Self-love is defined as a regard for one’s own well-being and happiness. Though it sounds like something we should all possess, studies show that the opposite is true and that millions of people struggle to forge a positive self-image beginning in adolescence and continuing throughout adulthood. By the age of 13, at least 50 percent of girls say they’re unhappy about their appearance. By the time they turn 18, about 80 percent of women say they’re dissatisfied with what they see when they look in the mirror.
Despite this, we know that self-love correlates with better mental health and overall well-being. Studies show that poor self-image and low self-esteem are associated with depression, hopelessness, anxiety and even suicidal tendencies among adolescents. Teaching our children—and ourselves!—the importance of self-love is one of the best ways to help lay a foundation for a happy, healthy life. Let’s look to some of the beacons of body positivity and self-love to learn some of the best ways to love thyself.
1, Ashley Graham: Stay Active and Proclaim Self-Love Out Loud
Arguably the world’s most famous plus-size model, Ashley Graham has long been a voice for body positivity. As the first size 16 to ever appear on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, Graham rose to fame modeling plus size clothing in YM, Glamour, and Vogue. She now boasts over nine million followers on Instagram and is one of the platform’s most-followed models.
If you follow the body-positive model on social media, you’ll find many ways she practices self-love daily, but she told Health.com some of her favorites. First: stay active. “I believe you can be healthy at any size as long as you’re getting off the couch and moving your body,” she said in an interview. She cites the endorphins released during exercise as mood-boosters.
Another thing? It seems silly, but Graham says she literally looks at herself in the mirror each day and says, “I love you.” Even if it sounds and feels weird, corny or fake, Graham recommends praising every single body part, no matter how much you actually dislike it. Shout it from the rooftops, ladies!
The model is also a big proponent for wearing clothes that flatter a plus size figure, regardless of size or label—”I always say, if a size 12 jean isn’t fitting, buy a 14. Who cares about the number that’s inside your jeans? If clothes are making you feel bad about your body, go ahead and buy a bigger size.”
2, Tess Holliday: Accept Yourself, the Way You Are
American model, blogger, and makeup artist Tess Holliday is well-known as one of the industry’s body positivity queens describing herself as a “body- positive activist.” She spurred the viral hashtag campaign #effyourbeautystandards, telling Glamour she thinks of the campaign as “a middle finger to society in regards to what we’re told we can’t wear and what we should like the when plus size.”
Holliday has been the face of Torrid, H&M, and Penningtons and has been featured in People, Marie Claire, Glamour, Elle and Vogue. So how does Holliday spread the message of self-love to other plus size women? First and foremost, she emphasizes the importance for women to have their own labels and “have terms for being bigger.” She admonishes the idea that the term “plus-size” should be banished.
The idea behind using certain labels to describe yourself, Holliday says, is that it helps people accept themselves the way that they are. “If you want to work toward a better you in whatever regards…do it. But you’re okay just the way you are today,” she says. Coming up with self-descriptors and labels that you’ve chosen yourself can empower you and help you find love within yourself, Holliday believes.
3, Winnie Harlow: Embrace Your Own Differences
Canadian model Winnie Harlow is well-known in the fashion world for her fierce self-acceptance. As a public spokesperson for the skin condition vitiligo, Harlow promotes the idea of embracing your own differences and using them to help you stand out. She rose to prominence after she caught the attention of Tyra Banks on Instagram and subsequently appeared on America’s Next Top Model (ANTM) in 2014.
As the only Canadian ever cast on ANTM, Harlow was eliminated in the second week of the finals but then returned to a comeback series, where she placed sixth overall. Despite this, Harlow went on to model for Desigual, Diesel, Sprite and Swarovski while nabbing features in Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Complex, Vogue Italy and others. She has also appeared in the videos of Eminem, The Black Eyed Peas and Beyoncé.
So how does the world’s most famous model slash vitiligo spokeswoman—who was called “cow” and zebra” by bullies at school—stay positive about her appearance? First, she says: Embrace your differences and use them to diversify yourself. Harlow also emphasizes the importance of not letting negativity sink too deep. “Eventually I learned that my opinion of myself matters so much more than anyone else’s and I wish I’d known it earlier,” she told Grazia.
Ways to Stay Body-Positive
There are thousands of unique ways to practice self-love—by supporting body-positive clothing brands, following plus size activists on social media and even telling yourself, out loud, how much you love your body day in and day out. It doesn’t matter how you do it, but as long as you continually remind yourself that you’re beautiful and worthy, you’ll be well on your way to a life of sustainable self-love!