My question is: how do I introduce the bopo concept to a friend who is suffering from low self-esteem and body issues in a sensitive way, without insulting her or hurting her feelings? I think she could really benefit from learning about body positivity but I'm just not sure how to bring it up without sounding preachy or intrusive. Any thoughts?
A little while ago I went into a school to give a talk on body positivity, and after I was done a few of the girls came to talk to me afterwards. One by one they all said the same thing, that they'd been keeping all of their body image pain inside and not even talking to each other about it. Because sharing that pain just felt like something they weren't supposed to do.
We've been lead to believe that talking about our body image issues is somehow shameful or embarrassing, even with our friends. That shame is rooted in lifetimes of being told that our bodies are wrong and that wrongness is on us. It's our fault. It's our responsibility to fix. We're the problem. And even if we see our friend's bodies as wonderful and worthy of love, we still see our own as the worst of the worst and convince ourselves that they wouldn't possibly understand. Better to keep quiet and blame ourselves.
When body hatred is such an isolating experience, it makes sense that it feels alien to bring your friend into the idea of body positivity. Which is why I think the most important thing that you can do is to work at creating a completely safe zone within the friendship to talk non-judgementally about bodies. Letting them know that they really can tell you anything, that you won't judge, and that you promise they're not alone in how they feel about themselves. That way you can explore healing from that pain together, once it's out in the open and no longer being carried around as a shameful secret.
That's the kind of thing that will probably take time and effort to build up in any friendship, so here's a few things that could help get them more comfortable talking about body image and introduce them to bopo:
1. Open up discussions when you notice them putting themselves down or slipping into diet culture. If your friend calls themselves fat, for example, instead of going with your first instinct of saying something like 'no you're not, you're perfect' (which reinforces that fatness is wrong), try 'have you ever thought about why our culture sees that as such a bad thing?'.
If you hear them making morality based food judgements like saying how 'bad' they are for wanting dessert or shaming their appetite, ask them if they've ever wondered where these ideas come from, why we're taught to feel so guilty about our hunger when it's the most natural instinct we have?
When you're watching TV or see ads when you're together that are clearly photoshopped, non-inclusive of marginalised bodies, or based in diet culture, point them out and critique them together. By opening up conversations rather than making single comments that shut the topic down, it'll feel more like you're exploring these issues together.
2. Send them resources! Pass on books, send them links to articles, tag them on posts - I've seen so many people tag their friends on mine with a comment like 'Never thought about it this way! Thought you might find this interesting!' and the friend has never responded in a negative way.
3. Check your own self talk and how you're talking about other's. Make sure you're saying plenty of positive things about yourself, whether that's 'can we notice how soft and cute my tummy looks in this outfit?' or 'I did xyz at the weekend and I'm just really thankful my body let me do that y'know?'. Show them what food freedom and body acceptance can look like without judging them for not being there yet. And point out the beauty in other people when you're together as well, especially types of beauty we've been trained out of noticing because it doesn't fit our societal ideal.
4. Look out for activities you can do together! Depending on where you are you might be able to find feminist art exhibitions, life drawing classes, body positive yoga or dance class, workshops or talks at universities, or screenings of documentaries like Embrace or Fattitude.
Keep being patient, and keep being an example, keep talking.
Love & bopo,