With Love Your Body Day on October 16, it’s time to reflect on the connection between body image and health. Here is some food for thought, according to a 2004 Real Truth about Beauty study commissioned by Dove, 4 out of 5 U.S. women believes media and advertising set an unrealistic standard of beauty that most women can’t achieve. As such, 3 out of 4 women believe society expects women to enhance their physical attractiveness. Because the mainstream beauty standard is so unattainable and unnatural, consumers will always feel inadequate. Advertisers promote products that do everything from changing hair color to reducing cellulite, making a perfect body seem attainable– if you just try hard enough or buy the right products. This unattainable standard of beauty also applies to body weight, with the media constantly promoting thinness over health.
But is beauty really only skin deep? While mainstream media and advertising would have you believe it is, the majority of women rated happiness, kindness and confidence as twice as important as weight and body shape. This is good news for our health, since our body image can reflect the way we treat our bodies. If you value your body and what it is able to do, at any size and shape, you will be more likely to treat your body with respect and dignity.
This approach to health is embodied in the Health at Every Size campaign that asks “Wouldn’t it be refreshing to stop focusing on weight and start focusing on health?” HAES is a weight neutral approach that emphasizes developing a healthy relationship with food, activity and body image. Weight loss is not viewed as good or bad, but rather a side effect of a healthy lifestyle. HAES promotes honoring your body by choosing healthy habits for the sake of health and wellbeing, versus weight control. This includes self-acceptance of a body’s natural shape and diversity, eating in a flexible way that honors internal hunger and satiety cues of appetite and being physically active in enjoyable ways.
You can think of HAES as the anti-diet movement, a program fostering self-acceptance and health. Countless individuals suffer from food and body preoccupation, which can result in body shaming, self-hatred, yo-yo dieting and at its most extreme — eating disorders. Love Your Body Day and HAES send a powerful message that your body is worthy of love and acceptance regardless of size.
To live this message of body-acceptance, consider adopting the following tips from Linda Bacon, author of “Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight.”
Accept your size
Love your body and appreciate all it can accomplish. Remember,true health comes with self-acceptance.
Your body has the ability to keep you at a healthy weight with your support and trust. Respond to your internal hunger cues, instead of relying on rigid diet rules or calorie counting.
Adopt healthy lifestyle habits
A healthy lifestyle encompasses social, emotional, spiritual and physical health. Meet your physical health needs by finding physical activity you enjoy. Try to eat a variety of foods, including nutritious choices, for a balanced lifestyle.
Embrace size diversity
Accept the spectrum of beauty across all sizes and shapes. When we stop measuring ourselves against unrealistic standards of beauty, we can begin to appreciate the diversity of health at every size.
Marissa Rudley, RD, LD can be reached at email@example.com