Talking about self-love and body positivity is important, but actually succeeding at embodying it, especially in a culture that still values thin, cellulite-free (virtually impossible) bodies, is the real challenge. Deleterious messages about women's bodies continue to come at us from every direction, whether it's social media trolls leaving cruel comments, fake friends saying passive-aggressive things in real life, or self-hatred emerging from within. Gaining the confidence to overcome internal and external negativity is the ultimate goal, but it doesn't happen overnight. It takes intention, tools, and constant practice and maintenance to get there.
Self-image is something every Byrdie editor struggles with, so in an effort to help work through it, we decided to reach out to a few women who seem to be doing a really good job at finding and utilizing those confidence-boosting tools. We got in touch with 11 body-positive advocates who talk about their self-love journeys on the internet every day, expertly fighting off both online and real-life haters in the process, and asked them to share their best advice.
A writer named Hannah Brencher once said, "The best gift you are ever going to give someone [is] the permission to feel safe in their own skin." Consider this list of stories and secrets from 11 body-positive advocates that permission, granted.
1. Understand that negativity is a result of insecurity.
"Whenever I've received any negativity, [I remind myself] it always is a reflection on that person's character, not on mine. It is so easy to tear somebody down in this social media age because you hide behind a screen, but it shows a true test of character when you choose to encourage and support those around you. My biggest tip would be to try and place yourself in that person's shoes because a lot of negativity truly comes from a place of hurt. When somebody doesn't feel 100% about themselves, it is hard to witness people around them who exhibit that confidence and self-love, so many times, the negative comments come from a place of jealousy and lack of self-love. I try to encourage those who breed that negativity to see how they feel when they comment something positive instead. Best advice my mom gave me was if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. I want to further this by saying that if you don't have anything nice to say, don't just not say anything but also try and see why that negativity is happening. We, especially as women, need to raise each other up and not tear each other down." — Kelsey Rose Weber, model
2. Don't be afraid to block online bullies.
"I think the best way to silence haters is to not hear them in the first place. … I'm fortunate enough to not get a lot of hate, and when I do I just block them. I'm all about surrounding myself with positive energy so if someone threatens that, I have to block them or cut communication. I'm not going to go through life believing every opinion I hear." — Bubbles Zitumane, lifestyle blogger
3. Become the role model you didn't have.
"I was born with a disability—just one hand—so my mission is to educate all on disability and change beauty standards within the industry. I also happened to have competed at Miss America in 2014, so I take this whole changing the idea of beauty very seriously.
"I have always been a very active person, and I have always wanted to prove my level of capability to the people around me. So in high school, I kept my (very awkward) self busy. I was on the diving team, speech team, band, jazz band, show choir, and dance team. My high school dance team was full of 'cool girls.' Most of them were much more sexually aware and … socially aware than I was at the time. … I spent hours on buses riding to competitions with my team, and it was on these bus rides that my physical appearance really come into focus. The girls on my team decided the end of my left arm looked like, well, a penis. … The decision was made that my arm would forever after always be called 'penis arm.' Yes, I am serious.
"Socially, these girls were my lifeline. They were the girls who taught me how to date, taught me how to do my makeup correctly, and were my ticket into any cool high school event I might try to attend. But, of course, my entire being hated that my difference was gaining attention in a very inappropriate way. I didn't know how to stop it. I just wanted to be liked, but I knew that these girls were talking about my body in a way that was not edifying. It hurt. It was embarrassing. I felt trapped. I wanted these girls to like me and to be my friend, but I also wanted them to respect my difference and not make fun of it.
"The way I dealt with it with it was by simply going along with their giggles. I didn't have a community of people around me that made me feel good about being different. That is the voice I now hope to be for the girls who are now in high school and looking for support and help when questioning the difference and value in their bodies." — Nicole G. Kelly, public speaker and activist
4. Know that your worth and your weight are in no way connected.
"Haters are people who still haven't found and learned to love themselves, and when you finally know your worth, no one can ever tell you you're not good for anything just because of your weight. Do things that fulfill your heart because when you are happy, negativity can't bother you." — Jia Achacruz, makeup artist
5. Accept that not everyone is going to like you, and let those people go.
"Being a plus-size model in the [modeling] industry, there are always going to be people that judge you, and I accept that. So I don't waste my energy on the attention they want. Those kinds of individuals, do seek a specific kind of attention when judging or criticizing. … I just note in my mind that whatever they are criticizing me about, they are really angry at themselves. It's an insecurity, so I forgive you." — Fabiana Bergara, model
6. Focus on what you are grateful for.
"Wake up in gratitude. Fall completely in love with everything you get to nourish, protect, and contribute to the world. Evil spirits come in different forms. Stay the course and be fearless in the pursuit of you." — Chae Pollard, health and lifestyle influencer
7. Try a self-affirmation (and say it out loud).
"Mirror affirmations work like magic! Pick a phrase and use it as needed. … [Here's one]: Loving my body every step of the way, changes and all, flaws and all, please don't let anyone tell you that you are not beautiful because you are." — Adeola Adebamowo, model and lifestyle blogger
8. Be your own hypewoman.
"I remember the day I finally recognized that the biggest hater on my body was, well, me. I was looking through an album of photos taken at Crossfit competition I did, and I noticed that one woman had nice, defined arms. Then I realized the woman was me. And the second I did, it was like a switch flipped in my brain. I started to eviscerate the photo, thinking that my stomach wasn't flat enough and my thighs were too big and that I looked gross. That was really a wake-up moment because I realized how truly negative I could be about my own body. Since that day, I've made a point to be nicer to my body, whether it's to thank it for being healthy and allowing me to do things that I love, or looking in the mirror and giving myself a compliment. It sounds a little silly, but sometimes you've gotta be your own hypewoman. It's definitely an ongoing process—I still have days where I struggle with my self-confidence—but we all deserve to be treated better, and reminding myself of that has been incredibly helpful." — Allie Flinn, beauty and health writer
9. Get a hate-word blocker for your social media accounts.
"I am mostly surrounded by very supportive people and have not experienced much hate in real life. Social media, as well all know, is a very different story. Hiding behind a computer screen enables people to say things they wouldn't normally say to your face. The way that I solved this issue on my own account is by blocking keywords from my comments. Anytime I got a comment with an abusive or inappropriate word, I added it to the list. This is the best option for me because I don't even see the hate so therefore it doesn't affect me or disrupt my peace.
"When I see hate on other people's posts, I adopt the philosophy of 'don't feed the trolls.' These people are looking for a fight and want to start social media drama. What I've opted to do instead is find someone who might need some encouragement and comment back to them. This is especially helpful on posts with lots of comments. There's always someone out there that needs encouragement, and it's much more fulfilling to give someone some positivity than to engage in an argument with a stranger." — Tracy Griffith, plus-size body-positive advocate
10. Surround yourself with images of real bodies, not fake airbrushed ones.
"When I was 19, I started as a bra fitter at a popular shop in NYC. Up to that point the only bodies I'd seen were perfectly airbrushed in magazines. In my first week as a bra fitter, I saw real bodies for the first time. I saw supermodels, moms of four, pregnant women, elderly, young, after breast cancer, in transition, you name it! It taught me that every kind of body is beautiful, and none are airbrushed and perfect. I found a new appreciation for my able, healthy, beautiful body.
"Before starting as a bra fitter and seeing real human bodies up close and in person, I was hiding my body in shame—like not wearing shorts for seven years because of my pale skin, cellulite, and stretch marks. I also realized that I was talking to my body with such mean words and impossible expectations. I started speaking kinder to it, asking it what it needed, listening to it, and generally treating it like a friend. It was through that process that I started wearing shorts again and learning to love my body part by part. Now I travel the world and take photos in my underwear! And I've always kept a commitment to not airbrushing any of those images because I want people to know that real bodies are beautiful bodies. … If you are just starting a loving relationship with your body, be patient. Just like any other relationship, it takes time to repair, build trust, and grow a true connection." — Kimmay Caldwell, bra fitter and coach
11. Remember that happiness is the best revenge.
"My secret for silencing haters is simple: Just live my best life as I see fit in my body as it is right now. You can't argue with happiness. But sometimes that doesn't work on the trolls who insist on calling me names like fat cow, disgusting pig, landwhale and of course accuse me of 'promoting obesity' as a fat feminist activist. For them, I just block and delete heavy-handedly, as they are a waste of my activist energy." — Amy Pence-Brown, artist, writer, and body-image activist