With the beginning of every year, there is a phrase that dominates our attention nonstop: “New Year, New Me.”
Well this year, I want to challenge us all to something different. Instead of setting the same old resolutions about cutting sugar, gluten, or dairy out of your diet — or losing X number of pounds — we should chime in for a more body-positive resolution: “New Year, Body-Positive Me.”
I discovered body positivity back in 2014 when I had just qualified as a life coach and was looking for a specialty with all my female clients. I already had a preference for confidence but found that the majority of self-esteem issues women experience revolved around how they view their body. It made me so sad to see so many women limiting their life based on their appearance. More than anything though, I felt a profound sense of empathy.
Like every teenaged girl, I had wobbles about my size and weight. Most people get offered solutions. You have bad skin? Try multivitamins. Drink more water. Don’t wear makeup. Just cover it up with makeup. You need to eat better. But, unlike my friends, I had an issue with no solution.
You see, my body is covered in scars.
There are a few on my head, neck, and ankles, but most rest across my stomach. They’re from surgeries that started just after the age of 1. Despite having a brain tumor, a punctured intestine, an obstructed bowel, a cyst in my brain, and living with a condition called hydrocephalus, the scars are what affected me most emotionally.
They were seen as physically unattractive. They made me different from my peers and, more than that, they were a reminder of the worst time in my life. They reminded me of a time I would do anything to forget. But instead, I was left with a body that, with every glance at my reflection, would not let me move on.
Yet, these scars became my saving grace. Because I had to learn to accept them. I learned to love my body, to care for it, and not constantly change it. Here are some of the tips I’ve picked up over the years:
1. Try a new activity every month
As adults, we can get stuck in a rut believing that fun activities are “for kids only.” You hold back on experimenting and trying new things because you’re worried about what you’ll look like and, more often than not, you don’t want to look silly. My personal favorite activities that I have fallen back in love with are paddleboarding and painting. What’s the worst that could happen? (A lot, but I’m not letting that get in my way of having fun.)
As we grow older, we can become more conscious of how others perceive us, but instead of thinking about others, focus on how the activity feels!
2. Brush your teeth while naked every morning
You can’t love your body if you don’t know what it looks like. Most people who don’t like their bodies think the solution is to hide their body. No, just the opposite — embrace your body by looking at it — naked.
Brushing your teeth while naked also works like a charm because, if your internal thoughts get too much, brushing your teeth is an excellent distraction.
When you first do this, it might bring up some nasty thoughts and your inner critic might not stop yapping. But it helps that brushing your teeth is a daily activity. With each day, it’ll become easier. All you have to remember is to be naked!
3. Say “no” more often
Growing up with low self-worth or self-esteem can affect how we react to people around us — especially for women. Women are expected to be nurturing, to always please and acquiesce people. And, as a result, our needs move to the bottom of our own priority list. We only meet them when we have extra time and energy, which realistically never happens.
So 2018 is the year you start to own your time and truly start believing that you deserve it. Self-love and self-care is about setting boundaries and being honest with yourself. It can be something small like saying no to the happy hour that you’ve always hated, even if it’s good for networking. If you don’t want to go, don’t.
Say no, and for an extra bonus resolution, don’t follow it up with an explanation. As Anne Lamott says, “No is a complete sentence.”
4. Give your body more credit
A negative body image doesn’t just stop with the body, it also affects how you see food. We need to start trusting our bodies and our hunger signals, because our body is way more clever than any calorie tracker that we can find.
Diets, which create a disordered relationship with our bodies, have been shown not to work as people tend to regain the weight (and more) after the dieting stops — but loving yourself is not about keeping a diet. It’s about living the right mindset. Actively work to counter diet culture by maintaining a body-positive mentality. Start realizing that food can be fun by making food. Learn to enjoy the process of baking or cooking a new meal for your family. This effort will develop your relationship with food, making it more than a calorie intake.
5. Spring-clean your newsfeed
You can’t love your body if your newsfeed is full of accounts that make you feel bad for being who you are right now. Even if the person has a great account, it’s not for you if you leave their page feeling worse about your body. There are even some body-positive accounts I can’t follow (and some of them are really the best) because, for whatever reason, their posts or their account triggers the comparison demon in my brain.
So if you follow an account that makes you doubt your body or your life, they need to go! We all underestimate the impact media has on our unconscious and conscious thoughts, but you won’t notice how much until you change it.
Don’t wait to start your life
Think about it, in less than 365 days, engaging in body positivity genuinely could change your life. It did for me, at least. And I might be biased about this — I am a body confidence coach and a body-positive activist myself — but I know exactly what hating your body feels like and the limits these self-esteem issues can set.
We’re often led to believe our body’s changes are our fault. Have you gained weight? Maybe you’re depressed. Or maybe you’re just lazy? Whatever it is, it must be your fault. At least that’s how the beauty and diet industries profit — off our insecurities — especially when the new year rolls around.
They use the new year as the prime time to push the agenda: Until you look a certain way, you will never have the life you want. They hone in on the “when I have lost X pounds, I will find love, success, or happiness” mentality.
Well, this year, I am putting my foot down on behalf of all of us!
You deserve better than waiting on losing weight to start living your life. Your life has already started. And take it from someone who has been close to death more times than I would like to remember, you don’t want life to pass you by, simply because you don’t look like an airbrushed version of yourself.
Michelle Elman is a five-board accredited body confidence coach and body-positive activist. She’s the creator of the hashtag campaign #ScarredNotScared, a community that was created to teach women to embrace their bodies and their scars. Through this, Michelle has shared her own story of medical conditions, from 15 surgeries to a punctured intestine. She even has the scars to show for it. She has built a collective following of over 130k people on Instagram (@ScarredNotScared and @BodyPositiveMemes). She’s appeared on Sky News, Channel 5 News, Channel 4 News, BBC Radio London, and LBC sharing her expert opinion on body confidence. In 2018, she will be releasing her upcoming book “Am I Ugly?”