“The last thing I want to do right now is get into a bathing suit,” one of my friends said the other day. “I’m not feeling so good right now with all this.” Her hand gesture outlined her shape. How many times have we all said these same kinds of things, or felt the same.
We’ll always have good days and bad days, but what if how we communicate with ourselves about our bodies affects how we see them?
Thinking on the topic I knew I had to reach out to the fabulous body image and eating disorder activist Melissa A. Fabello.
See the interview below!
1) When did you realize the way you talked to yourself about your body could have been a factor in how you viewed your body?
For me, all of my realizations came crashing down at once. It wasn’t a slow process; it was that suddenly, I had to face a reality that I hadn’t even actually considered. And I had to unpack it all together. My own personal relationship with my body had been relatively healthy up until my early twenties – and although I certainly had qualms about it sometimes, it wasn’t something that I thought much about at all.
I was confident, happy, and self-assured. It wasn’t until an emotionally abusive relationship spurred an eating disorder later in my life that I started to struggle with my body beyond the occasional bad day. But I’ve noticed in recovery that the way that I think and talk to myself (and sometimes even others) about my body is directly related to how I’m understanding and seeing it. Some days are good, and some aren’t. But when my self-talk is one way, so is my perception of my body.
2) Do you think there is always a time we can start communicating with ourselves differently about our bodies? Or do you think that there’s so much baggage we have that we can’t learn to see ourselves differently?
I think that we absolutely can learn to see ourselves differently, but I also think that that’s a never-ending journey. There’s no end point where we’re suddenly overjoyed with ourselves and never look back. And I think that one of the major issues with the body positivity movement as a whole is that it packages us this idea that one day, we can accept and love our bodies as they are. I think a more realistic goal is to feel acceptance toward our bodies most of the time.
I think we put ourselves in a worse position, actually, when we try to push ourselves to feel unconditional love for ourselves every single day. Because then on top of having a bad body image day, we also get down on ourselves for not being the pinnacle of feminist, body-positive existence.
And I think that we can start that journey whenever we want to. I don’t think there’s ever a time when it’s too late and not worth the fight. Because even if I were to die a week from now, I’d still want my last week to be one in which I’m comfortable in my skin. Life is too short – regardless of how long – to spend at war with ourselves. And I think that moving toward a healthier, happier relationships with ourselves is important, no matter where in life we are.
3) What do you most appreciate about your body and why?
I appreciate that my body finds a way to keep working to the best of its ability, no matter what I put it through. I appreciate that it has innate wisdom that I can (and should) choose to listen to. I appreciate that it carries me through this world. I appreciate that it’s there for me, no matter what. I may be working on loving my body unconditionally, but what’s amazing is that my body is already loving me unconditionally. It puts up with my bullshit and catches me when I fall – every single time.
4) What are ways people can start feeling good about their bodies?
I think that we need to reassess what we think we understand about bodies, especially our own. I think that we need to tear apart everything we’ve been taught to believe and then rebuild our understanding with more nuanced, honest, and loving truths. I think that’s the first step.
But I also think that we need to treat our relationships with our bodies as just that – relationships. They need to be nourished and nurtured. They take a lot of active communication. There needs to be a bond there, and if it’s not yet, then we need to build it. And I think we can learn a lot from how we think through romantic relationships and apply them to our relationships to ourselves.
5) How long did it take you to feel good in your body? Or is it a daily practice? If it’s a daily practice what are some rituals you have around your body?
It’s definitely a daily practice – and I think that’s true for everyone, not just myself. Like I said, I don’t think that we wake up one day, and the work is done, and we can go on for the rest of our lives never having another negative thought or feeling about our body. I think that conceptualizing body acceptance as something that eventually finishes is damaging.
Every single day, I have to wake up and assess how I feel in my body. I try to work out how I feel in it, rather than about it: “How did I sleep last night? Are there parts of my body that are sore that I can stretch out? Did I have enough water yesterday? How is my body handling the fact that I ate cheesecake for dinner last night?” And then I go from there, giving my body what it’s asking for.
There are practices that I try to keep part of my daily life – like drinking 64 ounces of water (I almost always only get to 40 or 50) and doing something for my physical fitness (stretching or walking or strength training) – but I also have to remember not to obsess over them. Rituals are hard in that way when you’re in eating disorder recovery because most of the time, they’re harmless, but they can become really dangerous. So it’s important to keep that in check.
But mostly, I just try to make sure that I’m surrounding myself with body acceptance discourse in all aspects of my life – from what shows up on my social media feeds to the people that I spend my time with. And that helps me reframe my thoughts when they start to wander awry.
6) Do you have a go to phrase or motto that gets you seeing yourself differently if you’ve noticed you’re in your head?
I have a note on my bedroom mirror that says “You Are Enough,” and I think that’s such a potent and powerful message in a world that constantly teaches us that we’re not. I think it’s important for us to take our messaging away from the body – not to use phrases like “You’re Beautiful No Matter What,” for example – because it reinforces the notion that we need to look a certain way (even if it’s a broad word like “beautiful”) in order to feel at peace with ourselves. And I think we need more reminders that whatever we are right now is enough.
7) Answer a question you know people want answered.
A lot of people ask me where to start. And I think that’s a very personal question. We all have to start somewhere different because our relationships with ourselves are so different. But I think the secret is that if we’re already asking where to start, we’ve found it. I think folks need to give themselves more credit. If you’re already in a place where you’re questioning the messages you get around your body, then you’re here. You’ve started. Welcome to the journey. Hold on tight.
Melissa A. Fabello is a sexuality educator, body image and eating disorder activist, and media literacy vlogger based out of Philadelphia. She currently works as a Managing Editor of Everyday Feminism and is a PhD candidate in Human Sexuality Studies. Follow her on Twitter @fyeahmfabello.