I’ve been thinking a lot about body image recently. I’ve been encountering a lot of discussions about it, some that have been very enlightened and collaborative, some less so. Warning: this is long. I seem to have a lot of thoughts on this subject.
A friend recently posted a criticism of the song “All About That Bass,” saying that it was shaming skinny girls (a very reductive version of his argument, admittedly), and my first thought was, “why have we been shaming fat girls for years, and suddenly everyone’s rushing to skinny girls’ defense as soon as someone says a single word against them?” I allowed my rational sensibilities to prevail, however, and put some more thought into this before joining the discussion. The real problem here is that anyone is getting shamed for their body type. I’m all about heavier people celebrating themselves, because for so long they’ve been told not to, but it’s not necessary to do it by putting someone else down. “Skinny bitches” have their struggles too – you’re supposed to have a little fat, as long as it’s in the right places. Also, once I put some more thought into it, I realized there’s no way this is the first time skinny girls have been hated on.
I think one of the major problems with the “ideal” body image is that it doesn’t really account for how much genetics influences our appearance, for better or for worse. People think of being fat or being thin as a choice (and it’s definitely marketed that way), rather than the way your body naturally develops. I think it’s easier for people to blame others, or themselves, for being fat because there are certain behaviors that contribute to that. We open ourselves up to criticism if we (read: people who are not thin) engage in any of these behaviors, even if we are generally healthy. But if you see a very thin girl walking down the street, it’s just as easy to assume she has an eating disorder as it is to assume fat people are chronic overeaters. I know I’m guilty of seeing girls like that and thinking, “she needs to eat a sandwich.” Maybe she just ate one, it’s really none of my goddamn business. There’s only so much you can change about your physicality without extreme measures such as surgery. The people whose images we see all the time are those who won the genetic lottery (thank you Elizabeth Banks for owning up to that).
There’s an obsession in our culture with working toward the perfect body type, when for most people that will NEVER be a possibility. Every new diet or fitness craze promises that this will work where other tricks failed to give you the body you dream of. We see celebrities as shining beacons of hope, because even they fall off the beauty wagon sometimes (even though most of them have the benefit of having been born on the wagon). The difference is, of course, that when they fall off the wagon, they have access to resources that we don’t – trainers, nutritionists, supplements, surgeries, even just the time to devote to strict regimens. Whenever a celebrity gives birth, we chart their progress back to their “pre-baby body”, which is FUCKING INSANE because unless they have a time machine, their body will never be pre-baby. Women who give birth are fucking champions who deserve to have their post-baby body and its achievements celebrated, not shamed, in whatever form it takes. But I digress.
It almost feels a little hypocritical to be taking such an impassioned stance against body shaming, because I do it to myself all the time. Overall, I’m really not that happy with how I look. I’m not fat per se, but I carry a lot of extra weight, and not in those right places (thanks for NOTHING, boobs). There are certain things I want in life, and I have this idea in my head that if I can lose some weight, they’ll be much more attainable. In all likelihood, this is not even remotely true, but it’s hard to talk myself out of that idea, as irrational as it is. Yes, I can be irrational too, sometimes.
I’ve also become increasingly aware of the effect of genetics on my body recently. My weight used to stay fairly consistent without much effort, although I was always a little overweight. When I moved to New York, my weight dropped a little, because I was walking so much more…and also because I was broke and not eating out. Then when I turned 26, there was a dramatic shift in the relationship between my lifestyle and my body, and suddenly I was putting on weight consistently. I wasn’t doing anything differently, but my clothes and I seemed to disagree more and more. It seems like it’s all I can do to stop gaining and stay at a consistent weight, without making some drastic changes. I don’t want to make drastic changes. I like my life, I just don’t particularly like my body.
I feel compelled to mention that I’m not treating my body poorly. I started the Insanity work-out earlier in the summer and have been doing it consistently (albeit less consistently than I was in June while I was unemployed). I have a fairly balanced diet. I eat crap occasionally, but then I always crave vegetables. I genuinely want to eat both brown foods (which I define as fried or carb-y, often potato-based foods) and green foods (crunchy, fresh, and colorful, although not always green, but my brain calls them green because they’re vegetables…we’ll save my brain’s colorization process for another post). I don’t do drugs. I don’t drink THAT much.
I think we all just need to leave each other (and ourselves) alone. As this discussion points out, our relationships to food, exercise, and our own bodies are deeply personal things, and it’s just stupid to think that we know what’s best for anyone else. Unless we are medical professionals, that is. If we feel good and we’re not hurting ourselves, then most of us are doing just fine, and we shouldn’t have to justify our appearance or our behavior to anyone else…like I did in that last paragraph. I might eat some pie at a friend’s birthday party later today, even though I’m well aware that that won’t help me achieve any weight loss goals. But who wants to live in a world without pie?
Note: this was not a request for advice. Please feel free to share any thoughts you have, I am all for an ongoing discussion. My body and I have been having this power struggle for a while, however, and though I’m sure any advice would be well-intentioned, it probably won’t affect that. Just wanted to organize my own thoughts on the subject, and share in case anyone is having a similar experience.