After much research (reading of one article from Google Scholar) we have a well rounded, simple, one sentence, extremely clear definition of Positive Body Image (PBI). Truthfully, I love that there is research in this field and I am no PhD student (yet) so I’d like to summarise what I’ve learnt from the big guns and then give you my “lived-experience-no-quantitive-data” based opinion at the end.
Basically (or, not basically) Tylka & Wood-Barcalow use their own and other’s (I can’t list them all) research within the positive body image arena to define what body positivity is and what it is not in the aptly titled article “What is and what is not positive body image? Conceptual foundations and construct definition”. Published in the Body Image Journal, 2015, (BODYIM-713). Please no-one show Notre Dame that referencing. Here is the link if you want to read the 12 pages yourself, otherwise read on for my summary. Again please note these ideas are not my own and come, re-worded, from the article linked above. I like the way they've been able to break down and define seperate parts in what is a very complex construction.
Positive Body Image:
a) is its own construct. It is not located on the same scale as negative body image. As in you don’t have positive body image on one end and negative body image on the other. It is a completely separate entity. So yes, you can be somewhat dissatisfied with certain aspects of your body whilst simultaneously appreciating other parts and respecting it as a whole.
b) is multi-dimensional. The factors outlined in the article include:
- Body Appreciation: Appreciating the features, functionality and health of your body
- Body Acceptance + Love: Accepting your body even if you are not 100% happy with absolutely every single part of it. You can love it for what it does and see its assets rather than its flaws
- Broadly Conceptualising Beauty: Acknowledging that a wide range of appearances can be beautiful is an essential part of this point.
- Adaptive Appearance Investment: Participating in appearance related self care which may focus on the enhancement of natural features whilst not basing self worth on appearance. This one I find particularly interesting in the way they have defined it. I’ll save that discussion for another time.
- Inner Positivity: The connection between positive body image, positive feelings and adaptive behaviours.
- Filtering of Information in a Body Positive Manner: Accepting information that you are exposed to or provided with that are consistent with positive body image and rejecting messages that threaten it.
c) is a complex construct. No kidding! The point that they try and make with this one is that PBI is not just an appearance evaluation alone. Many other internal and external factors are playing a part in it’s construction.
d) is Holistic. As per above. Internal behaviours and external experiences intertwine in the construction of PBI.
e) is both Stable and Malleable. They referenced some great studies for this point if you want to check it out but in my words I describe this as PBI not being “black and white”. They contributed the malleability to the fact that interventions could increase PBI and the stability came from being able to maintain those improvements overtime.
Still with me?! Positive Body Image:
f) is Protective. PBI has been found to be protective of both physical health and psychological wellbeing.
g) is Self Perceived Acceptance from Others. Feeling accepted by those around you aids your PBI.
And finally. Positive Body Image:
h) is Shaped by Social Identities. Understanding that there is no universal or single construct of identity. Knowing that where you grew up, your gender, your age and BMI (side note: not an accurate representation of health but that requires its own blog post) all shape your experience of PBI.
Phew. We made it. Most importantly I love this sentence taken from their summary "PBI will be constructed differently for each individual, given his or her unique constellation of social identities”.
Which brings me to my constellation of social identities. I am a 27 year old, Caucasian, able bodied, heterosexual female, South African born German who has lived in Australia for 20 years. I have no idea what my BMI is because I don’t weigh myself but I have experiences of being both under and over weight based on my normals. I fell into the trap that includes healthy lifestyle and beauty ideal messages and slipped down a steep slope of disordered eating. Reflecting back on this time in my life, I can most certainly apply some of the above criteria and see how I was lacking across almost all multi-dimensional factors and points contributing to what Positive Body Images is. Having come out the other side with appropriate medical attention (I cannot stress the importance of evidence based interventions) I know body positivity is achievable, and actually essential to me living my life to the fullest.
To me, right now, Positive Body Image is building those aforementioned multidimensional factors (numbers 1 - 6).
It's knowing I'm not body positive all the time. That I have insecurities. That I still, on the very odd occasion, compare my body with other's.
It's acknowledging those moments for what they are and then knowing I have the power and the control to change those thoughts. The power to choose the behaviour that follows the thought.
It's not giving a damn about what the next big weight loss diet is. Even when it's disguised as healthy eating or improving my wellbeing or turning me into a unicorn.
It's not caring about my weight or other people's weight or engaging in conversations seeped in weight.
It's caring about my happiness, contentment, relationships and continual growth
It's not resorting to restriction, a diet or using exercise as punishment.
It's eating freely and it's moving kindly.
It's focusing my energy, my thoughts and my behaviours on things completely seperate from my body, or its image or how I feel about it.
It's doing things that terrify and challenge me.
It's speaking out about what I believe in.
It's knowing I am worth more. More than my body. More than my image. More.
That is my ultimate peak of Positive Body Image.
I would love to know what Positive Body Image means for you. Did the research article help you with your definition or leave you more confused?! Can you use each category to seek clarity in what areas you may need to work on to improve your positive body image? Maybe you're really great at broadly conceptualising beauty but no so much at body acceptance? Your discussions/comments/feedback always mean the world and I love getting your insights so come chat over on Instagram or leave your comments below.