Expert Insight: Body Appreciation vs. Body Loathing

“Advertising for many commercial goods functions by cultivating our body insecurity or hatred in order to sell products. If we all believed we were attractive as we are, for example, we would have little need for most commercial beauty products. Women in particular are taught that their self-worth is determined by how well they match the cultural standard of beauty.

Most of us therefore feel inadequate and that we can never measure up. And it seems as if advertisers have recently realized that they were so busy exploiting women’s insecurities, they’d forgotten half the population. So now they’re doing their best to make men feel equally horrible about themselves.  Buying into these images doesn’t benefit anyone but the advertisers”.

– Linda Bacon & Lucy Aphramor, “Body Respect”.

A few years ago, when I was facilitating a workshop on emotion-driven overeating, I was talking about not buying into “the cultural standard of beauty” that Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor describe. One of the participants became quite angry and said something like “it’s all very well to say that but this is how the world works”.

Her point was that the pressure – especially on women, but increasingly on men – to be thin and attractive is real and, essentially, we have no choice but to conform. I understand her frustration. I get it. I agree the pressure is very, very real.

But I don’t agree we have to conform.

Not conforming doesn’t mean you give up on yourself – in fact, quite the opposite.

It means you stop beating up your body and begin to appreciate all that it does for you. It means you’re more attuned to its needs. It means you’re more likely to invest in your health and well-being. It means you want to do the very best for your body because you believe it’s of value.

After all, what we value and appreciate we want to look after.

Not conforming to the pressures placed upon us is, therefore, an act of empowerment and self-care.

Personally, it helps me to remember this when my body-shaming inner bully is dripping poison in my ear about how I don’t look “right” or “good enough”. It wants me to loathe my body because it doesn’t measure up.

I remind myself I have a choice.

I choose deliberately and consciously not to conform.

How about you?

©️ Julie de Rohan 2019.



Bacon, L. & Aphramor, L. (2014) “Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight”. Dallas: BenBella Books.


Click here to read a great article about the history of the “ideal woman” by Jaqueline Howard of CNN.  It includes a really wonderful animation by Anna Ginsburg which depicts the ideals imposed on women’s bodies through the ages.  It’s only just over 2½ minutes long and well-worth viewing.

28 thoughts on “Expert Insight: Body Appreciation vs. Body Loathing

  1. Terrific post, Julie. You have hit the nail on the head when you distinguish between a very real pressure that certainly does exist, and the choice as to whether to conform to this pressure or not. By assuming there is no choice, we perpetuate and enable this disturbing way of thinking. It’s bad enough that women’s bodies are viewed so critically but we don’t have to self-sabotage ourselves as well. Lxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re absolutely right that the more we conform the more we perpetuate the pressure to “look right” on women especially. I think because this pressure is so prevalent, it’s hard to believe we have a choice, but we do. Although, I suspect I’ve always been a bit of a non-conformist! Good to hear from you Lol, many thanks for giving us your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My only concern about my weight is due to health issues. My doctor is not happy with my weight as is asking me to reduce it already! What to do? I cannot seem to find the motivation. Though when I do, I manage to reduce my weight.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it’s difficult to do anything if someone else is telling us to do it – we naturally want to act autonomously so the best motivation comes from within us. The book that I took the quote from at the start of the post – “Body Respect – What Conventional Health Books Gets Wrong, Leave Out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight” by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor – has a lot of fascinating and useful information about weight and health (and the medical profession) that you might find of interest. Many thanks for your comment, Sadje.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Exactly what Julie said! The motivation must come from within (internal motivation). All of my goals are driven by internal motivation and I’m very goal-driven in life. I have to want to do it for myself otherwise it’s not going to stick long-term. All the doctors in the world could tell me what to do but it’s external motivation, not internal motivation.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. My body insecurities are worse when I’m scrolling through social media and see all of these women with flat washboard stomachs. I’m a loose size 5 (American size chart) and a small person, but I’m skinny-fat meaning that I have a lot of abdominal fat and high fat % overall. People tell me they envy my size and yet I loathe how I look! We can never seem to be happy no matter what size we are.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Hilary, I think comparing ourselves to others – especially people on social media – only leads to unhappiness as, inevitably, it gives our inner critic a chance to give us a hard time about our appearance. Social media is difficult to avoid, though! I’m sorry to hear you loathe how you look, that’s such a shame. Although I still struggle at times, life is much more peaceful when I’m appreciative of and grateful to my body. Thank you so much for sharing your experience, I’m sure many people can relate to it.


  4. Great post! Back in my twenties, I stopped wearing make-up – motivated by a feminist book and by the big chunk of my budget I was spending on it – and no one at my work knew what to do with me. It was assumed that all women’s faces had to be painted in order to be acceptable, and here I was, being comfortable with my own skin. What I realized was, I stopped looking at my face and assessing if I’d made it up it right or not, I actually stopped paying much attention to my face at all. Now … years later, I still struggle to apply that same thinking to my body at times. Thank you for the reminder 🙂
    ps Now many women at my work don’t wear make-up, and I think/hope those who do are doing it because they love it, not because society tells them to.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So great to hear your experience, Karen, thank you for sharing it. I actually really enjoy wearing make-up, I think of it as part of how I express myself, in the same way I do the clothes I choose to wear. But for you I can hear it was a truly liberating experience to give it up and helped you to feel more at ease with yourself – fantastic! It’s interesting as you say that it’s difficult to feel the same way about your body sometimes – I know many of my clients often feel OK about their faces and will happily look in a small mirror, but then struggle to feel OK with their bodies (future blog post perhaps?!). Thank you for your comment, I really appreciate your contribution to the conversation.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I read once a sentence “what if women suddenly woke up and they love their-selves and their bodies and the way they look, then how many industries will close for good?” So your post reminded me of this sentence that I always think about and it’s so true! The problem that it’s getting worse day after day and the mission is harder for us to not compare and to love ourselves, but eventually this is the only decision we should take: improve as much as we can, but love ourselves just the way we are! We don’t have another choice otherwise we will be miserable! Imagine, you open Instagram, you see all these athlete bodies, perfect shapes, perfect clothes, perfect life ….and then you compare! It’s a non-sense and torture! We should know we’re all unique as fingerprints are and genes are different for each one and live with that which is not easy but it’s the only way.
    Thank you for sharing 🙂 Have a good day!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more, Huguette – comparing ourselves to others on social media is like “torture” and the only choice we can make is not to conform to the pressure to be perfect otherwise, as you say, we’ll be miserable. As you rightly point out, it doesn’t mean we give up on ourselves and changes can be made if the desire to improve comes from within us, not as a response to outside influences. I love the quote at the beginning of your comment – thank you for sharing it and for your thoughtful words. I hope you have a good day too!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I absolutely agree, both that we don’t have to conform, and that by breaking the need to adhere to these idealistic expectations we are actually practising self-care. By empowering ourselves as individuals I think we can form part of a new collective, a new wave of social thought – one that says every body is a good body, and that there are no goals or rules to follow or aim for; that there’s no shame, only appreciation, love and acceptance of ourselves and others. This is a kick-bum post, Julie! xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “A new collective, a new wave of social thought” – I love this idea. You’ve put that so beautifully, Caz – “no shame, only appreciation, love and acceptance”. Thank you for this and, I have to say, “kick-bum post” is officially my new favourite phrase.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Another quality post Julie – l find the whole conformity thing somewhat comical, l am sure you know that anyway. Having worked in the advertising field for many years – it could become quite maddening when clients would constantly request so called ‘ideal and perfect body weights’ to use with their products which for a time l worked within the fashion industry – a real culprit next to beauty.

    I still find it highly frustrating about the whole social agenda concerning perfect body weights and mostly because there is no such thing, everyone is different, there is not really even a universal body weight size, style whatever – because everyone is different. i used to piss off clients because l would say things like “Well what happens when Mr xx of xx of xxx buys your product which he can still wear? Mr xx isn’t your so called ideal body style, and yet you don’t advertise to the joe Bloggs of this world, why not, when the majority are those who are not super triple A bodies – so how about this, why don’t you NOT use Triple A bodies and use real bodies like real people – you know like the bigger percentage who buy from you?”

    Clients never listened, they were going on some ridiculous hyper statistics produced by some high class fashion agency that were not realistic.

    Recently in the process of updating my entire wardrobe l have found that fashion advertising is a hell of a culprit for portraying bullshit -idealistic bodies. I know why they are doing it, but it doesn’t make it right in 2019 anymore than it wasn’t right in 1989, 99, 09.

    The moment clients and by this l mean a realistic and healthier percentage of closer to 100% and not just around 22% start to take on board realistic bodies weights and size and start realising that they are causing so many problems for themselves and normal folks is the day that they will start to earn more respect from people.

    I am not a large person, l never have been but l am getting older and with age, whether you like it or not your body changes, as in your real body changes. I was looking at NEXT fashion and thinking here we are years from 1989 and you guys have still not changed your advertsing policies of not using real people.

    It’s not people who need to conform, it’s retailers and advertisers who need to realise that everyone has a different body to the next person and in order to feel comfortable with themselves, they do not need to feel pressured and overwhelmed by the so called ideal body.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Rory, sorry for the delayed response – I just stumbled across your comment in my spam folder! Thanks for giving us your thoughts on this. While there does seem to be some change in advertising to include body diversity, I agree it’s not enough and more needs to be done. You’re absolutely right when you say we don’t need to feel pressured and overwhelmed by the “so-called ideal body” – it’s just so unhelpful and causes so many issues with eating and body issues. Great to hear from you, Rory, many thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Pleasure Julie – we need to start showing real people, because it’s real people that live in the world and not ideal artificial ones 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.