How body image and women’s empowerment go hand-in-hand

Women's empowerment is more important now than ever before. A good way to empower yourself is to improve your body confidence. How? Keep reading to find out.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: whenever you see or meet a woman for the first time, you immediately size her up. "Is she taller or shorter than me? Thinner or curvier? Prettier or uglier? What does she have that I don't?"

For a lot of us, these kind of judgements come as naturally as anything else. More often than not, these thoughts invade our daily interactions against our will. Most of us are genuinely good people - we just have this innate tendency to judge others.

What is possibly the worst part about this phenomenon is that, when you judge others, you're simultaneously judging yourself. In modern life, we're constantly surrounded by reflective surfaces - mirrors, phones, computer screens, even windows. Do you find yourself constantly looking at yourself, picking apart your own appearance? 

All of us have things we wish we could change about the way we look. We're often our own worst critics. When we look in the mirror unprepared, when we catch a glimpse of ourselves at the "wrong angle", when we see ourselves in candid photos, sometimes we see an image of ourselves that we find unpleasant at best. In these moments, we think to ourselves: "Is that really me?" 

Body image is an issue that many of us face every day, sometimes without even realizing it. A preoccupation with body image is an integral part of our society, and we're not alone in the US - this is a worldwide phenomenon. The media has been shown to promote negative body image by showing us unrealistic beauty standards. Celebrities, Instagram influencers, and models live different lives than we do - they're able to maintain their extraordinary physiques because that's literally their job. Flattering lighting, strategic angles, and photo editing make everyone look even better than usual. Every day we're inundated with these exaggerated images, even on our social media, which leads to dissatisfaction with our own bodies. Body image issues, or body dissatisfaction, can affect our mental health negatively, even leading to disordered eating in young women and women of all ages. The way you feel about your body, both positive and negative, is called your affective body image. And, as the name would suggest, it affects many aspects of your life.

Many of have engaged, at some point or another, in what's commonly referred to as "fat talk". Fat talk happens when we compare our bodies to others' and disparage ourselves. It starts when you see a photo of a model (or just an average person!) that has what society has deemed to be a "perfect body". When you see these images, you might say, "Why can't I look like her? I wish I were thinner. I wish I had (thighs, a tummy, arms, etc.) like that". 

When you express this discontent aloud, the people around you are sure to follow, echoing your sentiments and adding their own insecurities to the mix. The conversation that ensues between you and your friends might seem innocent enough - what's the harm in sharing your insecurities with others? We all have them, after all. However, studies have shown that fat talk significantly damages our self-image, reinforcing negative perceptions about our bodies and highlighting our insecurities. At the end of one of these conversations, you will probably feel worse about yourself than ever before, which is what makes it so dangerous. Some venting sessions are healthy, but the negativity caused by fat talk causes way more problems than it solves.

Body image and self esteem are directly linked. Girls and women who have negative feelings about their body shape have a high risk of developing low self-esteem, which can hinder their mental wellbeing in more ways than one. Low self-esteem is a contributing factor in depression and anxiety, and it can affect your life negatively in other ways, too. Self-esteem issues and poor body image work together to deplete you (and many others!) of confidence, which can hold you back socially, financially, and emotionally. If you feel down about your appearance, chances are you also feel down about yourself in other ways. It's hard to achieve your goals, live your best life, and enjoy every moment when you're constantly preoccupied with how you look. 

Although some people turn to weight loss and cosmetic surgery to improve their feelings about their bodies, society's recent push towards body positivity has empowered many more to feel good about their natural curves. More and more, people are realizing that a healthy weight can be any weight. Health comes in all shapes and sizes, people are naturally built differently, and our bodies hold onto fat differently. Healthy eating and regular exercise are important to maintaining health, but it's also important to not go to extremes. Try to focus more on how you feel than how you look!

Cultivating a healthy body image directly converts into high self-esteem, which in turn can lead to more opportunities as well as increased health and happiness. The rise of "selfie culture" has led to real women of all shapes and sizes posting photos of themselves on social media, showing off their confidence, their curves, and their truth. Also, more and more companies are choosing to work with models who are closer to the average size (which is roughly a size 16 in the United States, by the way!) This increased focus on realism, instead of a contrived ideal, helps women of every description to see the beauty in themselves and in others. When you see bodies that look more like yours presented in a positive light, it makes you feel good about yourself.

Developing a positive body image empowers women. After all, when you have high self-esteem, you believe that you can accomplish anything and everything (and you're right!) When you have a positive self-image, you can share that positivity with others, creating stronger friendships - and, on a larger scale, stronger communities. Gender inequalities are still prevalent in many aspects of society, but self-confidence lets you become a champion for yourself and others. Also, when you're able to see the best in yourself and others, this gives you the power to band together and uplift each other. A group of strong, powerful women who believe in themselves is a truly unstoppable force of nature. When you lift people up, instead of knocking them down, you'll find that you can achieve literally anything together.

In a way, body confidence can promote gender equality. When you're confident in your appearance, yourself, and your abilities, you feel more capable to lead others, plus you're more likely to be assertive. The ability to be assertive is important for everyone, but especially women in the workplace. When you feel confident, you feel empowered to speak your mind, which helps you get things done. Confidence also helps us defeat impostor syndrome - if we believe in ourselves, we believe in our worth, which is essential for our economic prosperity. When women are in powerful positions, we're more likely to call for changes that directly support ourselves and others. Now is the perfect time to add your voice to the conversation - in fact, it's absolutely imperative that you do. Know your worth and speak up about it. Never be afraid to ask for more!

Women's empowerment has social and economic benefits. Empowered women can create a better life for their families and communities. Achieving gender equality can lead to economic growth by reducing poverty and unemployment rates. Gender equality in the workplace allows women to be independent, and it helps them provide for themselves and their families. In a nuclear family setting, both women and men can benefit from women's economic empowerment, as it takes the pressure off of men to be the sole providers for their families. 

Of course, what empowers some doesn't necessarily empower others. You don't need to have a partner, a family, or even a career to be empowered. It starts with you - if you can find a way to be kinder to yourself and to others, that in itself will give you power. Every step you take to develop a positive image of your own body and appearance will give you an instant boost of confidence. What you do with that confidence is your choice. If you don't want to get married, start a family, or even date, that's up to you! 

At the end of the day, gender equality and women empowerment center around choice. No matter what you want to do with your life, you should be allowed and able to do it. No matter what your goals are, confidence will help you achieve them. Now more than ever, a high number of women are choosing to become executives, managers, officials, and even world leaders! This boost in female leadership has led to immense advances in our rights all over the world. But this path also isn't for everyone - most of us are just average people doing our best, and that's totally fine. Feeling confident and powerful gives us the ability to do literally anything - it trickles down even into the smallest actions we take. No matter what you choose to do with your life, we encourage you to do what you can, whenever you can, to promote equality. Find your power by uplifting yourself and other women, and by letting go of body judgements.

If you're still trying to find your own path, you're not alone. Most of us don't know exactly who we are or what we're trying to do with our limited time on the planet. But a good place to start is to look within yourself and ask:

How can I empower myself and others today?

How can I improve my own body image and my perception of others' bodies?

What can I do to make the world (or even just my community) a better place?

Comment down below to tell us how you empower yourself and others!

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