… and stay healthy, too

Body positivity has swept the nation. Self-acceptance of our bodies, even if we don’t match cultural size ideals, has evolved into a massive movement. Instead of obsessing over “imperfections,” social media mavens, celebs, movies, and writers are making peace with their cellulite, celebrating their skin color, and embracing their natural size and shape.

Research supports the notion that these influences are good for our emotional health. For instance, a 2019 study found that briefly viewing body-positive Instagram posts was associated with improvements in body satisfaction, body appreciation, and a positive mood, when compared with exposure to thin-ideal and appearance-neutral posts among the 18- to 30-year-old women studied.

In 2016, the American Psychological Association found that women have become less dissatisfied with their bodies within the past 30 years. The study’s authors thought that media portrayals of body appreciation and diversity could be partially responsible for this gradual upswing in body satisfaction.

Too much love?

Take it from social media influencers such as (formerly) 379-pound fat acceptance fashionista Maui Bigelow: accepting yourself as you are can be a wonderful feeling—but your health still must come into play. In 2017, Bigelow was diagnosed with blood cancer and multiple uterine fibroids. This drove her to undergo weight-loss surgery, the only way she could receive treatment for these conditions.

Aishah Muhammad, UK-based MD and personal trainer is concerned that some followers of the movement might face health issues as well.

“I worry that the body positivity movement is shutting down healthy discussions around the idea that a raised BMI or body [build] puts some people at risk of a whole host of problems like cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory problems,” says Muhammad. “This is not to say someone large will get these, but there is research that demonstrates there are links between body size and disease,” says Muhammad. Muhammad says having a positive attitude toward your body should include eating nutritious food and exercising.

How you see yourself—beyond your mirror image

Clinical therapist Kyla Fox believes beauty comes “from within.” “Beauty is about living—really living,” says Fox. “And the way that I best determine beauty is by how alive, passion-filled, and honest someone is. That’s what I mean by ‘from within’; it shows all over when it’s happening internally.”

According to Fox, becoming comfortable in our own skin is being okay with who we are—and who we are not—and we earn this comfort over time through personal growth. This can look like learning to say no, developing the ability to use our own voice, not being afraid of what we want, moving through times in which we feel broken, and having experiences that lift us high.

Following positive body-positive role models on social media, then, can likely enhance this sense of self and may even (depending on who we follow) help us realize that what we look like is merely one aspect of our self-image.