The end of December is here, and — if you are anything like me — you have been thinking about your New Year’s Resolution. In the past, I’ve resolved to lose weight, exercise more, take more time to dress up for work, fix my hair more often…. While I might usually start out all gung-ho, these resolutions typically make me feel worse about myself than when I started.
Why? The answer is simple. They brought to the center my insecurities about my body, and, whether I stuck with it or not, I was always thinking about how I would never lose enough weight, do enough exercise, or dress up nice enough.
So this year, I am considering a new kind of resolution, one that doesn’t focus on changing my body to fit an impossible cultural standard. Instead, I resolve to change the way I think about my body. I resolve to be more body positive.
To better understand body positivity, I met with a handful of Bloomington women who have embraced a body-positive personal philosophy and use that to help others through education, understanding, and encouragement.
What is body positivity?
Body positivity is a large umbrella term for many subtypes of body acceptance. Jennifer Lynn Jones, a Ph.D. candidate in film and media studies at Indiana University, who focuses her research on plus-sized Hollywood and fatness in culture and media, defines the body-positive movement as one that “promotes personal appreciation of the body.”
By emphasizing personal appreciation, the movement promotes loving the body you live in, even if it may not fit the standard. Body positivity can include any number of differences, including health, body dysmorphia, gender identity, ability, and body size, which is my current focus.
It’s a philosophy that Samantha McGranahan, owner and photographer of Unveiled, shares and promotes. During her boudoir-style photo shoots, McGranahan tries “to encourage women to pause and celebrate who they are right now, because who they are now deserves to be documented, preserved, and — most of all — celebrated.”
Sometimes body positivity can be misconstrued as narcissistic, especially when the term body positivity becomes synonymous with “self-love.” For right or wrong, self-love has come to connote selfishness, but loving your body is a revolutionary act that doesn’t end with just loving yourself.
“I want people to accept their wounds in order to help others,” says Natasha Komoda, owner and photographer of Femmeography, a therapeutic portraiture service. [Komoda is a contributor to Limestone Post.] “Being body positive is less about self-love; it’s more about accepting both the positives and the negatives of yourself. You can be really helpful to those around you just by healing negative ideas about yourself.”
Before starting this article, I believed that adopting a more body-positive attitude would not only help me feel better about myself, but it would also enable me to help those around me leave behind that self-defeating, negative self-talk. Now I’m more convinced than ever because I have met some amazing women who have used their personal philosophies to create a growing body-positive community in Bloomington.
Harmony Jankowski, a certified yoga instructor, created Community Yoga after talking with friends who wanted to do yoga but felt alienated. “It’s asking too much to ask people to open themselves up to a physical practice in a place where one’s physical appearance and very presence can feel like it’s under scrutiny,” she says.
In Community Yoga, Jankowski creates a body-positive space by focusing on how the body feels and moves, not how it looks. She is careful about her language, avoiding gendered terms and when discussing her students’ bodies. Jankowski also teaches students to trust their own bodies and encourages them to modify yoga poses as they think works best for their bodies. “My classes aren’t about forcing everyone to do the thing I think they should do,” she says. “They’re more about figuring out how to respect themselves and the people around them.”
Komoda created Femmeography to combat unrealistic beauty expectations with images of bodies in motion. As a music and entertainment photographer, she became worn down by the unrealistic beauty expectations that plagued her clients. In creating Femmeography, “I really wanted to do black and white portraits of women,” Komoda says, “no makeup, no hair, no fashion in terms of clothing, and just focusing on movement, personality, and the expression of the person.” In a typical session, Komoda surrounds her clients with music that inspires them to dance and move, all while she is taking pictures.
Komoda’s goal is to give her clients a large selection of real, untouched — not idealized — images. “What I’m trying to prove,” says Komoda, “is that you are a multifaceted person that ranges from beautiful to ugly, to the point that there is no beauty or ugly anymore. You are just you.” Komoda’s therapeutic style of photography allows her clients to confront their reactions to the photos, which ultimately helps them question societal standards they use to judge themselves.
McGranahan also uses photography — boudoir-style photography — to create an emotionally transformative experience for her clients. While most women are initially interested in the boudoir photography as a gift to their significant other, it’s the women themselves who receive the biggest present. Through a day of pampering, styling, and self-expression, Unveiled’s clients come away with a newfound confidence that lives far beyond the photography session.
McGranahan fosters a body-positive atmosphere by shutting down negative self-talk and promoting positive self-talk both in her studio and in her social media: “Whatever is in your head is your reality; that is where you are. I redirect that negative language and help women love who they are right now.” She also offers a safe space for women to reconnect with their inner sex-kitten. She does not prescribe what sexy should mean, but instead empowers them to create their own definition of sexy.
In the realm of fashion, Andy McManis’s body-positive philosophy is inspired by the body negativity she found working in the fashion business. Through her store, Skirt & Satchel, she works to “make people feel comfortable and better in their own bodies.” When customers walk in, a sign reading “You are entering a body-positive space” greets them, and McManis works with clients to eliminate negative self-talk by teaching them the importance of fit over size.
Skirt & Satchel opened its permanent location at Fountain Square Mall on Black Friday of this year. Besides other boutique offerings, such as fashion totes and bags and a variety of small gifts, McManis chooses clothes designers that carry a full range of sizes, up to women’s XXL (22-24), meaning that her boutique is an affirming place where friends of all sizes can enjoy shopping together.
Fostering a more body-positive Bloomington
With the help of these women and others like them, Bloomington is making progress, yet there is still so much we as individuals can do to foster a more body-positive community. We don’t have to establish body-positive businesses or organizations. We can start small.
I am starting with my 2018 New Year’s Resolution: being more body positive. How?
First, recognize the ways in which negative self-talk is seen as normal in our culture. As McManis explains, “It’s such a part of our society that people think that you can’t be confident and say good things about yourself without being cocky, and that’s just not the case. You don’t have to talk badly about your body to feel like you fit in.”
Next, recognize the good things about yourself and your body, or, as Jankowski suggests, people need to “make a commitment to respect, honor, and love their bodies. This involves eliminating expectations for how they ‘should’ look and feel and do, and honoring how they actually look and feel and do.”
Then, say nice things about your body. This is the hardest step. We can all look at ourselves and find a hundred things wrong with the way we look, but sometimes finding one thing we like seems almost impossible. Start small: “I love my eyes” or “I love my hair” or “I love how strong I feel today.” When you allow yourself to compliment your body, it becomes easier and, eventually, almost second nature.
Finally, model body-positive language. By changing the way you talk to your friends, family (including your children), and coworkers, you can foster a more body-positive community.
By resolving to be more body positive in 2018, I am continuing my journey to feel better about who I am right now, every day, and it is a journey I resolve to continue for years to come.