Wondermind and Aerie teamed for a panel of mic-dropping insights for anyone who has ever felt some type of way about their body.

By Wondermind 

You know those moments when you look around and think, Woah, something magical is happening in this room. That was the general vibe at the Aerie Spring Street store one evening in October when a group of people gathered to have an honest, open, and refreshingly vulnerable conversation about self-esteem and self-worth. And trust, it got real.  

Wondermind and Aerie teamed up to create The REAL Talk event featuring three incredible panelists: Aly Raisman, gymnast and advocate; Nisha Dua, managing partner and co-founder of BBG Ventures; and Minaa B., LMSW, mental health educator. Moderated by Wondermind co-founder and co-CEO Daniella Pierson, this discussion was a crash course in confidence, mental fitness, and body neutrality. 

Check out a few of the most memorable takeaways from this ground-breaking group: 

Self-esteem is so much more than feeling yourself. 

When most of us hear “self-esteem” our minds go right to our appearance. But when the panelists were asked for their thoughts on self-esteem, it spurred a fascinating dialogue on worthiness, confidence, and alignment. 

“I think that there’s a misconception that self-esteem means, ‘I think I’m beautiful. I think I’m pretty,’” said Minaa B. “And, well, do you think you’re smart? Do you think you’re funny? Do you think you’re likable? Do you think you’re lovable? What do you actually think of yourself outside of your looks?” 

For Dua, self-esteem wasn’t a word that always felt good and easy for her for growing up, so she shifted her perspective. “When I think about self-esteem today, I actually think about all these Jane Austen novels [where] they say, ‘I held him in the highest esteem.’ And so when I think about self-esteem, I think: Do you have high regard for yourself? And what does that regard mean to you?” It doesn’t have to mean something boastful. But do you have admiration for yourself?” 

Raisman added to that sentiment, sharing that her self-esteem comes down to alignment. “Usually when I’m doing something that’s in alignment with myself, I feel happier and present, and I feel more in my body. But if you’re someone with anxiety like me, that’s definitely easier said than done. And so I try to find things like gardening or being with friends, family, my dog, things that make me happy and make me feel like my most self. And that’s when I personally feel the most confident.” 

Mental fitness can take so many different forms. 

At Wondermind, we use the term mental fitness to describe all the ways you work on your mental health—whatever that looks like to you. And, as our panelists confirmed, there are so many different ways to show up for your mental and emotional health. 

For Raisman, gardening has been a relaxing activity for her lately. “It’s just really fun. And it also reminds me of having patience. Because you grow a seed. You have to be very patient. It might take months and months for it to grow into a flower or a vegetable. And so it’s just a reminder that things don’t happen overnight. We live in an instant gratification world. So it’s just refreshing to have to wait months to get a cucumber or a flower. And it’s very satisfying and very gratifying.” 

Minaa B. chimed in to add that taking care of anything—whether it’s a plant or a pet—can serve as a helpful reminder that we can take care of ourselves too. But her mental fitness go-to involves journaling…out loud: “I’m really big on journaling. And once the pandemic started, I kind of got really annoyed by just sitting with a journal all day. So I started audio journaling. I also live alone, so I probably need someone to talk to. But I started audio journaling and it’s been such a helpful practice for me because when I listen back to my journals, my audio journals, I’m able to listen to some of the discrepancies in my thinking. And so I’m like, ‘Wow, that really made no sense what I just shared.’” 

For Dua, cultivating a mental fitness routine started with therapy. “I finally started seeing a therapist in my mid twenties. And I will certainly say it’s the best money I’ve ever spent in my life. It saved my life.” Still, Dua said she relies on tactics she’s learned in therapy to keep her in a good headspace even when she’s not in sessions, including affirmations, cognitive behavioral therapy exercises, and meditation. 

Body neutrality is a gentler, more inclusive goal than body positivity. 

You’ve no doubt been inundated with the message of body positivity, but body neutrality is a concept that might seem a bit more nebulous. As Minaa B. explains it: “Body neutrality is less about positivity and it’s more about acceptance. So it’s saying, ‘Well, today I don’t really feel positive. Today I’m bloated. Today I woke up with a pimple on my face. I hate it. I’m not happy, but I accept that this is how I am and I’m still going to have to move through the world with being who I am.’” 

She continued, “I find more people resonating with body neutrality because I think sometimes body positivity leans more on the toxic positivity lens at times where you’re forcing yourself to feel good instead of acknowledging: Today’s just a day I don’t feel good about myself. And instead of forcing myself to feel something differently, maybe I should just acknowledge this feeling. Maybe I should identify where this feeling is coming from. And then also figure out what I can do to reframe these thoughts and get through the day while accepting that this is just where I am.” 

This is something that Raisman said she’s currently working on. “I actually have been very recently learning more about neutrality,” she said. “I’d always thought that, for me, being positive was the right thing to do. And then I realized that pressuring myself to feel positive about a certain thing when I didn’t feel it about something was making me feel worse. Because then I’d feel guilty for not feeling positive. And so actually what I’m learning right now is just to accept things as they are, which is so hard.” 

After a lot of knowing nods from the crowd, Raisman closed out the discussion with this gem: “Just know, if you’re struggling, so am I, and I think so many of us are. It’s unfortunately part of being human, but just know that you don’t have to go through it alone. And there’s a lot of people here that are supportive, and hopefully you can find someone here and make a new friend.” 

If you didn’t get a chance to catch this event IRL, make sure to follow Wondermind and Aerie for more insights like this and to find out about upcoming opportunities to get involved. In the meantime, we also put together this mental fitness mini-course you can do anywhere, anytime. And you can find even more Wondermind x Aerie content right here

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