Character & Soul, General, Self-Improvement

The One Thing Missing From The Body Image Conversation – Denise Li

We all want to start loving our bodies as they are, but it’s okay if we don’t love it RIGHT THIS MOMENT, argues Denise. 


The websites I check back regularly on are not short on articles that discuss body image in great detail. These emcompass everything from slideshows showcasing Jennifer Lawrence’s best quotes on the topic, to the celebrating of using real-women in advertising campaigns, right down to rather aggressive campaigns calling for pre-Photoshopped images of Lena Dunham for the recent cover of Vogue.

Whether or not you agree with how the message is conveyed – I’m not so fond of Jezebel’s militant tactics – the message is clear: Women around the world want their societies to stop valuing one body shape and type over others and are calling for acceptance of all body types, regardless of size. And the biggest way for this to happen is if there is more accurate representation of their bodies portrayed in the media.

Perhaps no other feminist issue has galvanised so much support than the body acceptance movement – fat really is a feminist issue. Understandably so. We are all, after all, consumers of pop culture and would in one way or another be influenced and affected by its messages.

While I applaud all the women-focused websites out there for fighting for an issue that’s close to the hearts of so many women, I think there’s one thing that’s missing from the conversation: recognising the fact a change in mindset is each and every woman is going to take time.

I think many of us – myself included – will have “I hate my body” thoughts from time and time. And while it’s great that there is a wealth of articles out there that celebrate accepting your body as it is, I don’t think it’s going to do anyone any good if they were to start second-guessing themselves with thoughts such as, “I am a feminist; a strong, empowered, enlightened woman, so why am I still obsessed with the cellulite on my thighs?”

Think of how many years of conditioning we all underwent as a result of our exposure to pop culture and all of its unhealthy messages promoting thinness and perfection. Change, both in the media and as an attitude within each and everyone of us, is not going to come overnight and I think it’s important to acknowledge that. That’s the reason why I’m against Jezebel promoting a very aggressive brand of “my way or the highway” feminism; instead of promoting conversation, such a militant stance shuts down avenues of discussion, of women talking about the difficulties of transitioning to a more accepting attitudes towards their bodies.

In my early 20s, I was obsessed with losing weight. I weighed myself six times a day, counted calories and spent inordinate amounts of time on self-loathing. I focused on how much better my life would be if I could just lose 5kg. I’ve come very far from that dark period in my life where a focus on my weight was a symptom of the helplessness I felt in other areas of my life, but that doesn’t mean that I am not impervious to those residual “I hate my tummy” thoughts even as I approach my 31st birthday.

The big difference is that I now have a coping strategy. I’ve come to acknowledge that I’ll experience such negative thoughts every now and then no matter how enlightened I consider myself to be. Only now, I don’t let these thoughts suck me into a cesspool of self-hate and negativity.

I take the time to evaluate each and every one of those thoughts, working through them using logic and rationality. “Why am I thinking about my tummy? What can I do about it? Does this matter in the larger scheme of things?”

Then, I’ll turn to my attention to other things in my life that are far more important than the perceived bodily imperfection: “My body may not look like Adriana Lima’s but it’s strong and healthy, and I can throw a mean punch. I love what I do for a living and I never have Monday blues. I have family and friends that care about me and want to see me do well.”

What it all comes down to: Playing down the negative, accentuating the positive.

I’m not saying that this way of thinking will work for every woman grappling with bodily insecurity issues. I’m just saying that it’s important to have a conversation with yourself about it. Examine if it’s really your body that if you have issues with, or if it’s symptomatic of something else in your life that’s not going the way you want or envision.

Despite our best efforts, it can be hard to love our bodies fully 100% of the time, but that shouldn’t make you feel less of a feminist or empowered just because you bemoan “orange-peel thighs” every now and then. Remember: empowerment is all about knowing that you have the power to change things. And giving yourself time and being patient about coming into your own is perhaps one of the best things you can do for yourself.


About the Author: Denise Li is a founder of Material World and a freelance writer-editor. Before that, she spent a few years in the Features section of CLEO and Cosmopolitan Singapore. She considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and makes it a point to head there for a yearly pilgrimage. She’s also a fitness buff and enjoys boxing, running and the occasional yoga session. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLiTweets.

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