Body image: Normal is overrated, but what’s the alternative?

Working as a personal trainer, being a girl, reading books about body image–all of these things remind me that women hate their bodies. We try to fix them with diets and exercise programs. We tell ourselves that this is the last one–we’ll be so dedicated. Then we tell ourselves that we didn’t fail, the diet failed. We go in these circles. We deprive and we binge. We let our body image consume us. It’s normal.

But that doesn’t mean it’s okay. Is the answer giving up dieting? Is society going to change the emphasis on our appearance any time soon? What’s the solution? These are the questions that keep me up at night, or entertained when I should be studying.

Another big one is this: is it just up to women to change the way we think? To be honest, I see this as a form of blaming women. It’s not because of us and only us that we think and act the way we do. Before you start thinking that I’m evading responsibility, think about the messages we get about our bodies, and increasingly about our body image. They’re designed to make us feel like we’re not good enough. Is your body less than perfect? Well that’s your fault, and all you need to do is to work on it. But wait, our bodies aren’t supposed to be perfect! So you better work on the notion you have in your brain that they could be because that’s wrong and it’s also your fault. There’s a slim chance of us winning when the messages we get about our bodies and about our body image contradict each other—and put all of the onus on us as women to figure it out—and to look good, and be happy while we do it.

Having a body sucks, it seems. But it doesn’t have to—and I don’t think it should. We are not stuck with a bunch of flawed elements that encompass our physical selves—we have these vessels to let us live our lives. Taking care of our health does NOT have to be about perfecting our bodies, but can be about helping us live more full lives. Deciding to treat them with respect does not have to be about beating up the part of us that has gotten sucked into body hate, but can be about realizing that at the end of the day, our own opinion of ourselves is the one that matters—and that how we look is just a little part of who we are. What do you want to do with your life? I won’t beat you up if you answer me, “get six pack abs,” but I will encourage you to think about what there is in this world besides your own body. What do you want to see? Who do you want to be? What kinds of memories do you want to make? These are the questions that spark conversations a little more vulnerable than discussing the macros you’re eating this month or the food you’re cutting out on your latest detox, so yeah, they feel “weird.” But weird can be good, especially when normal—diet talk, bonding over hating our bodies, coming together through starving and shaming ourselves—is so messed up.

I would challenge you to go through a day without talking about weight, or diet, or transforming your body. See if you find yourself struggling with things to talk about. Start a conversation with someone about the weather, or where they went on their last vacation, or what they like to do on Sunday afternoons. Read a book that has nothing to do with health but is purely for your own enjoyment. Your life’s work does not have to be your body. I sometimes feel like we live in a world that thinks that if we do everything perfectly, our bodies will never fail us. That’s just not true, as comforting as the thought that we can save ourselves might be. Yes, we ought to take care of ourselves, but we will run out of time here sooner or later. I plan on doing my best to take good care of myself, but I’ve also tried to draw a line between obsession and dedication, or perhaps more accurately between trying to preserve myself and living.

for blog

Do you worry about your body?
Do you about worrying about your body?
Any ideas?

 

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