We hate our bodies, don’t we?
It’s become a routine fact of life; a cultural norm, even. The sky is blue, the grass is green, and women hate their bodies. A rare few of us relish our physical forms with gratitude and joy. In fact, it's so outside the norm that those few who do love the skin they're in are often judged most harshly by other women for it.
It wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time we were small, and we were filled with raw wonder at the world. We were free and wild. We were full self-expression embodied in the world, and for some years, it didn’t occur to us that there could be any reason to cast judgment on our bodies. They were simply the vessels for our open, curious selves. But at some point, sooner or later, we picked up what others were laying down and it began: the noise of not-enough. Over time it became an internal clatter of shame, frustration, sadness, discontent, self-loathing. An emotional, mental and spiritual dissonance, pulsing a current of alienation and inadequacy in the background of our private thoughts.
Lately, women in the developed world have begun to go back to the media and shake our fists in anger, despairing as the great machine of magazine covers churns out unreal hot babe after unreal hot babe. We’ve begun to place some responsibility on the media for our feelings of worthlessness and disgust. We’ve started to ask for change. We’ve campaigned for Real Beauty. We’ve praised our daughters lavishly to bolster their self-esteem. We’ve emphasized our girls’ characters and skills and de-emphasized their beauty so they won’t feel trapped by its importance. And we’ve shaken our fists in despairing anger at the unstopping media machine.
We say that we do this for our daughters, and our daughters’ daughters, and we do. But we do it for them because of our own clatter inside. Because after all the confidence-building careers and accomplishments, and the therapy, and the commiserating girlfriends, and the supportive loving partners, and the masterful self-help books, and the weight loss, and the weight gain, and the meditation, and the medication, and the spiritual retreats, and the cosmetic surgeries, and the hot new outfits, nothing has ever really made the clatter cease.
We’re still trying to crack the code. We’re still waiting to be saved. We have tried everything. Nothing has ever worked.
This is why we fear for our girls; because if they ever begin to experience the clatter, it seems their chances at self-love will be irrevocably destroyed. We fear that if they are subjected to the media, they’ll be incurably infected with a persistent jangle of failure, just like we have always been. So we want to save them before it’s too late.
But there’s just one incredible, quiet flaw in that line of reasoning. Is it a worthy and wonderful endeavor to encourage our media to redefine beauty? Hell yes. But also, we cannot wait for that. It’s not the media who loathes us when we look in the mirror; it’s us. It is we who cringe and squirm when we see photographs of ourselves, as if our bodies were a repulsive sight to behold. It is we who fret and suffer with dissatisfaction with our physical selves.
We love our bodies conditionally, at best:
“If you do what I want, then I’ll love you.”
“If you look pretty and symmetrical and well-toned and fit nicely into the smallest pair of jeans in my closet, I’ll love you.”
“If you can run a seven minute mile, then I’ll love you.”
“If your nose was smaller and teeth were straight, I would love you.”
“…But if not, you’re out of luck. No love for you.”
Never mind that our bodies carry us from place to place and literally give us every single moment of breath and heartbeat and living warmth. Never mind that they are resilient, healing and surviving everything we experience so that we can be alive today, living our messy, beautiful lives. We are so focused on what is wrong that we have entirely forgotten to notice that our bodies give us the incredible gift of life. Today, after all, is brought to you by the letter B, for Body!
By the standards of the day, I am not particularly beautiful. And I spent about three decades worrying about it, working on it, and periodically having major meltdowns about it. The one thing I felt like I could alter or control – my weight – seemed like the holy grail of achievement; if I could reach and maintain my ideal weight, I would be able to love my body. My life would be complete.
You already know it doesn’t work out that way in the end, right?
Right. It didn't matter how much weight I lost; I never felt total peace. And about a year ago, after a prolonged breakdown of injury and chronic pain, I had an epiphany: I could love my body exactly the way it was. Right here, at my non-ideal weight. Just the way it was, and just the way it was not. And maybe that was the key. And I curled my toes around the diving board, hugged my belly tight, and dove into gratitude for this lumpy, imperfect physical body of mine.
Since then, I’ve fallen in love with my body and started this project to help women everywhere do the same. I want every woman to love her body just the way it is.
Beauty doesn’t come in one size range or shape; it cannot be limited to a small percentage of the human population. Beauty is contained in all sizes and shapes. Beauty is in our differences, not our sameness. It is in you. It is in the wild expression of love and humanity that shines through your skin, your eyes, your smile, your life; it’s just up to you to see it. It’s up to you to willfully experience being beautiful. It’s up to you to choose awe, love, and affection for your body.
So continue to march on the media? Yes. But we must take things one crucial, powerful step further, into body love.
We must be the ones we have been waiting for.
We must save ourselves.