This post is geared primarily at women, who have likely been sent similar messages about their bodies as I have. I fully acknowledge that men also have absurd body standards, but as I have no experience being a man, this post is directed at women. While writing this post I felt myself touching the edges of race and class, knowing that beauty standards differ across social groups, and so I feel that it's important to also note that my experience is that of a white, middle class woman, and many of my encounters in life are a reflection of those identities. I believe the way we've been socialized and the experiences we've had greatly impact us, and the issue below is absolutely representative of that.
There is a weight problem in this country and I'm not talking about obesity. It's everywhere I go, in every show and movie I watch. It's taunting me, talking behind my back, and toying with my emotions every chance it gets. The obsession with a single woman's body type, a certain, specific, often unattainable body type, is running rampant everywhere I look and it has got to stop.
My body and I have had a broken relationship for an entire decade. Let me be clear, I've never been very overweight. The battle has been mainly internal, but at times it has been absolutely all consuming.
Sometimes this problem manifests itself in intense loathing, other times it's a subtle choice to avoid and ignore my own body and its needs. As I have eluded to in the past, I spent a chunk of time in high school starving myself, attempting to become someone I'm not, struggling to fit myself into a tiny box that no one should ever be trapped in.
When I gave up this harmful behavior, I went to the other extreme. I stopped looking at myself in the mirror and began eating food without thought, scared I would once again fall into the trap of being consumed by the amount or kind of food I was putting into my body. I refused to listen to my body tell me it was hungry, tell me it was full, or even tell me when it enjoyed the food I was eating.
It felt like a trade off. Either I cared about my body and what I ate, became obsessed with controlling my diet and exercise, or I had to ignore my body completely. For awhile, I chose the latter, believing that avoiding part of myself would allow me to regain the things I lost during my stint with anorexia - a social life and the ability to focus on something besides food, exercise, and my weight.
|Mark Parisi Cartoon|
I lived that way for many years, graduating from both high school and college with this attitude. Finally, my perspective began to change right after college when I lived with three women who loved food for how it tasted, for what it did for their bodies, and for the energy it gave them. Slowly my mindset changed and I began seeing food differently. At some point in this journey, I began enjoying food again. I learned how to cook food I like to eat. I learned how to eat food that would make my body feel better. I learned that food is a tool that my body uses to help maintain an active lifestyle.
After 10 years of battling my own body, I can finally say I (mostly) like my body. I like how it looks, I like what it does for me, I like living in it. I've (again, mostly) stopped caring that my body isn't the ideal image of beauty. I've started putting health before the attempt to conform to someone else's standards.
But this isn't exactly a happy ending.
Call it a first world problem (and if you've missed out on this ironic way of talking about problems, just click on the link and get with the times!!), but I've found it oddly unsatisfying to be happy with my body. After a decade frustration, I now find myself wondering what all the fuss was about. Why in the world did I spend my entire teenage life and my early twenties consumed with this superficial quest?
In fact, I would absolutely call this weight obsession a first world problem. First world, as in it disproportionately impacts people who have time and energy (and often money) to put into attaining (or attempting to attain) a particular figure. People who have easy access to the media and feel pressured to look like the people they see in it. I know with absolute confidence that I'm not alone in my tendency to be consumed by body image issues. This problem has spread throughout first world countries (and beyond), sucking our time, our energy, and our happiness.
Let me be clear that I truly believe that taking care of our bodies is essential for living a good life. But where we go wrong is when we mistake slender figures as a sign of health. While being thin can absolutely be healthy for some, others must starve themselves (which is awfully unhealthy) to achieve these same standards.
We've forgotten that our bodies are all different. We've forgotten that diversity is a beautiful thing, that everyone looking the same, weighing the same, would be boring as hell.
And, as a result, we end up trying to attain this one precise figure, one that for a lot of people just isn't sustainable, life giving, or even fulfilling.
This attitude is absolutely everywhere I turn. Have you ever listened to people after they finish a big meal? What words come out of their mouths? "I shouldn't have eaten all that food." "Well, I'm going to have to go work that off." "Why did you make me eat all of that?" Or the even more unhealthy language, "I'm going to have to skip dinner for a week now."
We've been taught that our bodies don't look like they should and it leaves us feeling constantly guilty for enjoying food. Rather than focusing on how our bodies can be healthy so they work efficiently and effectively, we are overwhelmed with media images of the same thin figure over and over and over. We hear a constant chatter about weight all around us, we hear (thin) people talking about how fat they are, we see people judging others solely on the basis of their weight.
As Abercrombie showed us this month, we've been taught that to have a certain body type is to be happy, cool, to be popular, and to have it all.
But for those of us to whom a model's figure doesn't come naturally, how can we possibly have it all if we're not taking care of our bodies?
So I ask you: what is health? How do you know when you're healthy? How much effort have you put into attempting to achieve the perfect body? Do you struggle to find the balance between treating your body well and becoming consumed with food, exercise, etc.?
I'd love to hear your thoughts.