My best friend and I were total “Gleeks” in middle school. Glee was the first show I remember watching that featured significant diversity. Even in the pilot episode, the original members of the main show choir covered a lot of bases, including religion, size, race, ability, and sexuality.
As I rewatch the series with friends, I am noticing many lines and themes that I hadn’t picked up on before. One problem is apparent from beginning to end: while diverse, the show fails to separate the personalities and development arcs of its characters from their outward appearance.
Standards and conditions of beauty seep out of all forms of media, and have for centuries. Paintings, literature, and petty gossip have all allowed men and women alike to elevate certain qualities, which often pushes to the margins those who fall short of these qualifications.
Our over-exposure to the entertainment industry through social and digital media is negatively impacting many people’s self-confidence and mental health. It can be exhausting watching popular videos where you don’t feel accurately represented. No one wants to be an outcast or be on the low end of a hierarchical society, but it can be easy to feel that way when you are constantly exposed to unrealistic standards of beauty that you will never have a chance at reaching due to genetics, skin color, medical conditions, or other personal inherent factors.
We know that our self-worth comes from a different place than our outward appearance. But when so much of society and present-day conversations revolve around a popular culture that assigns value on body image alone, it can be tough to remind yourself of that truth, or to feel like it’s real.
We can’t control what other people think, let alone the values of our entertainment industry. But each of us does have control over our own thoughts and beliefs. Here are a few small changes you can make in your daily life to try to be more body-inclusive — in other words, more capable of seeing past people’s outward differences.
1. Follow more diverse bodies on social media.
A very small percentage of the world’s population is responsible for our social beauty standards. Only a handful of individuals working in the media industry have enough power to decide what trends are in and out each year. These people control who will be cast in the next primetime network sitcom or who will model a new line of high-end underwear. Most of what you see in the entertainment world is controlled by these executives. But the one branch of entertainment they have no stake in is social media.
You alone control your timeline. No one else has a say in who you follow or what posts you like. So, why not use Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter as tools for self-empowerment? For years, I only allowed myself to follow friends, family, and celebrities. These accounts never challenged my way of thinking; they never pushed me to grow or expand my expectations.
As I went through college, I slowly began adding new friends to my feed and I was simultaneously pushed to see things from different perspectives. Now, once every three months, I force myself to go on a following cleanse; purging out accounts that make me question my worth and replacing them with inspirational pages run by bloggers and nonprofits.
Over time, this has helped me empathize with those who look different from me while also connecting with others who experience similar insecurities. It is easily one of the quickest changes you can make that will have a big impact on the stream of information and images that reach you daily.
2. Give more personality-based compliments.
Giving authentic compliments to someone you love is one of the best feelings in the world. It’s usually an easy way to make someone smile. But did you know that commenting on someone’s body or physical appearance can actually be a trigger for many men and women, even if it’s positive?
It’s a good thing avoiding appearance-based compliments is so easy! In focusing your attention on their personality, you are showing the receiver that you see them for who they are, not what they look like. This weakens the age-old precedent that other people’s opinions of how we look significantly matters, and allows people to feel more comfortable dressing for themselves and not for others.
Obviously, saying something positive about someone’s new hairstyle isn’t a bad thing to do, but by limiting these types of comments and leaning more into each other’s talents, we can start making the world a more inclusive place for everyone, regardless of inherent physical attributes.
3. Educate yourself on the body positivity movement.
This movement is much bigger than I originally thought. For many, body positivity stems far beyond weight and size alone. Though showing more realistic body proportions in media is admirable, taking it a step further to highlight racial and cultural disparities opens up a deeper conversation — one that many body-positivity activists are trying to have with those who are willing to listen.
By reading literature, watching videos, or subscribing to blogs created by these activists, you can quickly learn about the history of this movement and why it is so vital to so many different social discussions. Chances are good that your perceptions will shift to mirror the empowerment you’ll take in, further giving you the ability to see yourself and others on a level deeper than outward presentations.
4. Work to rewire how you think about yourself.
Pinpointing your own shortcomings is usually pretty easy — many of us remind ourselves of our failings every day. Finding something you actually like and appreciate about yourself — now that’s a real challenge.
The way in which we talk to and think about ourselves says a lot about how we think about others and the world around us. Truthfully, until you find love in your heart for yourself, empathizing and being a beacon of body inclusion for others just isn’t possible. So take time to really get to know and fall in love with yourself for the person you were created to be — believe it or not, you are good because God created you in His own image. Perfection isn’t necessary, but kindness and openness are.
5. Preach what you practice.
Yes, this is a backwards rendition of the age-old cliche that you’ve heard since birth, but assuming you’re going to implement steps one through four, this step is vital for sustainability. If you try to change your perspective, but still use divisive, degrading, or appearance-obsessed language in your daily life, then you’ve not really changed anything at all. Even if you’re just jumping into other people’s conversations and going along with what they’re saying, you’re doing yourself (and others) a disservice.
Standing up for what you need from your friends and family is not a bad thing. In fact, I would consider it a sign of deep respect for your inner circle. After all, opening up about your insecurities and ways that you’re attempting to better yourself puts you in a vulnerable position. The best way to handle this, especially if these individuals do contribute to your negative thought cycles, is to be completely honest and specific about ways they can support you on your journey. With a clear and calm presentation, the discussion should be amicable and provide a chance for both parties involved to form a deeper relationship with one another.
At the end of the day, body inclusion is beneficial to everyone, even those who fall into society’s accepted molds of beauty. Developing your interior life by critically examining the assumptions you hold can only lead to authenticity and growth. And widening the circle of what’s valued as beautiful and good recognizes everyone’s inherent dignity.