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Why Body Positivity Is So Important

September 14, 2017

We’ve all been there. We’ve all looked in the mirror and wished we were taller, thinner, our thighs were smaller, our butt was firmer, or that we didn’t have quite that many stretch marks …

However these disparaging thoughts towards our body can be harmful in the long run. According to The Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report released in June 2016, which interviewed 10,500 females across 13 countries, “women’s confidence in their bodies is on a steady decline”. The statistics run from the sad (85 percent of women say they opt out of important life activities—such as trying out for a team or club, and engaging with family or loved ones—when they don’t feel good about the way they look) to the alarming (87 percent of women will stop themselves from eating or will otherwise put their health at risk if they don’t like the way they look).

Closer to home, eating disorders are also on the rise. In an August 2016 report in The Straits Times, the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) Eating Disorders Programme, the national centre for treating such illnesses, saw 170 new patients the previous year. This is four times the 40 patients when the programme first started in 2003 and 42 percent more than the 120 new patients in 2010. The majority of patients are below 21 years old.

Vyda Chai, a clinical psychologist with Think Psychological Services, says, “Over the past three years, Think has seen an annual increase of patients with eating disorders and body image concerns. We are also seeing an increase of younger patients—both male and female—with some as young as 9 years old.”

Clearly, we have an epidemic at hand. This is why the body positivity movement is so crucial, especially in an age where we’re inundated with content—both from mainstream and social media—of the “idealised body”.

 

But first, what is body positivity?

“Body positivity is about ending diet culture, making marginalised bodies more visible, ending body shame, and believing all bodies are good bodies – you can be healthy at every size and you don’t need to be healthy in order to deserve self-love and respect,” says Michelle Elman, a body confidence coach based in the UK.

With so many other social issues such as racism or sexism to grapple with, one might be forgiven for thinking body positivity is a frivolous ideology. However, Elman begs to differ.

“I don’t believe fighting for body positivity takes away from another movement. Working on one does not take away from another,” she says, “Many people do not realise that living in a marginalised body—whether that be due to weight, ability or race—has been statistically shown to lead to lower employability as they are judged on their appearance, not their performance. Low body confidence has also been correlated to lower school attendance, lower job performance, lower mental health, which all impact society dramatically.”

 

How to practise body positivity

Now that we’ve identified why it’s important to be body positive, how do you do it? Being body positive starts with accepting the way you look, “flaws” and all. For those who may be suffering from a poor body image, Chai has a few practical suggestions such as eating well, getting enough sleep, and regular exercise as a means of self-care. She says, “When you feel better on the inside, it will reflect on the outside.”

Beyond practising self-care, being body positive also encompasses a non-judgmental approach on other people’s bodies. That means putting a brake to commenting on other people’s bodies or deciding someone’s health based on their body. Elman says, “Understand that you can’t tell anything about a person’s health from their appearance and their health is none of your business. Also, realise that shaming someone for their body can have a dramatic impact on a person’s happiness, self-esteem, and mental health.”

At Think Psychological Services, Chai and her colleagues work closely with the patient’s family to help aid recovery. According to her, the most effective and long-lasting treatment for an eating disorder is some form of psychotherapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or counselling, coupled with careful attention to medical and nutritional needs.

Unfortunately, we’ll never be free of diet culture or the bombardment of messages from society about our bodies. However, we can be more discerning about the way we treat our bodies and those around us. We can choose to be sensitive and respectful. We can choose to be kind.