The topics of food and dieting often come up in conversations, but what do you actually think about your body? Let the Body Language Dictionary empower you with the words to express yourself.
With fad diets and body-shaming ads bombarding us on the daily, talking openly about our own bodies – apart from saying “I need to go on a diet” – is more difficult than ever. To help empower you with the words to engage in conversations about food and body with confidence and curiosity, Steph Ng and her team at Body Banter has come up with the Body Language Dictionary, an online resource that explains and examines terms commonly used in discussions about body image. Reevaluate your perceptions of food and body by exploring the 10 concepts below.
The Body Language Dictionary by Body Banter
1. Body image
Definition: how the visual image of yourself affects the way you think, feel, and act.
What might “body image” mean to people?
- “I’m restricting my food intake, because I don’t feel confident about the way my body looks on a given day”
- “I wear clothes that fit comfortably, so that I can feel more confident about myself!”
2. Body acceptance
Definition: accepting one’s body regardless of you not being completely satisfied with it. “Acceptance” includes the process of reflecting on why you feel negatively towards your body, and how you can find peace with your body without needing to change it.
How can we apply body acceptance to our daily lives?
- Focus on things you like about yourself
“I love my humorous personality! It helps me connect with loved ones.”
- Challenge unrealistic expectations and pressures
“I know that the photos people post on social media are just ‘highlights’ of their lives. We all have on- and off-days.”
- Remember that we can care for our bodies even if we don’t love them!
“I’m going to eat enough, even though I’m having a bad body image day.”
3. Body positivity
Definition: appreciating the unique features of one’s body, including the aspects that are inconsistent with societal beauty standards. “Body positivity” emphasises feeling comfortable and confident in your own skin, and believing that you don’t need to change your physical appearance to be loved.
How can we attempt body positivity in our daily lives?
- Learn to love and accept your body despite media messages telling you that it needs to change
“I am beautiful no matter what other people say.”
- Question existing beauty standards and recognise that beauty doesn’t just apply to one particular body type
“I will rock this top no matter what!”
- Be aware of information that encourages a critical approach to your body
“I eat what I want, when I want.”
4. Body neutrality
Definition: finding a balance between positive and negative attitudes toward our bodies; accepting that we may not love and celebrate our body everyday, but that we can still feel grateful to live in it, such as appreciating our bodies for how they help us participate in activities we love.
How can we apply body neutrality to our daily lives?
- Pay attention to how movement makes you feel
“I like to exercise because it makes my body feel energised.”
- Practise gratitude
“My stomach digests food and provides sufficient energy for me to keep going.”
- Reframing your lifestyle choices removed from the influence of diet culture
“I want to eat this salad, because I like how it tastes.”
5. Body shame
Definition: to take a critical approach to someone or to yourself, based on the shape, size, or appearance of one’s body.
Real-life examples of body shaming
- “I feel like I won’t be able to find a partner, because my body is not as attractive as someone else’s.”
- “I was told that I should stop swimming, because otherwise my shoulders will be ‘too broad for a girl’.”
How can we address body shaming in our lives?
- Listen to your inner voice with curiosity
Body shame often manifests as a critical inner voice (e.g. “you’re not good enough”). When we hear this critical voice, we often respond by hiding, rather than hearing what it has to say. Pausing in our fear can be scary and uncomfortable, but it is also often in this space that we are able to confront the feelings and needs which require our attention.
- Walk away from body shaming conversations
Instead of getting into an argument with someone who body-shamed you, react with kindness. For example, you can say, “Thank you for your concern. For now, I’m trying to focus on loving myself and being positive about my body. I’d appreciate it if you don’t say things like this in the future.” Don’t argue further and allow yourself to walk away from the conversation.
6. Body dissatisfaction
Definition: persistent negative thoughts and feelings about one’s body.
Real-life examples of body dissatisfaction
- When I feel that photos taken of me are not “flattering”
- Looking in the mirror for prolonged periods of time and feeling critical of what I see
How can we cope with body dissatisfaction?
- Talk to yourself like how you would to a friend
When we feel dissatisfied with our bodies, we may be unnecessarily harsh to ourselves. Sometimes, imagining that we are talking to a friend going through the same thing can help us practice self-compassion.
- Reflect on the practice of weighing yourself
If your weight makes you feel insecure or anxious, reconsider why you are weighing yourself and what function it serves in your life. Remember that your weight does not determine your worth.
7. Bodily autonomy
Definition: the principle that everyone, regardless of their gender, sexuality, and physical condition, should be able to make informed decisions about their body, health, and wellbeing without violence or coercion by someone else.
Examples of bodily autonomy
- Choosing how you dress and express yourself, because your body is your own
- Choosing who and how you love, including aspects of your sexual health and relationships
- Making informed decisions related to your health and wellbeing, such as whether or not you have children
8. Diet culture
Definition: the idea that being thin is more important than one’s physical and psychological wellbeing. It also links food to morality, like labelling foods as “good” or “bad”.
How diet culture manifests in our daily lives
- “I see so many diet products on social media that claim to help shed weight fast!”
- “I often think ‘I just ate so much… I gotta go to the gym to burn off those calories’.”
Detecting diet culture: Features to look out for and questions to ask yourself
Does this content compare different body types, foods, or forms of exercise, and state that some are “better” than others?
- Use of moral vocabulary
Does this content use words like “good”, “bad”, “clean”, or “dirty” to describe food? Does this content indicate that you have “succeeded” or “failed” based on what you eat, how you exercise, or how your body looks?
- Promotes control and compensation
Does this content promote rigid rules surrounding eating and exercising, such as “controlling” food intake and “burning off calories”? Does it make you feel guilty, ashamed, or scared?
9. Size diversity
Definition: each person’s genetic inheritance contributes differently to their bone structure, body size, shape, and weight. A body can be healthy across a wide range of weights, and the beauty of all body shapes should be celebrated.
Real-life examples of size diversity
Many fashion brands have been embracing size diversity by incorporating more models of various sizes on the runway, such as Ester Manas, Christian Siriano, and Kendal Karaduman for iMaxTree
Everyday reminders to yourself regarding size diversity
- If we all ate the same thing and did the same amount of exercise for an entire year, in the end, every body would still look different. Yet, we are all still beautiful!
- Your “ideal” body weight is the weight that allows you to feel strong and energetic, and lets you lead a healthy, normal life.
- Support your body in its naturally appropriate weight. You can find this by honouring its signals of hunger, fullness, and appetite.
- Humans come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Be open to the beauty across the spectrum and support others in recognising their unique attractiveness.
10. Weight stigma
Definition: discrimination or stereotypes based on a person’s weight. Weight stigma can increase body dissatisfaction, a leading risk factor in the development of eating disorders, substance abuse, depression, and other mood disorders.
How weight stigma manifest in our daily lives
Attention given to weight control has skyrocketed in recent years, ingraining words like “BMI”, “obesity epidemic”, and “diet” into our vocabulary. Victims of weight stigma often encounter weight-based teasing, diet talk, and extreme weight control suggestions. Real-life examples include:
- “I got shamed by a sales, because she thinks I am too ‘curvy’ for a sports bra top.”
- “My coach asked me to go on a diet for a ‘better BMI’. I can only consume chicken breast this week…”
Everyday reminders to challenge weight stigma
- Actively challenge weight stigma rather than continuing to blame individuals for their sizes.
Ask yourself: Am I making assumptions about someone’s intelligence, character, health, or lifestyle based solely based on their weight? Am I comfortable socialising and working with people of any weight? Am I sensitive to the needs and concerns of individuals of different weights?
- Give compliments that are NOT weight-related
Examples include: “You’re intelligent.”; “You matter a lot to me.”; “I love your creativity.”; “You have amazing taste!”; “You are so kind”; and more.