Your Mask First

I get lots of questions from parents asking how to help their kids have a positive body image and high self-esteem, and I get questions from people asking about how to help friend with body image and food issues.

I keep thinking of the flight attendants and their pre-flight safety speech – “put on your oxygen mask before you help your travel companion with theirs”.  Because if you can’t breathe, you’re not in a position to help anyone else.

I think it’s the same with self-esteem and body image issues,  and I think that there are two really good places to start:

Realize what’s happening

I think that the way to combat the subconscious programming that happens when hundreds of thousands of images are coming at us all the time is with intentional consciousness. For me it was about becoming very clear that this standard of beauty is arbitrary and that the people who are pushing it are generally using it to make me feel bad about myself as a way to convince me to buy their product.  I think it was my brilliant friend CJ Legare who I first heard put it this way:  They are trying to take our self-esteem from us and sell it back at a profit.  Just say know – know that horrible body image isn’t an accident, it’s the result of a highly profitable marketing campaign.  Know that the machine that oppresses us runs on our time and money and energy and so we can make it stop by taking away the fuel.

End Negative Body Talk Starting with Our Own Mouths

We can just stop.  Stop engaging in negative body talk of any kind – whether it’s overt (“she’s way too thin, she needs to eat a sandwich”, “at that weight she’s obviously not healthy”) or subtle and said as if it’s a compliment (“She has the perfect body… We hate her…”, “you lost weight- you look so good…”) We can choose never to put someone else down to make us feel better: Even if they’ll never know,  it still usually ends up effecting us negatively in the end.   Whether you are a  thin person who wants to create a body positive world, or a fat person who wants to live by the golden body rule, and not by the rule that the road to self-esteem is paved with blatant hypocrisy, or somewhere in between, may I suggest that talking badly about someone else’s body is just never the way to go.

While we are at it,   we can notice how we deal with our own bodies.  When we reject a culture of self-hate and put on our own body love mask first, we let other people know that loving their bodies is an option.  On the other side of the coin, every time we choose to talk out loud about how we hate this or that about our bodies (“I love my body, I just don’t like my…”), we add to the cacophony of body hate that already exists and we model body hate to other people, especially any young people who are listening. In talks that I give I’ve spoken to middle school girls who have told me that they’ve never, in their lives, met an adult  woman who wasn’t trying to lose weight, and that terrifies me for their prospects of them ever loving their bodies.  We can do better for ourselves and our kids.  If you’re struggling with how to say nice things about your body, try this!

There is one way that our metaphor of the flight mask breaks down:  On a flight we really can help someone put on their mask.  When it comes to body positivity it’s not so simple – we can give the option, and then people will make a choice for themselves. If we chose body positivity, then we show everyone around us that Body Positivity is an option that they can chose. If we put our own mask on first, then the person beside us may decide to put on theirs or they might not.  That’ s not our choice to make.  What’s important is that either way, we’re breathing.

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11 thoughts on “Your Mask First

  1. “know that horrible body image isn’t an accident, it’s the result of a highly profitable marketing campaign” – 110% agree! That’s part of what’s so frustrating about it! Thanks for this post.

  2. Reblogged this on Sly Fawkes and commented:
    Know that horrible body image is not an accident, it is the result of a highly profitable marketing campaign.
    Exactly–and one that has been destroying lives for decades.
    Sometimes I’m surprised that swallowing tapeworm eggs was outlawed. Maybe its because tapeworms are overtly icky. Some of these weight loss schemes are hardly safer.

  3. I am so glad I found your blog, Ragen. I have just recently realized how much the negative body talk constantly surrounding us has infiltrated my consciousness over the years and how much inward-directed anger I have been carrying around as a result. I feel like I am just waking up. Thank you for helping me to see there are other options and setting me on the path to learning to love my body for the amazing partner that it is.

  4. I’ve been trying to keep myself aware of negative body talk that I have been doing and I’m doing better. I also realize that there’s alot of ‘automatic’ negative body thoughts that pop up as I go through my day and I have to stifle them. Not all of them are about me… talk about becoming aware of my own biases.. sheesh. At home, I’ve asked that we not have negative body talk and especially no dieting/weight loss/food policing talk over meals. I’ve become the target of my daughter’s angst and venom when I refuse to buy in or participate in her own dialog of body shaming and negative food talk. She gets pissed that I won’t help her loose weight. She accuses me of making it hard for her to keep weight off becuase of the foods I purchase for the household. I know all the come-backs… it isn’t like she’s being held at gunpoint and made to eat ice cream… but she’s trying to unload her personal lack of willpower onto us.. that we should do without becuase she can’t resist things. I cry BULLSHIT on that. She didin’t pay for it and it wasn’t bought ‘for her’, so she should just leave it alone if she doesn’t want to eat it. My gods, by her arguement, she should be forgiven shoplifting and theft off other people’s plates becuase she can’t resist taking yummy foods.

    Getting off my soapbox now… thanks for the venue to vent.

  5. I went to a social event a few weekends ago and found myself in the middle of a pack of women who were all rolling their eyes and moaning about their shame about their bodies, their averageness at the gym, and their general dissatisfaction with everything about their physical appearance.

    I looked at my particular friend in the group who was standing across from me, looked her right in the eyes, and heard myself saying, “Seriously? We’re all gorgeous. Can we speak more positively about our bodies? All I hear right now is criticism and negativity and I don’t want to be a part of it.”

    All of the women looked at me, sort of stunned. And one of them, a trainer at a gym, stood up straighter and said, “You’re right – there are so many things to love about our bodies.”

    I wanted to tell this story because part of this really resonated with me; that your point about ENDING BODY NEGATIVITY TALK WITH OUR OWN MOUTHS is SO TRUE!! One comment, one moment, and we can wake ourselves up from our habit of self-criticism.

    I felt so proud and so awkward at the same time in the moment of speaking, as if I had disrupted something – I guess I had. And I’m happy I did.

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