Is your body positive selfie empowering?

I have become increasingly immersed in the body positivity community over the past year.

I started to get interested in following Instagram and YouTube personalities who promote happiness at any size and self-love — I think it’s utterly fantastic.

I believe we do need to expand the reductive definition of what is beautiful, but having said that, do we, from a feminist perspective, need to stop objectifying our bodies regardless of how proud we are of them?

I stumbled across a fantastic podcast by Lindsay Kite, Ph.D. that covers this topic beautifully.  Kite and her twin sister, Lexie, are the founders of the organization Beauty Redefined and her podcast  “Empowerment in the selfie age – an interview with Lindsay Kite” is a must hear for anybody out there looking for a different perspective on body positivity, sexuality, and feminism.

Photo: www.beautyredefined.org

There’s no doubt that body positive social media posts spark very divided conversations, but nonetheless, they are important conversations to have.

Lindsay Kite explains on her podcast a belief which is that many women who post nude and lingerie selfie photos online may help them ultimately they feel like they “have to show their body to prove that they value their body — to show that other people’s bodies are acceptable.”

Kite also contends that self-objectification –  the obsession with what our bodies look like inside our minds – is the thing that is hurting us.

That self-objectification is, in fact, the thing that is reinforcing our body shame.

She further explains:

We need to be very critical about what is being labeled “empowering.”  This culture that we’re living in will give women “power” for showing their bodies.  It will give them money, followers, likes, magazine photo shoots, and fame — women who have risen to extreme fame because of the way they present their bodies online.  You can see how that feels like empowerment — and a lot of people think that’s true.  However, from a feminist perspective … that “power” can be taken away as quickly as it’s given, because it is being determined by a culture that only values women’s bodies as objects.  

-Lindsay Kite

What exactly does empowering mean?

As defined by Merriam-Webster, to empower means to promote self-actualization or influence.  

Interesting.

Influence is the power to change or affect someone or something.

And the definition of self-actualization is the process of fully developing and using one’s abilities.

So really empowerment is the promotion of the process of using one’s abilities and power to change or affect someone or something.  

I don’t believe that showing bodies in and of itself is a bad thing.

If bodies are a form of our consumption, then, yes,  I think all bodies have a right to be promoted and seen.  

But, this often becomes a ‘chicken and egg’ conversation.

If it’s the obsession of what our bodies look like inside our minds that hurt our self-image, then it is most certainly stemming from the influence of bodies seen day in and day out in the media.

To that effect, are women showcasing these selfies for body diversity the best chance we have at a silver lining of capitalism, patriarchy, and exploitation?

Kite suggests before you post an image as a statement of feminist empowerment that you ask the following important question:

Who determines your power?  If it’s coming from the outside, it’s probably not real.  Showing and sharing bodies online isn’t ever going to get us there.  You’re still pre-occupied with your looks, and you’re still feeding off external validation.

So, the important question:  what does empowerment look like?

Being able to accomplish what you want to achieve and having self-efficacy brings empowerment …most women are not happy with themselves and judging and defining themselves based on what they think other people think about them.”  

The bottom line:  We have to set goals for ourselves that yield actual feelings of accomplishments outside of what other people see when they look at us.

My last question is this:  Is there a way that external validation can encourage internal validation in a healthy manner?

I say there’s nothing wrong with feeling happy and comfortable with yourself nor is there anything wrong with posting photos on social media.

The central questions of this post are strictly these:

1.  Are pictures of nude and semi-nude female bodies at any size just a continuation of the general objectification of women?

2.  How, as women, can we create a shift away from external validation to create lasting feminist empowerment and ultimately reject the notion that what a body looks likes should ever matter in the first place?

Is your body positive selfie empowering?

Please listen to this podcast; it is a 40-minute conversation worth having.

To learn more about Beauty Redefined, you can visit Lindsay and Lexie Kite’s website www.beautyredefined.org to find out more about body image “resilience.”

How do you feel about the body positive selfie movement?  What’s your take on “empowerment”?  What does it mean to you?

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Finding self-compassion through the mirror of discontent

self-compassion through the mirror of discontent

As an American living abroad during last year’s presidential election, I couldn’t help but feel frustration with the state of things back home.

To say things appear to be toxic and divisive would be an understatement.

It seems like everywhere you turn, people are at odds with each other about everything.

“You lost, get over it.”

“Things are going to change, get over it.”

Before I became a coach, I used to be one of those folks who walked around thinking, “just get over it.”

However, these days it is my belief, and the belief of many great scholars, thinkers, and leaders before me that love and compassion are necessities for living an honest and substantial life.

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about the importance of seeing past the not-that-big-of-a-deal in everything and recognize that my privilege has a better use; for building up the people what have less privilege than myself, who need it most.

And the truth is; I couldn’t do this without being more loving and compassionate to myself.

Self-compassion is something with which the majority of us struggle.

It’s much easier to beat ourselves up about our perceived failures or prop ourselves up for our perceived strengths while comparing ourselves to the failures and strengths of the other people than it is, to be honest with ourselves.

When we evaluate ourselves so critically, it doesn’t just stay with us.

When we are critical of ourselves, we tend to be less kind to others in turn.  I’ve worked with clients who pick apart other people’s lifestyles, partners, and appearances simply because of how they feel about their own.

And we all have done this, and it is not helpful, because as the saying goes, “What Sally says about Jane says more about Sally than it does about Jane.”

In other words,  we only end up burning ourselves by thinking and saying cruel and overly critical things.

It is not entirely our fault.  Sometimes, our human default setting is not to reassure ourselves we’ve done the best we can.

Sometimes, our default setting is to scrutinize others as harshly as we would ourselves.

When I say the “mirror of discontent” I mean that everything we look to as a source of providing us with feedback about ourselves.

finding-self-compassion-through-the-mirror-of-discontent

I see this especially on social media over and over again.  And I’ve fallen victim to it myself.  Say you’re having a bad day and are frustrated with your life, all it takes is a scroll through Instagram or Facebook to watch the highlight reels of other people’s lives to set us off into critical mode.

But you know what?  Most of what you see on people’s social media accounts is (at least) slightly fictional.  I have worked with individuals who show how great their relationship or career is online and then tell me things are hanging by a thread in real life.

Our perception of other people’s lives doesn’t obligate us to beat ourselves up for not having the same story as they do any more than it does to judge them for living differently than us.

And truthfully, most people are not very transparent about their true selves, and it keeps them from being able to show their vulnerability.  If you’re as big of a fan of Brene Brown as I am, then you know what the cost of hiding shame and vulnerability is.

Success is not having an expensive car, high paying job, significant other, or  1% body fat.

Failure is not the absence of those things either.

Success and failure are just feedback, and they are what make us more resilient.

In fact, your resilience is far greater than you give yourself credit.  Just stop and think about all of the things you’ve been through in your life – hell, this month alone.  I assure you that you have picked yourself up and dusted off more times than you even realise.

But what if you could be more aware of your resilience?  What if you could comfort and console yourself along the way?

Being kind to yourself, when you need it most, is a necessity, in fact, it is part of what being human is.

As Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the world of self-compassion states: there are three main components to self-compassion — self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.  It is part of the human experience to feel vulnerable and to experience failure or disappointment, but what we don’t need when this happens is to be our worst enemy.  It is our moral imperative to build a healthy self-support system and realise that we all feel discontent and we all struggle.

Self-compassion will enable us to be less critical of ourselves and others and further develop our resilient spirit.

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As a coach and personal trainer, I encounter various forms of personal motivation when it comes to fitness.

Some people want to be fit enough to run a half-marathon because it is something they have always wanted to do.

Some people have specific health concerns and are advised to start a fitness regimen.

And then some people come to me looking to “make their ex significant other regret the day they broke up with them” by getting a “revenge body.”

Any tabloid magazine, on any given week, will post a story about the “revenge body” of a celebrity who is going through relationship woes or bad times.

In fact, right now, Khloe Kardashian is getting paid a bunch of money on her new E! show aptly titled, Revenge Body with Khloe Kardashian to assist people in obtaining an excellent form, and I’m not the only person who thinks this show is bad news.

I have a policy that I won’t work with individuals with body revenge goals.

Instead, I ask clients to focus on the power of a growth mindset; to have them take their desire for revenge and turn it into an exercise in self-compassion and forgiveness.

Why a revenge body is  bad motivation

Simply put, working towards a revenge body infringes upon your innate ability to embrace healing.

Kevin Carlsmith, in a 2008 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, discussed that by seeking revenge we inflate the event or issue to a level of obsession, where it’s no longer something that can be “laughed about later.”

You’re willing to sacrifice your well-being to seek punishment towards somebody else.

When a client comes to me with a goal not based in self-care, my concern is that the individual runs the risk of possible long-term consequences.

I am not making this claim based on speculation. I once sought out to change my physical appearance after being called fat. Before it was a buzzword (I’m aging myself here), when I was fifteen years old, I started a revenge body diet and exercise regimen, and it turned into a fifteen year battle with bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating disorder.

We see this scenario all of the time in the movies.  An individual gets rejected and, soon after, their mission is to rise from the ashes and make this person regret their decision to abandon or hurt them.  So, they falsely believe the best way to go about this is to become more physically desirable.

But what tends to happen in the end for our protagonists? They realize that they do not need nor desire to change for that person, and in sacrificing so much to ‘improve’ themselves, they understand that the individual wasn’t worthy of their affection and, ultimately, they are the better off without them.

Why do these characters finally realize, within a 90-minute time frame, that they need to accept who they are and be okay with it?

Because revenge inevitably brings us down to the level of the very thing we are fighting and compromises our integrity.

As humans, one of our most compelling traits is our ability to forgive ourselves and others.

So, when we apply our actions with the intentions of proving our worth or getting one over on others, we keep the pain associated with it alive and well.

why-a-revenge-body-is-bad-motivation

We cannot heal and grow to our full potential if we are doing things for the benefit of needing to prove our worth to others.

For this reason, when I meet a new client now, and it is clear that they are in a vulnerable and transitional point in their life, I ask them to reassess what is upsetting them and the areas of their life they should focus on strengthening.

There are not many things that we as humans have control over in our lives.

Revenge dieting and bodies, as well as the entire concept of improvement based on outside justification and approval, limits what control you do have over your present and future well-being.

 

It’s not the events of our lives that shape us, but our beliefs as to what those events mean.

-Tony Robbins

We cannot control how people treat us or the decisions they make about who we are.

That’s on them.

However, we can control how we respond to things and grow from the experience.

Breakups, for the most part, tend to be multi-dimensional events and, upon reflection, there is much more to their demise than how our partners feel about our bodies.

So my advice is this:   Focus on living the best life possible on your terms because you’ll be living well and if it still matters enough, living well truly is the best “revenge”.

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What Is Your Comfort Zone Costing You

Let’s talk a bit more in depth about the correlation between what you’re struggling with and how that struggle is SERVING your basic needs.

Yes, your STRUGGLE is meeting your needs and that’s why you can’t (or won’t) let go of it.

Let’s take a  look at my own struggles with anxiety and bulimia.

How my struggles (bulimia and anxiety) met my needs

  • My bulimia and anxiety were consistent and comfortable.  
  • My bulimia and anxiety provided me with numerous additional problems that left me distracted and kept me busy trying to fix everybody else around me, whilst totally ignoring my own issues.
  • My bulimia and anxiety made me feel significant! Hooray!  I had to contend with something emotionally, mentally and physically challenging, and believe me, everybody knew it.  All day.  
  • My bulimia and anxiety made me feel connected.  When you’re not well, people pay attention to you.  When you’re not well, people worry about you.  Attention and worry made me feel connected to myself as well. 
  • My bulimia and anxiety helped me to grow.  Or at least, I thought those problems helped me grow,  The truth is, I was pedalling like crazy, but not getting anywhere.  I was Sisyphus and these struggles were my rock.   

My struggles felt safe to me because my needs were being met and they gave me a sense of purpose and focus. I was in my comfort zone.

What Is Your Comfort Zone Costing You?

We’ve examined some ways in which my struggles with anxiety and bulimia were meeting my needs but let’s now take a look at the expense those needs being met had on my overall well being.

That quote, from the awe-inspiring Brene Brown, really sums up what I’m about to say.  As many of us know (perhaps just deep down rather than readily-available) is this:

  1. Comfort promotes stagnancy.
  2. Stagnancy prohibits change.
  3. Change is necessary to overcome adversity.

Consequently, our adversity cannot be overcome while we’re in a state of comfort.

Don’t believe the previous statement to be true?  Let’s say you’re someone like me, who has struggled with bulimia.

Bulimia is certainly an uncomfortable disease physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.  However, even with all of the ways bulimia is uncomfortable, it can also provide a tremendous amount of comfort:

  • Certainty — it’s consistent and reliable — in other words, it’s a crutch.
  • Significance — it’s challenging — in other words, it keeps creating drama to deflect attention from bigger issues.
  • Connection — it provides attention and sympathy — in other words, it creates a “dysfunctional” identity.
  • “Growth” — I placed this word in quotations because it provides coping mechanisms — in other words, it provides ways to allow for adaption without any solution. 

This is the same across many, many struggles.  If what you’re struggling with is a crutch, deflects attention from bigger issues, creates a dysfunctional identity, or enables you to adapt your struggle to your day-to-day life without any solution in sight, it’s costing you.  

No matter how big or small your struggle is, you can be sure of one thing:   It is keeping you from living the life you deserve.

I believe when Brene Brown says, “You can choose courage or you can choose comfort, but you cannot have both,”  she is talking about stepping away from how our struggles are meeting our needs and costing us our dreams, relationships and so much more.  She is talking about embracing our struggles in a way which challenges our comfort zones so that we can find the courage to live a life where our needs are met in productive and progressive ways.

Questions that evoke lasting change

I wish I could say that beyond identifying your struggle and coming to terms with how it’s meeting your needs, it would be easy to make the changes you need to.

Nothing worthwhile comes easily, does it?

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t helpful ways to move forward, however.  There are four important questions you can ask yourself and when you answer them with total honesty, I believe, you can get yourself through whatever it is that has been challenging you.

  1. If your struggle disappeared, what would you want next for yourself?  Dig deep.
  2. If this problem belonged to someone you care about, what would you be willing and determined to do to solve it? We often sacrifice our own happiness for others, but if we’ve been sacrificing it for ourselves all along, it’s harder to know how far we will push ourselves.  Give yourself that same effort!
  3. If this problem is impeding your courage, how uncomfortable are you willing to become in order to make your next move?  Make a list of all of the things you have wanted to do that your struggle has kept you from doing and give yourself 30 days to take on one of those things.  Document your discomfort or talk about it with someone you trust, but whatever you do, work through it and get it done!
  4. Who else’s life could be improved by seeing you happy, healthy, and making progress?  Those who love us cannot live without suffering while we suffer.  Think of how you can improve your relationships whilst you improve yourself.  Remember, we are all connected in this universe and our actions affect everything (and everyone) we touch.

I’m not suggesting that there may have never been anything positive to come out of the challenges you have faced. Just think about something you have come out to the other side from in your life already.  We all have the power to cultivate a life with meaning and purpose, and in order to do that, we have to be equipped with the right amount of insight and compassion.

Do you know how you’re going to approach your struggles?  Do you believe we cannot have both courage and comfort?  Has this helped you identify an area (or areas) in your life that you want to improve upon?

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how you can overcome emotional eating

We’ve all been there. You get some bad news, a parking ticket or have a fight with a friend or family member, and what’s the first thing you want to do? If you’re like me, some days hit the snack aisle.

What is emotional eating?

Emotional eating is the consumption of food — usually “comfort” food or junk foods — in response to feelings in place of actual hunger. Feelings caused by emotions formulated to make us believe that food can bring us comfort.

Why you often want to eat the worst foods when you have an emotional eating episode

According to one study, there are various biological factors which link mood, food intake, and brain signaling that trigger the peripheral and central nervous systems as we eat. In more simplistic terms, when you take that first bite out of a piece of cake, your body releases dopamine, which stimulates the area of your brain that tells you that you feel pleasure.

Where’s the harm in seeking comfort in food?

All you want is to feel better, so if that piece of candy or cake makes you feel better, what’s the problem? The problem is that it likely doesn’t stop at one piece, and once you’ve finished swallowing that food your remorse can kicks in, and you feel more powerless than before.

Do you suffer from emotional eating?

The first step to overcoming your emotional eating habit is to admit that you have it. If you think you have an emotional issue with eating, you can complete an assessment, like this one from Psychology Today or seek the help of a professional. A few indications that you may be suffering from emotional eating include:

  • You eat when you’re not hungry or “unconsciously”.
  • You use food as your top source of pleasure.
  • You have a toxic relationship with your body image.

I think I am an emotional eater. What are some ways I can overcome my emotional eating?

Unfortunately, there is no magic pill or solution to stop your emotional eating cycles. The only way to actively stop emotional eating is first to be aware of it, and second, find other ways to manage your reaction to triggering situations. Here are a few of the ways you can manage your emotional eating.

  1. Confide in someone you can trust who can help during times of stress and anxiety
  2. Find ways to reward yourself that have nothing to do with eating. Evaluate other things in your life that bring you pleasure and turn to those in times of need.
  3. Be present and allow yourself to feel. Since feelings such as boredom, anxiety, and sadness trigger some emotional eating episodes, allow yourself to process emotions thoroughly before turning to an external solution

When you become aware of your triggers, you can then seek out a better plan of action to stop feeling helpless and start your healing process going forward.

If you are struggling with emotional eating, you will want to check out my free eBook “How To Digest (And Still Save Room For Sanity!)”

This post was originally featured on Huffington Post.

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