Embrace Appreciation, Embrace Empowerment

A friend of mine shared a video on my Facebook page the other day. It was a movie trailer for the film, Embrace. The filmmaker, Taryn Brumfitt, had been running into challenges marketing her film, so she took to social media to spread the word.

Good for her – You Go Girl!!

I truly support her message and her project. There are women suffering from body shame and hatred. (Her film trailer claims that 91% of women hate their bodies.) We do need to heal and transform this pain. And hopefully, her film will be a conversation starter (à la Happy Calories Don’t Count). However, any body image movement – no matter how popular or awesome – will likely have little lasting impact if we don’t also cultivate and teach the necessary media literacy, critical thinking, and self-empowerment skills to support it. (To be fair, this might be part of her plan. I haven’t met her and haven’t seen the entire film – only the movie trailer.)

Women are in pain over our bodies. This is true. But we also play a very significant role in creating and perpetuating that pain. When we learn to identify how we contribute to our own dysfunction, we can employ mindsets, skills and tools to bring us peace and self-esteem regardless of our current shape or size.

One of the most insidious body shame inducing habits we fall into is comparison. We compare ourselves to the images we see in the media. We compare ourselves to other women. We compare ourselves to the bodies we had 10 years ago. We’re constantly looking outside of ourselves for value and assessing ourselves – and our bodies – to determine whether we are “better than” or “less than.” And all this comparing creates a great deal of pain and anxiety.

I understand that body comparing can be a hard habit to break. And this is where we can employ specific actions, mindsets, skills and tools to help us overcome these self-defeating patterns of behavior.

The simplest actions we can take are to quit looking at the magazines and to quit staring at ourselves in full-length mirrors. Until we’ve developed the mental and emotional musculature to break the comparison habit, there is no shame in avoiding these triggers. It is a very practical, smart, self-esteem saving practice.

When it comes to the magazines – which seem to be everywhere – it’s important that we don’t project blame. Don’t blame the media or marketers, don’t blame the model, and don’t blame Photoshop. Blame perpetuates a very weak and disempowered position.

Empowerment comes from recognizing that the purpose of the magazine cover – complete with its model and headlines – is to sell the magazine. And the purpose of the magazine ads is to sell the products being advertised. We need to understand that the magazine covers – and the ads – are created by teams of highly skilled marketers and graphic artists. These teams work to specifically create an emotional response in us about a need (that we may or may not actually have), which the magazine articles and other advertised products or services promise to fill.

And this isn’t, by definition, a bad thing. Advertising is part of our economic infrastructure and empowerment doesn’t come from fighting it. Empowerment comes from recognizing it and understanding the “game.” Then, we can choose to play it (or not) on our terms. We can keep our sense of self-esteem and self-worth intact – regardless of whether or not we choose to pick up a magazine and/or purchase any of the products or services it contains. And, once we understand it, we may even be able to appreciate the game. (Some of those ads really are quite clever and that cover art is quite beautiful!)

Empowerment also comes from understanding the purpose of those expertly styled, highly coiffed and made-up, Photoshopped models. The models are simply another prop in the art layout designed to sell the given product or service. When we understand that all the images we see in the media have been strategically created by teams of highly skilled artists, we can disengage our emotional triggers. And then we can appreciate the aesthetic beauty of the image as the work of art it truly is. And when we really stop and think about it, why would we compare ourselves to a piece of art?

Now for those other women… We become empowered when we shift from a habit of comparison to one of appreciation. To appreciate another’s beauty does not diminish your own. (When a rose and an orchid are side by side, is one more perfect than the other?)

And again, I know that comparison habit can be hard to break. So let me give you some wisdom from nearly 20 years in a Pilates studio. Our body’s shape and size is not merely determined by things we can control. Our physical appearance is also determined by things over which we have no control (for better or for worse). Yes, we are responsible for our actions – we are responsible for our dietary, exercise and sleeping habits and choices. But we cannot change our skeletal structure or how our joints are built.

So if we feel a twinge of envy when we see a beautiful woman, it is helpful to remember that her beauty and her body are not things she can take credit for personally. They are not a result of any particular virtue on her part. She may indeed make efforts toward her weight and her appearance – and this is not to diminish any effort she does put forth. It’s simply to say that she is building on the framework she was given. We each have specific frameworks we were given – and there’s nothing any of us can do to change that. From this perspective, it is a bit easier to let the fear, anxiety and comparison go and learn to appreciate the beauty of the woman before us. And when we practice seeing the beauty in others, we can begin to see the beauty in ourselves.

Then there are the mirrors… Yes. They really are magical. Mirrors are magical because they do not reflect physical reality. They reflect our state of mind. And they reflect what we are looking for… If we approach a mirror looking for that emerging wrinkle, roll, or blemish – if we are looking for condemnation – we will surely find it. And if we approach the mirror seeking wisdom, grace and beauty – we will find that.

These are just a few of the many skills and tools we can utilize to transform our pain and dysfunction. These are skills we can develop for ourselves and skills we can teach our children.

According to the trailer for Embrace, 91% of us have a tremendous opportunity. We have the opportunity for self-transformation and actualization. When we employ media and marketing literacy skills, critical thinking skills, and self-empowerment skills, we can release the pain and the shame to create a body and a life we love!