LittleDove | Female, Maidu and Miwok (American Indian), She/Her/They/Them

What does “body positivity” mean to you? How has your body image changed over time? How does your body image play a role in your identity or even in your daily life?

To me, body positivity means honoring all that your body does and is capable of. Honoring that we each have a body, and that our bodies allow us to do the things we need to do for our own survival. I think that the idea of a “body” is such an interesting one, as our bodies are vessels through which we can achieve our goals, live meaningful lives and engage with the world in different ways.

Body image and our relationship to body image play an important role in our life. When I am having flare-ups of my autoimmune conditions, it directly impacts how I view and feel in my own body, which has an impact on my overall mental well-being and ability to accomplish what I want to. Other people’s perceptions of my body have also had an impact over time, including on my own identity and mental health. People often make assumptions and judgments about who you are as a person, your values and your worth based on your body which is a very hard reality.

During my upbringing, I struggled with negative self-body image a lot being a light-skinned Indigenous woman who was short and looked a lot different than others around me. I also noticed right away that I looked quite different than the people and bodies represented on social media, which led to increased self-consciousness and dislike towards my own body. One of the challenges that I have faced and overcome is my struggle with self-harm. I have a lot of scars on my body that tell the story of this. In the past, I used to have a lot of shame around my scars due to others’ reactions when they would see them. I would also attempt to hide them and worry about what someone would think if they saw them. Today, I recognize that these scars tell a story about my life, what my body has been through, and, more importantly, my own strength and resilience. I also have more surgical scars now related to my chronic health conditions, like endometriosis, and I embrace my scars as it shows how strong my body is, including in its effort to heal and keep going.

How has body image affected your mental and emotional health? What’s something that helps you feel comfortable in your own skin?

Feeling that I did not meet the mold of American beauty standards growing up, I struggled a lot with negative self-talk and feeling inadequate in many different ways. My own view of my body had a significant impact on my mental and emotional health, including contributing to depression and previous patterns of self-harm. At one point, I disliked my body so much, particularly when I first started falling ill with my autoimmune disorders, that I developed an eating disorder and felt totally unworthy and undeserving of nourishing my body or taking care of myself. Today, I have a much healthier relationship with my body, including taking pride in what it is capable of and also my own limitations having chronic illness. I was just diagnosed with Celiac disease this year after having lots of unexplained gastrointestinal issues for more than 10 years. Now, working with a dietician and learning how to nourish my body in a way that uniquely works with my underlying conditions has been so healing and helpful for my emotional and mental health. Something that also helped me become more comfortable in my own skin was starting to get tattoos. In Indigenous culture, we traditionally received tattoos as part of our life journey to represent what we have been through, what phase of life we are in and to decorate and adorn ourselves. Having tattoos and piercings makes me feel a lot more comfortable and at peace in my own skin. Another thing that helps me is practicing meditation, stretching and moving my body each day. Even the small act of stretching in the morning and evening helps me appreciate all that my body does for me.

How can we talk about our body image with our loved ones in a way that is supportive and helpful? How has the media influenced your body image?

I think being really honest and open can go a long way. Bodies are not stagnant; they change over time due to age, illness, stress, injury and disease, amongst many other things. We all may have different relationships to our body image at different points. Normalizing this I think can help break down the stigma and open up more honest and transparent conversations about how we feel about our bodies as ever-changing vessels.

Media has had a big influence on my body image. Seeing photographs of bodies in magazines and online gave me very unrealistic expectations of what my own body was supposed to look like. For example, I am flat-chested and I used to be highly self-conscious about this and believed there was something “wrong” with my body based on Western beauty standards. Seeing people with very slender, tall body types also gave me unrealistic expectations about myself and what I should “aspire” for. Beginning to do modeling when I was in graduate school has helped with this a lot for me. I am not the standard image of beauty, and that is okay. I am uniquely me, and I think it is so important to further the representation of all body types and people in media in order to break down harmful stereotypes related to beauty and self-worth.

I also find the rise of body positivity on social media to be very refreshing. Another website I like a lot is MyBodyGallery, as it allows regular people to upload images of their bodies in order to normalize non-photoshopped, idealistic versions of bodies that we are so used to consuming every single day.

Is there a specific message that you’d like to convey by participating in this project?

All bodies are beautiful, bodies do not have to equal self-worth, struggling with body image is normal, and learning to love yourself and honor your body is a lifelong process.