Living in a capitalist society that profits from people disliking their bodies can be challenging, especially for teenagers. But it’s possible to move toward body acceptance. Here’s how to get started.
Body acceptance is being OK with your body — even if there are certain things it doesn’t do that you wish it did or if there are certain physical attributes you aren’t completely satisfied with.
“Someone who accepts their body acknowledges that their body is just one part of who they are, not the entirety,” says body-positive sex toy guru and pleasure expert Carly S., founder of Dildo or Dildon’t.
“They understand that their feelings about their body shouldn’t dominate how they feel about themselves,” she says.
Accepting your body doesn’t necessarily mean believing your body is perfect or that you have an aesthetically pleasing physique. (That’s body positivity).
“You can even accept your body and still want to change something about your appearance in some way in the future,” she says.
“As humans, we’re constantly fed rhetoric about what our bodies are supposed to look like and what we could do to make them better,” says branding expert and fat activist Megan Ixim, founder and performer behind “That Fat Babe.”
It comes from advertisements and dating apps, movies and magazines, family members and friends, and social media feeds and social gatherings, she says.
“We live in a capitalist society that benefits from people hating themselves, their bodies, and their appearance,” says Ixim.
“This multibillion-dollar machine profits off our own discomfort with and hatred of our bodies,” she says.
“Body positivity is the idea that you accept and love all parts of your body,” says Ixim. “It’s the idea that you believe that you’re beautiful and will continue to believe that however your body evolves and changes moving forward.”
In practice, someone who has a positive body image might think (or even say!) the following:
- ”I love the way my belly looks in this crop top.”
- ”I love that you can track the different iterations of my body in my stretch marks.”
- ”I love the way my butt dimples look in my swimsuit.”
“Generally, body neutrality is regarded as a more attainable outlook on the human body,” says Ixim.
It involves accepting your body in its various states without necessarily feeling amorous toward it. There’s less emphasis on what your body looks like and more emphasis on what your body can do.
Someone with a neutral body image might view their body as a machine, for instance:
- ”It pleases me that my body can endure weekly runs around the neighborhood.”
- ”Using my hands and arms to explore different places in my wheelchair brings me great joy.”
- ”I’m grateful for these feet that let me stand on them while I dance all night long.”
“Body neutrality can be part of an individual’s path towards body positivity,” says Carly S. But it doesn’t have to be — body neutrality is a valid destination of its own.
Some people choose not to pursue body positivity because it doesn’t feel accessible to them, while others choose not to pursue it because it doesn’t feel necessary.
“When someone has a negative body image, they typically have a near-constant negative dialogue about what they look like,” says Ixim.
Someone with a negative body image, she says, might find themselves frequently:
- wishing they looked differently
- comparing the way they look to others
- nitpicking things about their appearance
- spending an excessive amount of time or money to change their appearance
- avoiding activities that they think might highlight their physical imperfections
Feeling bad about your body can also lead to low self-worth and low self-confidence, causing a chain reaction of negative consequences.
Low confidence, for example, could affect whether you take certain risks, like applying for a competitive role or asking for a raise. This can have significant material and financial implications.
“Hating your own body can cause you to be unfriendly to those who you are jealous of or those who you think are ’naturally beautiful’ or ’unfairly beautiful,’” says Yen.
When you shift your view of your body toward the positive, you may notice improved social relationships, she says.
“Body acceptance is something you have to actively learn by adjusting your beliefs and taking a step away from the idea of unrealistic beauty standards,” explains Carly S.
1. Leave conversations that don’t serve you
“One of the most difficult things about working towards body acceptance is that you’ll notice how much body shaming comes from the people closest to you,” says Ixim.
For instance, this might look like a parent or guardian asking if you need another serving at dinner or a sibling making a jab about your clothing.
When these comments come up, “it can be helpful to remember that they’re saying them because they have also been indoctrinated into a body-negative society,” she says. “But end the conversation politely.”
You might say:
- ”I’m currently unavailable to have this discussion.”
- ”I love you, and I’m no longer accepting comments about my body.”
- ”I’m leaving this conversation because you aren’t respecting my boundaries around body comments.”
- ”I’d like us to transition the conversation to something else.”
2. Revamp your social feeds
“Create a body acceptance bubble on your timelines,” suggests Carly S.
That means unfollowing accounts that routinely trigger negative or comparative thoughts, as well as unfollowing anyone who pops up and leaves you with a feeling of dread, self-hatred, or inadequacy, she says.
Ixim recommends repopulating your feeds with people who look like you, as well as people with a variety of body shades and sizes.
“Rather than just following people based on what they look like, you might consider following people who do activities that ignite a sense of passion inside of you,” she notes.
“By keeping your social feeds nourishing and as diverse as possible, some of that visual content will start to sink into your psyche and become the new norm,” says Carly S.
3. Establish a joyful movement practice
People who practice body acceptance often celebrate what their bodies can do rather than focusing on what they do or don’t look like.
As such, finding a movement practice that allows you to tap into something your body can do can help you access a more neutral mindset, says Ixim.
“You might want to try something that makes you feel powerful, like kickboxing or rowing,” she says. Or you might try a practice that helps you connect with the divine, like a walk through the woods or an immersive dance class.
4. Prioritize time for pleasure
“Touching your body in new ways can help you appreciate all the different sensations your body is capable of providing,” says Carly S.
“Carving out time for yourself each week to connect with your body can help you figure out your sexual preferences and feel more comfortable asking for what you want if you become sexual with another person,” says Carly S.
5. Counter negative thoughts
Negative thoughts happen, especially if you’re new to the self-acceptance game. Try to counter them with kind or neutral thoughts, says Carly S.
In practice, this might look like:
- ”I may not like how my belly looks now, but I love how soft the skin on my tummy is.”
- ”My legs may show hair follicles more quickly than I like, but I love how strong they are.”
- ”My butt doesn’t fit well into my jeans, but it’s the perfect pillow for my pup.”
“When you practice countering these thoughts with acceptance, you’ll start to retrain your brain to be nicer to yourself,” she says.
6. Proactively say nice things
You don’t have to wait for a negative thought to prompt a positive one.
Holly Schiff, PsyD, a clinical psychologist with Jewish Family Services in Greenwich, Connecticut, recommends being proactively positive.
7. Have faith in the future
“Being a teenager is really freaking hard,” says Ixim. ”Your body is constantly changing, there’s a lot of pressure socially, and high school is hard.”
Despite what some adults may claim, this isn’t as good as it gets. We promise.
“Your life is only just beginning, and it does get better,” she says.
You have to come to terms with your own feelings about your body and appearance before you can offer authentic support, notes Ixim. Employing the tips above can help.
As far as supporting your teen, try to:
- Set a positive example by modeling behaviors that promote body acceptance.
- Avoid purchasing food with triggering labels or framing meals as ”skinny,” “guilt-free,” or “diet.”
- Compliment the parts of their personality that you cherish.
- Avoid making comments about their weight, hair, makeup, outfit, or other facets of their appearance.
- Encourage them to do things that make them feel good.
To learn more about body acceptance, check out work from the following authors, educators, and influencers:
- Bethany C. Meyers
- Kayden Coleman
- Kelvin Davis
- Kenzie Brenna
- Meg Boogs
- Megan Ixim
- Mik Zazon
- Roxane Gay
- Sonya Renee Taylor
- Substantia Jones
- Tess Holliday
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.