By Jessi Kneeland
My jaw had just hit the floor.
I was chatting with a reporter about what I do, for an article on body image and body positivity. For nearly half an hour, I had been explaining how I go about helping women break free from body image issues, embrace what they previously considered to be “imperfections,” and learn to fully love and accept themselves. Then she asked me this question:
“Ok, but honestly-- is it really that important for women to love their bodies? And if so… why??”
You guys. She was truly, genuinely asking. She really didn’t know the answer.
And I was like… whoa.
I realized that I completely take it for granted that everyone knows hating your body is a problem. I have been working under the assumption that everyone knows how much worse your life is when you reject certain body parts, constantly monitor your body, and of criticize what you see in the mirror every day. I figured it was obvious.
But I was wrong.
So let me set things right, and make this clear. There are literally infinite reasons I can think of, but I’m going to boil it down to the most important.
Why does improving body image matter?
1. Because body image issues occupy all your time and attention. We all have a finite amount of time, energy, and attention. When we spend a whole bunch of those precious resources worrying about how our thighs look, checking to see if we’ve made any “progress” at the gym, stressing about food, hiding our “imperfections,” and otherwise thinking about our bodies, guess what? We don’t have those resources left over for other stuff.
2. Because trying to earn your worth will make you feel like a failure. Having “body image issues” isn’t always about thinking your body is ugly. In fact, more often than not, body image issues manifest from simply believing your appearance influences or determines your worth. It often feels like, as women, we “need” to look the right way (or maintain a certain weight) in order to receive the love, approval, acceptance, and belonging that we all need and desire. But since there are so many conflicting messages out there about what a woman should do, be, and look like, it’s impossible to ever get it “right.” Which means that we will constantly be attempting to earn and prove our worth in a world designed to make that impossible. Even if we succeed in some ways, we will always be failing in others. Which means we walk around feeling the shame of unworthiness, the isolation of not deserving love and belonging, and the pain of being a failure. All this for an impossible and imaginary goal: “earning your worth.”
3. Because living in fear is not living at all. Imagine trying to have sex, or enjoy a beautiful meal, if you knew you were going to be attacked at any moment. Would you be able to savor the pleasurable sensations, or would you be tense, tight, distracted, and anxious?
The threat of body image is more subtle, but it’s no less damaging. When we are afraid that something about us or our bodies aren’t good enough in some way, or will bring us rejection and disconnection, we become literally unable to feel or savor the pleasure of life. Instead, we stay small, tense, distracted, and anxious. We take less risks, cling to what’s safe, and build a life that’s “good enough,” instead of reaching for what we really want. We convince ourselves that we’re not missing anything, but deep down there is an ever-present achy feeling that surely life was supposed to feel like more than this.
4. Because you have important work to do in this world. Believe it or not, you were not put here on earth to stress about your appearance, earn and prove your worthiness, or stay small.
You are a unique energy force; one which the world has never seen before, and will never see again. You have gifts that the world needs you to share, and if you don’t share them, we will all collectively suffer for the loss of them. Body image issues, even subtle ones, have the devastating impact of keeping women from developing or sharing her gifts with the world. Given the statistics on how many women report hating their bodies (over 90%), you better believe that we are currently missing out on an entire generation of female thought leaders, poets, politicians, artists, and entrepreneurs.
Loving and accepting your body isn’t just for you. I mean, your life will be exponentially more joyful, pleasurable, fun, delicious, and fulfilling, sure. But it’s also because the world needs you. We are desperate for whole-hearted female voices pursuing their dreams, their curiosity, and their desires, and the only way to get there is to break free from body image issues once and for all.
See Jessi’s TED-x talk on body image HERE.