Dancing has always been my most important release. It is also wonderful for my body image. My dance teachers and friends always encouraged me to appreciate my body for what it can do and never for what it looked like.
Because dance has always provided a body-positive environment, I was quite surprised when a friend suddenly began to bash her body at the end of a long, fulfilling dance rehearsal.
“I wish I could just lose a few pounds,” she said, offhandedly, looking in the mirror. “Don’t we all?” encouraged another.
I was shocked, confused, and frustrated. The very women who served as my inspiration for body positivity were criticizing their own bodies in front of me.
In the confusion of the moment, I said nothing, even though I was screaming inside.
“Did you see what you just made your bodies do?” I wish I had said. “The reason you are able to dance is because of how much love you pour into your bodies. They are beautiful, not for what they look like, but because of what they allow you to create in this space.”
“Furthermore,” I said in my imaginary speech, “you are all wonderful, caring, intelligent women. Doesn’t that matter so much more than your reflection in the mirror?”
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For weeks, I kept asking myself, how I could have changed the conversation. I began analyzing why these body-shaming moments happen so regularly and why nobody does anything to change them. In this example, one woman stated a somewhat random, negative comment about her body. Wanting to make her feel better, another joined in. Within just a few seconds, a group of body-positive women were picking apart the bodies that allowed them to move so powerfully.
I believe body-shaming conversations are the result of a domino effect.
When people express negative feelings about their bodies, others feel the need to add their own grievances. We believe by joining in, we are showing our friends they are not alone in feeling poorly about their bodies. In doing so, we are saying body-negativity is the norm. We are saying it is okay to hate our bodies.
It’s time to change these conversations.
When people begin to pick apart their bodies, I’ve found it is quite easy to take control of the situation and encourage body-positivity. Going back to the dance floor, I now see how I could have impacted these women’s perceptions of their bodies.
If speeches aren’t your forte, or if a body-positive rant feels a little “preachy,” here is a list of simple approaches that can change the direction of a conversation:
1. But you’re intelligent, strong, and caring–doesn’t that matter more?
2. Do you think you are comparing yourself to unrealistic ideas of beauty enforced by Eurocentric concepts and mainstream media?
3. Magazines and advertisements are photoshopped. Life isn’t. I love the way you look because you are authentically and unapologetically you.
4. You are an incredible friend, and that’s so much more important.
5. You may feel insecure about your body right now, and I am happy to talk through that with you, but please remember your worth isn’t tied to a scale.
These are only five of infinite possibilities. The most important thing to remember is how easily you can shift the outcome of a conversation.
The goal is to never walk away from a situation wishing you had said something. Every individual can make an important difference, so long as you speak up.
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