What does body confidence mean today? Those leading the conversation share their top tips on how we can be kinder about how we talk about ourselves & see our bodies in a more positive light

Do you feel confident about your body? If catching sight of your reflection has the ability to put you on top of the world or plunge you into the depths of despair, it can be challenging for your mental health.

The struggle to find that middle ground can be a draining experience, so what can we do to change that feeling? We spoke to some of the leading influencers in the body confidence sphere of social media for their take on ‘body confidence,’ ways we can be kinder about how we talk to ourselves, and how we can learn to love our body for more than what we look like. After all, our value is beyond skin deep.

What is ‘body confidence’?

The idea is more than just feeling comfortable in your own skin – and it’s constantly evolving too explains model and mental health advocate, Jada Sezer: “When I first started working in the fashion and creator industry 11 years ago, being ‘body confident’ was a relatively new ideology and an extremely disruptive stance to take in spaces that had dictated beauty trends for so long.

“Social media finally lowered the drawbridge for women to have their say about how they felt about their bodies, and the type of models they wanted to be projected back at them in glossy campaigns – and brands were forced to listen.

“‘Body confidence’ meant that you reclaimed the narrative over your body and held radical self-acceptance.” Jada recalls how this slowly flowed over to other underrepresented areas in fashion such as ethnic diversity, body differences, sexuality, self-identifying pronouns and cultural and religious representations, with the goal of “owning every facet of your being beyond your body.”

Is ‘body confidence’ the same as ‘body positivity’?

Despite the best intentions, the term can be surrounded by some confusion. “Body confidence is about your thoughts, feelings and relationship with your own body,” explains author, speaker and life coach, Michelle Elman.

“More recently, this has been confused with ‘body positivity’ as people assume the definition is someone feeling good – or positive – about their body when actually, body positivity refers to the political movement that works to address the oppression and discrimination that those who live in marginalised bodies face,” she explains.

Neutrality emphasises the aim of body acceptance and a core of respect for your body

What does ‘body neutrality’ mean?

“Body neutrality is a recognition that it’s realistic that as humans we might hold both positive and negative thoughts or feelings about our bodies,” explains author and ‘health and happiness chaser’, Bon Allen.

“But by shifting our thought pattern away from focusing on body image or short-term outcomes like weight loss and instead focusing on what our bodies can do, how we feel and our other values as people, we can take care of it and find confidence in it without it being about how we look.”

Michelle explains that the term is an antidote to the toxic positivity of the ‘body confidence’ movement. “The pressure to be confident in our body image at all times can be unrealistic and so neutrality emphasises the aim of body acceptance and a core of respect for your body.”

6 ways to build a healthier self-image

Having explored these different schools of thought, how can we put them into action? Whether you’re leaning more towards body neutrality or body confidence – or both – we asked the experts for their top tips that could help people build a healthier self-image.

1. Don’t be defined by your clothes size or weight

Discovering how to feel confident in your body when you’re assigning a number to it can be tough.

“Scales and numbers are very limiting,” suggests Jada. “Not only because all body types are built differently, but also because comparing your unique body to an 'average' expectation like BMI doesn't take into consideration health conditions or cultural differences.

“This pressure can lead to unhealthy relationships with your body and a negative self-image. In stores, clothing sizes can vary dramatically depending on how they determine their size charts, with vanity sizing being common and different countries sizing according to societal standards.”

Clothes are made to fit you – not the other way round

“You won’t find happiness by defining yourself by a number on the scales or a size,” cautions body neutrality influencer, Emily Ann Bowes. “Your worth, value and your intelligence can’t be defined by a number.

“Wear clothes that you feel comfortable in that fit your body to boost your body confidence. Clothes are made to fit you – not the other way round,” she enthuses.

Side note: don’t hang onto clothes that are the wrong size, advises Michelle: “We need to remove the reminders of clothes that no longer fit.

“Remember that we don’t place the same judgement around other items of clothing for example, when your shoe size changes, you don’t have any associated messaging with that.

“If we can have the same mindset around clothing, it can be beneficial.”

You wouldn't leave your front door open for just anyone to walk into, so don't let that happen with the media you consume

2. Tailor who you follow on social media

Be. Brutal. “As my tastes and interests change, I often go through a big social media cull,’ confides Jada. “My aims: to feel inspired by interesting creators and connected to people I know.

“I try to avoid polite follow backs – an etiquette we developed for the friend request Facebook days – and want to enjoy my feed with people adding value to my life.

“You wouldn't leave your front door open for just anyone to walk into, so don't let that happen with the media you consume. Tailor it to work for you.”

Not sure what to look out for? “If you search #bodyneutrality I guarantee that 99.99% of the posts or accounts that come up are not displaying body neutrality and that can be confusing,” admits Bon.

“I would say that if you struggle with a positive body image, then try to follow people who address body image from a neutral and nurturing stance.

“It could be they don’t feel the need to constantly post posed pictures of themselves to get a point across – they may show themselves doing an activity or just their face. Accounts that recognise that everyone is different are important.

“Red flags could be if the person is trying to tell you there’s a specific way to ‘get in shape,’ they’re displaying extreme views on body image, the account is predominantly posed pictures or its message is polarised and likely aimed at getting likes and shares rather than supporting people to feel better.”

3. Let go of perfection

Body neutrality focuses largely on letting go of your ‘ideal’ – wear the crop top whether you look like the model in the advert or not without waiting to change something before you do.

The same goes for your lifestyle if you want to change something. Try not to aim for a complete, unsustainable overhaul. Research shows that focus on small, targeted tweaks are far more doable.

“If you’ve been struggling with nutrition, focus on that first,” suggests Bon. “Learn the core principles needed to change your relationship with food and try working on them as a starting point.”

Want to learn more? Read our guide to intuitive eating to find some helpful tips.

4. Focus on what brings you joy

Curating the things that make you happy is important in all aspects of life and wellness. “Many of us have put ourselves through joyless pursuits just to fit what we think we should be doing,” says Bon.

“A key moment in transforming my relationship with my body, particularly when it came to fitness, was letting go of having to do what everyone else was doing and finding things I enjoyed.

“It becomes easier to stick to it because you enjoy it. Don’t be afraid to try new things and fail at it until you find the thing you love. You don’t have to get everything right all of the time.”

Be conscious when you find that you minimise yourself to just your physical attributes

5. Be mindful

“I'm a big believer in having systems and being intentional with your time,” says Jada. “Our attention is always being hijacked and the hours of our day are the new currency. So being mindful of the activities, behaviours and habits you develop is essential.

“I always write up a year's review, reflecting on areas I want to develop in and reflecting back on things that worked or didn't. I touch on everything from my career to my personal life and it helps me be more focused with my time – even if I still carve out time to watch Love Island.”

6. Be comfortable outside your comfort zone

Bon enthuses: “Life doesn’t have to be about being or looking ‘the best.’ If you enjoy a type of exercise but aren’t brilliant at it, then try and have fun with it - imagine having all the joy of participating without the pressure of having to be the best! 

“And what’s great is that if you’re rubbish to start with, there’s so much you can achieve.”

Starting something new can help you to grow in countless and surprising ways. “Never be scared to be a beginner,” says Jada. “Some of my greatest achievements sat on the other side of my most uncomfortable moments.

“You are multifaceted, so be conscious when you find that you minimise yourself to just your physical attributes – it's reductive and limiting. You are so much more than that.”