Posts Categorized: body image

Already Prettypoll: Style Compliments

Over the seven years that I’ve been writing about style and body image in this space, I’ve brought up the subject of compliments dozens of times. Since I believe that caring about your appearance is a valuable part of general self-care – and that you have a brain AND a body, and shouldn’t ignore one and favor the other – I enjoy both giving out and receiving compliments about my personal style. Words of praise from strangers and friends have bolstered my confidence at times, and I try to pay that forward.

But I have found style- and appearance-related compliments to be a surprisingly contentious topic here. Although many enjoy both giving and receiving compliments, others feel that any comments on appearance are invasive or unwelcome. Some would prefer to be praised for accomplishments or strengths over biology or taste. A few are unnerved by compliments like, “You look lovely today” because the underlying message may be that today is the exception not the rule. Others have had traumatic experiences with catcalling and street harassment and just prefer to avoid any interaction that centers on discussions of appearance. And many more have offered nuanced and personal reasons and preferences surrounding praising style and appearance.

Every so often, I feel the need to revive this conversation and probe a bit deeper. So: How do you feel about being complimented on your style or appearance by peers, friends, or friendly strangers? Do you offer compliments to others? If you enjoy these interactions, why do you find them pleasant or valuable? If you avoid or dislike them, what upsets or unnerves you?

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Body Love, Body Neutrality

body love buttons

Before I became aware of the voices contributing to the body image conversation, most of the information that I took in about my body related to its faults. Because most of the messages promoted by the media and big business are about how women’s bodies are wrong and offensive, and require products and diets and surgeries to correct their crimes. I started this blog as a way to help counteract some of those negative messages, and soon found a community of writers who were also working to stem the tide of negativity. We wanted to show women that they didn’t need to hate their bodies, and help them learn how to do that.

Lately, there has been a lot of thought-provoking rhetoric about the pressure to love your body. The conversation seems to have turned a corner, and now women are pushing back against the idea that they must love their bodies or feel ashamed for their personal shortcomings. I have linked to many of these essays in my roundups because I’ve found them fascinating, and because I want to use that space to explore topics and opinions that are relevant and thought-provoking even if the opinions expressed therein clash with my own. And I definitely respect that point of view. Our culture is rife with judgment, and it makes sense to me that some of the messages coming out of the body love movement could be interpreted to mean, “If you don’t commit to loving yourself just as you are, you’re failing yourself.”

But in mulling this collective response, I’ve realized two important things.

First and foremost, I don’t love my own body truly, completely, at all times, every day. And I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I don’t expect anyone else to do  so, either. I try to think lovingly about my body, be gentle with myself, forgive. I also try to push back against messages that tell me I’m not good enough, thin enough, tan enough, sculpted enough, young enough. For me, the goal is not a constant state of active, positive body love. It is a state of body neutrality. I spent many years actively hating my body so much that walking by mirrors filled me with loathing. It was exhausting and pointless. I am much happier now that I don’t feel that way anymore but I would never say that I’ve moved from active hate to constant, steady, active love. I accept my body. I know that hating it is a poor use of my energy, of which there is relatively little these days. I am content to feel body neutral, and to occasionally reach for something that feels more like body love.

Second, I believe that I may hear and respond to advice differently than many people. I see advice as opinion, no matter how expert or inexpert the person dishing it out may be. Aside from what I consider to be my own fundamental values – don’t lie, cheat, steal, or hurt, but do be kind, open, non-judgmental – I don’t see the world in shoulds and shouldn’ts. So when I am given advice or seek it out myself, I consider it to be just another opinion that I can add to my pool of information. Some advice can get preachy, and some advice-givers can get overbearing, but I very seldom feel like I am being told what I must do. And when I do feel that way, I brush it off. I am in charge of me, and I get to decide what’s best for me. If someone tells me I should eat more greens or get my oil changed every 1,000 miles or grow my hair out or love my body, I consider their input and make up my own mind. I do this even if they’re furiously judging me for doing something that they believe to be fundamentally right or wrong. Which is seldom the case anyway. In my experience, most advice comes from thought patterns like, “this worked for me, so maybe it would for you” or, “my own investigations or experiences have taught me this and I wanted to share my findings.” Not all, but most. Much as I love the famous quote, I don’t believe that feelings of inferiority are entirely contingent upon consent. But I do believe that, in most cases, I can trust myself to choose. Often when I write advice-filled posts, I remind you all to take what applies to you, discard the rest, and assume positive intent. I do those things, too.

Again, I have the utmost respect for the viewpoint that body love rhetoric can get oppressive. Because a flood of ANY rhetoric can get oppressive, because anything that makes you feel like there is one right way to feel about yourself will chafe, and because many people are dealing with lives and bodies that make “body love” virtually impossible. But when I see essays, suggestions, and advice from the body love community the main message I hear is that hating your body is counterproductive, not that loving your body is required. So if any of you have been feeling judged or shamed by the glut of “love your body” messages, I hope you’ll consider body neutrality as an alternative. And if any of you feel oppressed by the glut of advice floating around in the world, try to remember that you are in charge of you, and ONLY YOU get to decide what’s best for you.

Image courtesy Modern Girl Blitz

This is an updated post from the archive.

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Already Prettypoll: I Love This Part

Inspiration here: I love this part – we’ll say it about bits of our favorite songs. Why can’t we say it about our bodies?

Good question, right? Even now, when general, vague body love is becoming slightly more acceptable, expressing pride or love for specific aspects of our bodies remains taboo. It sounds like bragging, and bragging is THE WORST, apparently.

Since it’s actually not, I’m hoping to spawn a little brag fest right here and now: What aspects of your body do you LOVE and want to celebrate? Do you have a strong back that helps you lift and cradle your kids? Do you have amazing freckles that illuminate your complexion? Do you have big, bold, kinky hair that makes you swell with pride? All of the above? Something else entirely?

I’ll get the party started: After years of hating it, I absolutely adore my hair. In its current configuration it is like a living topiary that I can shape and mould with some product, some heat, and my fingers. It’s wild, and for the first time ever I love its wildness.

It took me a while to realize it, but I actually have fairly long legs. What I’ve known for ages is that they’re incredibly strong and can carry me through long, trying days of walking and working and hustling. I love my legs.

I love the bit of my trapezius that slopes from my neck into my shoulder. It makes me feel tough and sexy all at once.

And you? Tell us all about the parts you love.

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