Opinion: Body positivity influencer Jessica Megan writes about trying to love your body when you're told to hate it, and how to go about unlearning those toxic perceptions. 

When I was 15, I had a fantasy that I could slice off my stomach and thigh fat like a Donner kebab. Soon after, I learned about cosmetic surgery and thought it was the most magical thing in the world: I could "fix" myself. So I saved up for years so that when I was older, I'd be able to buy myself a pair of perky boobs and a thigh gap. 

I’m 26 now, and I’m currently sat typing this article with the exact same body I was born with, no alterations or plastic surgery anywhere and a large online following as a body positivity influencer.

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But throughout my career as an influencer, activist and curve model, I’ve still experienced the feeling of dramatically falling out with my body. Particularly on days where I’ve inexplicably puffed up overnight and my eyes look like raisins pressed into dough. 

Even on those days, I’m still held to high standards and expected to present a version of myself that is thrilled to be the owner of this mass of flesh to my online following. "We are all beautiful!" I exclaim while I sip lukewarm chamomile to try and flush out whatever the hell I ate that turned me into a balloon woman.

I have decided that, sometimes, I'm okay with body neutrality.

Body positivity – a social movement arguing that all bodies are good ones, no matter what shape or size they are – is blossoming. Stemming from the Fat Acceptance movement of the 1960s, which sought to change anti-fat bias through social attitudes, body positivity tackles the toxic messages of diet culture and helps us see our bodies as biological marvels, not fleshy fixer-uppers.

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We are learning that the ability to banish cellulite was a myth and that thigh gaps aren’t a possibility for everyone because our pelvises just aren’t built for it. All the while diet culture scrapes the barrel for new fires for us to put out. "What about that bit of skin that folds where your arm joins your torso? YOU SHOULD BE WORRIED!" 

And thankfully for the extremely profitable diet industry, we still are.

With years upon years of indoctrination, we are now saddling two minds: I know I should love my body, but I can't stop hating it.

When it comes to protecting yourself, be ruthless.

We know we are supposed to love our bodies, but still want to lose weight, get waxed, get that anti-cellulite treatment and lose our double chins. We’re still the same to-do list as we were before, but now with the added pressure of instantly unlearning it all overnight. We still secretly believe that happiness is wrapped in our future thin selves.

The reason for this is because we have not yet come to accept proprietorship over our bodies. We have been conditioned to believe they do not belong to us. We still believe we exist as assets to society and when we have a bad body day or aren’t adhering to a standard, we’re letting everyone else down.

Body Confidence is how I re-engaged with my body and made it my friend. But like any good friend, we fall out. There are still days where it’s hard, but I have forgiven myself for being unable to unlearn the untruths ingrained in me since childhood. Instead, on the days where I am not friends with my body, I will simply acknowledge it.

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I will treat it with honesty and speak to it: "I don’t feel like I can love you today because this process is a rollercoaster. But I will treat you with all the care and respect I can muster." Take it for a walk. Listen to a new album. Read a book.

When I was 23, I finally came to the conclusion that in order to love my body, I would need to take back proprietorship of it. It took years of education and actively unlearning all the terrible thoughts I had, but I have finally reached a place where I am comfortable most of the time and it’s incredibly liberating.

I have decided that, sometimes, I’m okay with body neutrality. Each person’s journey towards this is different, but there are a few key steps I think help. 

Acknowledge the privilege of having a body that works and does everything it can to keep you alive.

Don’t engage with people who make you feel bad about yourself. That means comments online, family or friends who snipe at you about your weight, partners who push you to be different. When it comes to protecting yourself, be ruthless.

Don’t wake up every morning of your amazing life and think, "what can I do that will make others feel more comfortable around me? How can I dress my body in a way that will bring less attention to it?" I don’t do that and you shouldn’t have to either. 

Look at the body you own and see the layers of late nights with white wine, cheese and biscuits on the patio, leftover pasta straight from the pot, the children who lie naked with you on the sofa, the takeaway pizza and sugary cocktails in your favourite local bar. Those happy memories were probably worth it.

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Acknowledge the privilege of having a body that works and does everything it can to keep you alive. Educate yourself on the diet industry and beauty culture. Learn how these things work so that you possess a greater understanding of how you have been manipulated. 

Go to Google, look at the earth from space and remember how small you are. Then remember how insignificant your cellulite and wrinkles are in comparison. Seeing how humble and paltry humans are against the backdrop of the universe really does change your perspective on the troubles in your life. 

A juicy bonus of choosing self-love at a time when I don’t feel like it is the knowledge that it’s going to annoy a lot of people. So pass me another mojito while the sun kisses my wobbly bum in a string bikini, I’ve got some serious living to do.

- Written by Jessica Megan

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can contact Bodywhys.ie, phone their helpline on 1890 200 444 or email alex@bodywhys.ie.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ.