5 Things I Learned From The BodCon 2023

Love it or hate it, social media has become increasingly pervasive in recent years. These days, there's a TikTok algorithm for everyone, from your grandmother to your school-age niece. Of course, creators can use the communication tool for good — just look at Tabitha Brown, the beloved influencer who built her platform with nourishing food and infectious positivity. Still, not all content is created equally. For many, exposure to social media can yield negative consequences, but it's difficult to look away. According to findings published in the research journal Body Image, regular TikTok usage is linked to higher levels of body dissatisfaction in young users due to upward appearance comparisons or comparing themselves to others. Unfortunately, this type of damage is difficult to undo. "Surprisingly, exposure to body-positive content and commercial social media literacy skills did not protect against these risks," wrote the study's researchers.

In a world filled with filters, overnight fame, and comment sections, it's all too easy to feel overwhelmed by what you see on your screen — and even the most-followed woman on Instagram isn't immune. In a now-deleted TikTok, Selena Gomez wrote, "I wish I was as pretty as Bella Hadid," while donning a Hadid-inspired filter. The pressure to be perfect, or even perfectly imperfect, is a daunting experience shared by many. At The BodCon 2023, the world's largest annual body positivity conference, leading creators, healers, and influencers joined forces to address the subject on everyone's minds: how to build your confidence in spite of it all.

Stepping out of your comfort zone is vital

A common thread among many BodCon presenters? At some point in their lives — tired of feeling burnt out, stagnant, or insecure — they found the courage to step out of their comfort zones, ushering in new opportunities. "A lot of times, we have goals, but we're not necessarily moving towards those goals," television journalist and fashion designer Nina Parker told The BodCon guests, according to a Glam reporter. "I make a list of my top five priorities for the month or the year. I try to do one thing a day toward this goal, even if it's small — to me, that's letting the universe know, 'I'm walking with you.' I have this saying that if you do two steps, the universe will [do] three."

It may sound blunt, but the truth is that you need to take risks in order to reap life's rewards. Fears of rejection or negative reactions can feel downright terrifying, but once you move past them, you'll never look back. Over time, Parker realized that hurtful comments online often come from people who are hurt or seeking a reaction, and their words no longer affect her. "I am not going to allow someone to ruin my day that has no impact on my life," says Parker. "There's no one that I know in my regular life that would get on Instagram and would leave a nasty comment to somebody else calling them names. So, if you're doing that, you're not in a vibration that's aligned with me anyway."

The positive power of social media

It's no secret that social media can have detrimental effects. We've all been there: when we're not feeling our best, we inadvertently compare ourselves to others, making things even worse. The cycle of doubt affects millions, and virtually everyone has experienced some form of insecurity or negative self-talk — even those you'd least expect. "After a lifetime of rejection and struggling to pay the bills in music, I honestly was hitting a point where I felt like maybe I just was not good enough," singer-songwriter Jax told The BodCon attendees, according to a reporter from Glam. However, Jax continued sharing her music on social media platforms, and her single, "Victoria's Secret," became an international success. "With 'Victoria's Secret,' it was the first time I'd released a song that served as therapy for me with a community of [people] around me," she recalled.

According to Jax, "Victoria's Secret" was written to show others they aren't alone. "A girl I babysit was going through some things that I went through hardcore at her age. I started eating ice cubes in the cafeteria in the 5th grade. [Dysmorphia] made me spiral out well into my twenties, and it's still not gone," Jax told The BodCon. After its launch, "Victoria's Secret" quickly resonated with millions of social media users eager to share their stories of body positivity. "You feel really alone sometimes in your head when you're looking in the mirror, and you see something that's not really there," said Jax. "But to see that there were so many other people in the world that were going through the same thing and that they've overcome it... It was pretty awesome."

Self-care is essential to body confidence

The importance of self-care and its impact on your self-esteem cannot be overstated. Acts of self-care aren't optional; they're crucial to your overall well-being. Contrary to popular belief, you don't need a steady rotation of sheet masks or bath bombs at your disposal to help improve your mood. While it's true that popular self-care rituals, from herbal baths to "everything showers," can certainly boost your spirits, there's one way you can tend to yourself without ever spending a dime.

Instead of waking up to check notifications or texts, why not take a moment to meditate or journal? "It's a great way to start your day by setting intentions," certified life coach and motivational speaker Raia "Coach" Carey told The BodCon audience. If you've never pursued mindfulness before, you may be surprised at how simple it is to get started. In fact, you can even tune into a spoken meditation as you drift off to sleep. "There is no right or wrong way to meditate; it's really about just taking a few breaths and connecting with yourself," says Carey.

At The BodCon, Carey led listeners through a guided meditation replete with positive affirmations to inspire self-love. "The reason why I love affirmations so much and include them in my practice is because the more you say it, the more you feel it, the more you believe it — the more you're thinking about showing up with confidence," Carey noted.

You can love your body and welcome change

A common misconception about body positivity is that you can't love yourself while wanting to change the way you look. At The BodCon 2023, fat joy activist Lindsay Johnson explored this notion by asking panelists if one could wear slimming shapewear and still identify as body confident. "I'm all about being body positive. [But] you can love the skin that you're in and still work towards a body goal. As long as you feel good and you're not at war with yourself, everything's okay," plus-size model and spa owner Zoe Chin Loy told The BodCon audience. "I believe you can wear makeup, wear shapewear, even have plastic surgery, and still love yourself."

Mental health activist and content creator Raffela Mancuso offered advice for listeners feeling conflicted about modifying their bodies. "We're all victims of diet culture and fatphobia. We can't victim-blame ourselves and each other for wanting to wear shapewear or wanting to engage in intentional weight loss because that's what we've been told our whole lives," Mancuso told the audience. Mancuso emphasized that treating ourselves with compassion is the best way to approach any recurrent negative thoughts or self-criticisms.

Confidence doesn't happen overnight

Above all, it's important to understand that building confidence takes time, reflection, and courage. No one knows this better than Nina Parker. Before Parker became the accomplished presenter and designer she is today, she struggled to find work in her field, settling into a call center position after graduating college. Although she only intended to stay at the center for one year, she stayed for three more, feeling deeply unfulfilled. Ultimately, Parker realized it was time to lean into her authentic self. She took a risk, and the rest is history. "I think we all have something that we're intrigued with or want to explore more, and for whatever reason, we put it at bay. The people who continue to ignore [their calling] become different," Parker told the audience. "There are ups and downs within your dream — but you're working within it, and it's a different feeling."

When asked what confidence meant to her and how she built it, Parker reiterated that the process wasn't easy – and is still ongoing. She credits therapy with helping to heal her self-image. "It's a work in progress. I bought into a lot of what society told me about how I was supposed to look for many years. Unlearning that has been difficult. I'm finally in a place where I really truly believe in who I am, but it took work, real work, to get there." Although the first step is often the hardest, fighting back against low self-esteem begins when you learn to love yourself.