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Love Yourself, Love Your Body

Published: 17 May 2019 Tags: By James Harris

The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 (Monday 13 – Sunday 19 May) is Body Image – how we think and feel about our bodies. So how does this relate to the LGBT community?

Body image issues can affect anyone, but it is a particular problem in the LGBT community.

This can be for a variety of reasons – from internalising negative messages from advertising and social media, body shaming on dating apps or the impact of minority stress and discrimination to name a few. For many trans people, body image issues can be exacerbated by years-long struggles to access essential services.

People come in all shapes and sizes, a dazzling testament to the virtue of variety. No single one of us is more or less attractive just because we might not fit a rigid, limited – and boring – definition of beauty.

Concerns about being physically undesirable to a potential partner may be a big reason why many people are insecure about their looks – but is it really worth the self-doubt and anxiety? Meaningful romantic (or even platonic) relationships are only sustainable when built on deeper foundations of compatibility – sexual/physical attraction isn’t everything. As long as we're confident that we are trying to be the best person we can be, personally happy with our appearance/physical health and reconciled with those flaws we cannot and do not need to change, then nothing else matters.

If the definition of ‘desirable’ was conditional on comparison with others, then if you were the only person in existence, literally everything about your body would define the standard for physical appearance. In other words, when struggling with negative body image, how other people look is utterly irrelevant.

Health related physical differences and character shortcomings aside, most flaws we perceive in ourselves are superficial and inconsequential. Whereas we fixate on and over-emphasise specific features, others who know us well enough for their opinion to matter see us as a whole, overall, our personality and physical appearance from all angles included. You only need to be physically attractive (or simply attractive) to the right person capable of appreciating you for who you are. If anyone deems you inadequate because of your appearance, that’s their problem, not yours; we all have different tastes in what kind of people we find physically attractive, but to judge someone’s worth entirely or predominantly on looks will never bring anyone secure, lasting happiness.

In isolation and under scrutiny, certain aspects of ourselves may seem imperfect, but together they fit perfectly, and there is absolutely no need for us to change them unless we choose to do so because it benefits our wellbeing – not because it satisfies the shallow, self-interested expectations of others. Someone who is conventionally good-looking can lack self-love and so appear less attractive, while someone who is not conventionally good-looking can own their physical uniqueness and redefine the definition of beauty through self-acceptance.

It’s good to eat healthily, enjoy exercise and keep ourselves fit, as long as we are doing so for the right reasons and not relying on our looks for acceptance. But whether beautiful within or comfortable in our own skin, it is improvements to the inner and not the outer self that truly makes a difference.