body positivity message is how to really buy into it.

Here are a few tips that have helped me as I work towards body positivity:

1. Just say thank you. When someone compliments you on anything — your body, your clothes, your talents or achievements — just say thank you and smile. We're taught to be self-deprecating, and sometimes a lighthearted joke at your own expense might really be harmless. But even if you feel awkward receiving compliments, respect the other person's positive opinion of you. You earned it.

2. Wear things that you don't think you can pull off. For years, I've believed that higher socks look awful on my calves. The cuff is tight and I think my muscle looks bulgy in comparison. So I decided to start wearing all my crew cut socks with ankle boots until it didn't bother me anymore. They're adorable socks — cats and sushi, y'all — and it's fun to show them off. And it's starting to work.

So wear that shirt you love but think the pattern is too bold or too boring. Put on the red or bubble gum pink or black lipstick that will catch people's attention. Buy the tight jeans even if you have to shimmy to get them on.

3. Post pictures even if you don't like how you look in them. We've all probably become familiar enough with the falseness of social media. Almost every time I put a picture on Instagram, I up the contrast and saturation because I think it looks better. I think I look better. It's okay to put up pictures that make you feel attractive, but it's also important to think about what else pictures are for.

Post pictures in which you look happy. Post pictures of moments that were important to you. In June 2016, I posted a picture in which I distinctly remember thinking my legs looked too big. But it was a wonderful day; the sun was brilliant and my then-boyfriend had drawn a cute turtle on my thigh. So I posted it even though it made me insecure.

4. If you exercise, do something you love. This is no original recommendation, but it's so very true. There are so many physical activities, you're guaranteed to find something. Don't take it too seriously, and be honest with yourself about if you enjoy it. The day that I stop finding emotional and spiritual value in running will be the day I quit.

5. Pay attention to how your body feels when you're happy. After getting some great news, pay attention to the energy that rushes across your skin. When you've just spent 20 minutes belly-laughing with your friends, take a moment to feel that good ache in your abs and the tears starting in your eyes. Be grateful for the body you have that lets you feel happiness all the way in your bones.


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