Why We’re Looking At Body Positivity All Wrong

Flickr / Helga Weber
Flickr / Helga Weber

I hate my body. I have an unflattering beer belly (not from beer, probably from pizza), massive boobs that are too big for my short frame (although boys don’t seem to mind this one), and extra weight in my cheeks, giving me the permanent appearance of post-wisdom teeth extraction chipmunk-face. I am sad and self-conscious about every possible body flaw, but I often think to myself, “If I really commit to working out and lose 10 pounds, I’ll finally be happy.” This was until recently when I had a discovery that completely changed my mind.

While visiting one of my best friends I had a breakthrough. Sara is extremely fit. She works out every day with her boyfriend (I don’t work out or have a boyfriend, so she is already winning by +1000 imaginary points), eats healthy without starving herself and overall looks really good. I thought to myself, “It’s not like she’s a bodybuilder, so this should be attainable… If I can get myself to be as fit as Sara I’ll be really happy!” I wholeheartedly believed this sentiment until I heard her utter something like, “Ugh, I need to be more skinny. I still have a few pounds left to lose.” How could someone so fit and healthy and beautiful think that?!!!! That’s when it hit me- our society is looking at body positivity completely wrong.

I came across a TedTalk by Shawn Achor called “The Happy Secret To Better Work.” This video pretty much changed my life. As a young adult who struggles with body image (and reads every editorial that pops up on my Facebook including buzzwords like “body positivity” linked with anything “Amy Schumer” or “Lena Dunham”-related) I found Achor’s video to be extremely relatable, educational and surprisingly hysterical.

“Happiness leads to success.”

For every empowering article by a plus-sized model or tear-inducing Dove Self-Esteem Project video out there, there is one missing piece of insight that could be the final push for this body positivity revolution: the reversal of the hedonic treadmill. What the eff is a hedonic treadmill? Well, even though we’re talking about fitness it’s not actually a treadmill… Instead, it is a theory that suggests that, “As a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness.” It’s the idea that we’re never reaching any level of lasting happiness because we’re too focused on resetting our next goal, and the study of it is gaining serious momentum in the field of positive psychology. This can easily be applied to the current body image downfall; something that everyone and their sister are suffering from.

We are all quick to blame mass media for ruining body image, and while they certainly have created false ideals of beauty, what if another part of the problem is the way our brains are wired (AKA it’s not oooooonly Gisele Bundchen’s fault that I feel like a troll instead of an angel)? The hedonic treadmill theory would tell us that as soon as we reach our goal weight, we reset the goal immediately- never taking time to celebrate the achievement and, therefore, never reaching true happiness. However, I may be an exception to this rule because I think any workout deserves to be celebrated with a cupcake. Or two. Basically both our brains and our society have tricked us into continuous goal setting that leaves no room for happiness! Well that is just messed up. Additionally, the hedonic treadmill theory explains that our traditional view is to assume that success determines our happiness. For example, “When I lose enough weight to get rid of my chipmunk cheeks then I will be happy.” The study of positive psychology and the hedonic treadmill tell us that this just isn’t right (unfortunately for my cheeks).

Instead, scientists and positive psychologists want us to have a new view and it’s revolutionary! Happiness leads to success. We had it backwards all along. “Happiness can boost our intelligence, creativity, and energy. Happiness increases your productivity (by 31 percent).” This notion doesn’t even sound that outlandish – happiness leads to success! Achor gives five proven techniques that are said to “rewire” your brain for happiness if done for 21 days. In the TedTalk video, Achor gives further explanations about why each of these practices are important. The techniques are:

  • Write down three things you’re grateful for
  • Journal about one positive experience
  • Exercise
  • Meditate
  • Participate in random acts of kindness

What if these five steps, a different outlook on success and happiness, and love for our bodies was the key we were missing to make body positivity a full-blown revolution?! I am ready to feel happy with my body and I know I am not the only one. If I took all the energy I spend hating my physical appearance and channeled it into doing positive things for others and myself, science tells me that I am that much more likely to achieve success. So here is Day 1 out of 21, on the road to body positivity and lots and lots of happiness:

  • I’m grateful for catching up with an old friend today, making plans to spend my weekend at the beach, and I guuuueeess my boobs because like I mentioned earlier… the guys are okay with them.
  • Today I signed up for a yoga class that sounded terrifying and ended up being amazing. Even though half the time I felt and looked like a pretzel, I left the class feeling rejuvenated and extremely proud of myself for trying something new!
  • Does yoga count? Just kidding, I’m going to Planet Fitness after work J
  • Ohmmmmm…
  • I didn’t see any random old ladies in need of help crossing the street, so instead I visited my grandma at her nursing home and absolutely made her day.

After all this, I feel happier and healthier already (kinda, it’s only day 1- give me a break)! So cheers to a new outlook on success and happiness and the road to body loving positivity! TC mark

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