How to stay body positive in a body negative world

Long before Megan Jayne Crabbe became a body positivity champion, author and social media sensation with over 1.3 million followers, she was a teenage girl with anorexia. But even after Crabbe recovered from the deadly illness often characterized by restrictive eating, intense fear of weight gain and distorted body image, she struggled with self-acceptance.

When Crabbe discovered body positivity, it changed her worldview. Being body positive is about seeing all bodies as inherently “good” and recognizing that every person deserves love and self-confidence, regardless of society’s beauty standards.

“Before learning about body positivity, I had whole friendships based on food culture and shared body hatred!” says Crabbe, who lives in Essex, UK and used to be known on the internet as BodyPosiPanda. “Luckily, most of my friends got on board with body acceptance pretty quickly because they could see how much happier I was in myself.”

Crabbe’s experience and her decision to prioritize her own health and happiness over the ingrained beliefs of a few friends begs the question: What do you do when your body is positive and the people around you aren’t? And what can you do to maintain your own physical and mental well-being in a world that so often continues to reinforce—and sometimes even celebrate—the disordered body beliefs?

How to hold your own in body positivity

Because food culture and body negativity are so common, it can be impossible to escape the echoes of fat-phobic talk, self-deprecation, and judgmental critiques of others’ bodies. But a little preparation and planning can help conserve your sanity and avoid falling victim to toxic topics of conversation.

“The best strategy is to have a strategy—seriously,” says Los Angeles-based psychotherapist Alyssa Mass, MFT. “If you have a healthy body image, please don’t internalize the not so healthy ones in other people. This is not a club you want to join and if you stayed out that long, good for you!”

Many of us have been conditioned to talk negatively about ourselves. Remember the scene in the movie Mean Girls where friends bond over statements like “My hips are huge,” “I hate my calves,” and “My nail beds suck!” But Mass says it’s possible to be a compassionate friend while protecting your own peace.

“The best way not to get into this conversation is to do just that: not go along with it,” says Mass. “You can listen to your friends and be empathetic to their struggles without mimicking them.”

“If your girlfriend was depressed and told you everything that was wrong with her life, would you think the same things about yours? Probably not. If you need to change the conversation, do so. If you have to leave the room or put on headphones, do so. Look for conversations you do want to be a part of. The highest thing you can say to a friend is, “I hear you, even if I don’t agree with you. Is there anything else we can do or talk about that would shift this energy?’”

Negative body talk on the sidelines

For Crabbe, staying focused on her own body positivity goals meant setting strict boundaries with those who weren’t as invested in the journey for themselves.

“There’s nothing wrong with saying softly, ‘I’m doing my very best to build a more positive relationship with my body and food, and conversations about counting calories or wanting to change our bodies can put me in a difficult position. “Do you mind if we put those conversations aside? I’d much rather hear about xyz!”

“If that person has any respect for your well-being, he will respect a simple and clear boundary. If they don’t continue to do that, you can physically and emotionally distance yourself from that relationship.”

Build your feel-good wardrobe – now

To enhance the positivity of your own body, put together a wardrobe that encourages physical comfort.

That’s a particularly powerful way to maintain a commitment to body positivity no matter what kind of messages come in from those around you, says Amanda White, author and director of practice and therapist at Therapy for Women Center in Philadelphia.

“A helpful strategy is to dress and care for your body as it is now,” says White. “So many of us spend so much time not buying or wearing clothes we like or feel good in because we wait to get changed first. Instead, ask yourself, “If I knew my body wouldn’t change, what would I do differently?” What would I wear, what would I do? How would I take care of myself?’”

Set up a safe zone

Crabbe also suggests creating a consistent safe space without ubiquitous negative body language. This refuge can help balance or even eliminate triggering or disturbing comments. And it doesn’t have to be a physical space.

“Make sure you have a body-positive refuge to return to after potentially harmful conversations — social media feeds full of powerful voices, books to look to for the facts, podcasts to listen to, or even just TV shows.” that show real diversity,” says Krabbé. “If the voices of diet culture don’t disappear completely, work on drowning them out.”

Detox your social media

Because so many of us spend so much time on social media, platforms like Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and more can have a profound impact on how we see ourselves. In fact, research has shown that social media use is consistently linked to having a negative body image and can strengthen that link over time.

But you can turn that around by choosing what type of content you engage with. Studies have also shown psychological benefits for dealing with body-positive content on the same platforms.

“We are all the curators of our own social media,” says Mass. “You control what puts you in the social media stratosphere. So, just as carefully curate what you ingest. Make your social bubble work for you. The unfollow button is your friend. If someone’s account is negatively impacting [you]unfollow or at least mute.”

Crabbe says the “unfollow” option is an important tool in building a healthier social media feed. “To me, that was like unfollowing the celebrities known for being impossibly beautiful, unfollowing the influencers who sell diet products. The people you follow should help you feel empowered, inspired, challenged and less alone in a healthy way. What else are you for?”

Find different voices

White also encourages people to seek out new and diverse voices in social media spaces that can help dismantle some of the physical negativity so prevalent in mainstream culture.

“Follow people of all different body types, sizes, and abilities,” says White. “Unfollow people or brands that negatively impact how you feel about yourself or push diets or weight loss.”

To look for supportive, empowering voices, Mass suggests investigating certain hashtags on platforms like Instagram and TikTok. You may discover like-minded people with similar goals and values.

“Following #bodypositive is an easy start, but have fun with it,” she says. “Go outside your comfort zone and find some accounts with messages that reflect how you wish you spoke to yourself. Let those be the voices you read/hear/digest.”

It’s a process

It took some people in Crabbe’s life more time to come to the concept of body positivity and challenge “their own internalized fat phobia and reluctance to let go of the beauty norm,” Crabbe says. And other friends “had trouble letting go of the cultural messages they’ve heard mixed with weight and value all their lives,” Crabbe says.

“I only have a few friends who are still actively investing in diet culture. But we both recognize that there is a need for boundaries in our conversations when it comes to negative food and body language,” she says. “In the end, when I decided to dedicate myself to body acceptance, I knew in my heart that I was willing to lose people if I had to. Because all the friends I had who weren’t supportive of my healing and happiness within me were probably not the friends I should have anyway.”

As Crabbe continued on her own journey of body positivity, she learned many lessons about staying true to her own principles, both as a role model and as a human being committed to her own evolution of self-love.

For those struggling to find their own voice in a society so often inundated with harmful beliefs and body image messages, she offers some words of encouragement.

“You’re on the right team,” says Crabbe. “The rest of them will eventually catch up.”


Photo credit:

Luis Alvarez / Getty Images


Alyssa Mass, Marriage and Family Therapist, San Diego, CA.

Amanda E. White, author; practice director; therapist, Therapy for Women Center, Philadelphia.

Current Opinion in Psychology: “Social Media Concerns and Body Image: Current Research and Future Directions.”

Journal of Health Psychology: “The advocacy of body positivity on social media: Perspectives on Current Progress and Future Directions.”

Megan Jayne Crabbe, author; body positivity advocate, UK.

National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).

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