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A case against self-love

Ariel Hekier

Everyone from our parents, our friends, self-help book authors, and social media influencers tells us that it’s important to love our appearance.


To appreciate the way we look, to say flattering things about our bodies, to be body positive.


91 percent of women have been unhappy with their bodies. For some, this unhappiness occurs only once in a while. For others, it occurs when they wear certain clothing, like a swimsuit or a revealing dress.


For a lot of us though, this dissatisfaction feels constant. More often than not, we have to try so hard to convince ourselves to love our natural body, skin, and hair.


Body positivity is the notion that everyone deserves to feel confident about their body and the way it looks. It’s an approach that urges people to love their physical appearance regardless of their body’s shape, size, or color and to feel pretty despite what other people say about the definition of beauty. In my opinion, body positivity is an attempt to show societal norms who’s boss and a refusal to accept conventional beauty standards.


Don’t get me wrong, I am all for defying the notion that you have to have perfect skin, a small waist, and shiny long hair to be beautiful. To hell with these standards. 


But I think that body positivity isn’t necessarily an effective approach for everyone.

For some of us, it can be difficult to see ourselves as pretty, to use words like “gorgeous,” “cute,” or “good-looking” when talking about our own appearance.


Because the body positivity movement has gained such popularity, it makes me feel like I’m broken when I fail to convince myself to love my body the way that it is. I’ve noticed that when girls can’t muster the strength to call themselves “beautiful,” they think it’s their fault. We criticize ourselves for being critical, asking questions like “why can’t I learn to love myself?” or “why am I so negative about my appearance?” 


While it may not be the case for everyone, I’ve noticed that my self-esteem oscillates between exceedingly high and abysmally low when I’ve tried to embody a body-positive mindset. I’ve experienced this cycle of self-obsession and self-deprecation time and time again with my body. I will be happy with the way I look one moment, and then I’ll turn on a dime and be upset the next. Even though I know that my body can’t change in one day, the negative thoughts about it creep in. And right away, I will chastise myself for being negative about my body because of the pressure to be body positive. Essentially, it’s kicking someone who’s already down.


Trying to be body positive can even feel like I’m giving myself a backhanded compliment. It’s as if I’m saying to myself, “You’re so brave for thinking you’re beautiful even if you don’t meet societal beauty standards!” It makes me feel the same way it does when someone says “I love your outfit, I could never pull that off.” We all know that’s not actually a compliment.


But what if we decided that the way we look doesn’t actually matter very much? What if we focused on what our body does for us? What if we tried adopting a body neutrality mindset instead of body positivity?


Body neutrality is an approach that empowers us to accept our body instead of loving it and to appreciate what our bodies can do rather than the way they look. It urges us to appreciate our bodies for where they’ve gotten us and to focus on what we are physically, mentally, and emotionally capable of. 

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Being kind to yourself with a body-neutral approach can look a number of different ways:


  • I am a good listener when my friends need someone to talk to.

  • I have a keen sense of humor and can find the funny side of every situation.

  • I am strong enough to get out of bed and go to class even when I am having a hard day.

  • I’ve worked really hard to accomplish my goals.

  • I can navigate difficult conversations well. 


As I’ve tried to adopt a body-neutral mindset, I’ve noticed my self-esteem has been more stable than it is when I take on a body-positive mindset. Saying things to myself like “I love my legs because they help me lift weights” feels much more self-respectful than “I love my legs and they are beautiful, even if they are larger than they were in high school.”

Body positivity can push people to believe something that they don’t and expects people to be positive about their appearance no matter what. The way I see it, body positivity reifies society’s toxic obsession with appearance. And if society actually deemed all bodies, regardless of size, shape, or color, as equally acceptable and lovable, we wouldn’t need body positivity.


I’m not trying to say that it’s bad to love yourself or that it’s problematic to be happy about your appearance, and I’m certainly not trying to take a stab at people who feel good about themselves. I’m arguing that the way that we look is a very small part of who we are.


Last year I came across a tweet from Glennon Doyle, an activist and mental health advocate, that said, “Your body is not your masterpiece. Your body is the paintbrush you use to create your masterpiece.” Our physical appearance is certainly not the most important thing about us, and trying so hard to love that part of ourselves makes us forget about all of the other non-physical parts that also deserve love. 


Embracing body neutrality allows us to break free from societal expectations and toxic cultural norms that lead to low self-esteem. With a body neutrality mindset, we can focus on our physical health and well-being. We can learn to appreciate what our body has done for us where it has brought us. Because it is pretty damn cool that you’ve made it this far. 


The same body that you find fault with is the same body that has made it through every single one of your hardest days; it has kept you alive when you’ve been at your absolute worst and it has helped you accomplish all of your biggest achievements. And for that and more, it deserves some love and praise.

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