I don't always love my body. Sometimes I feel fat and use the word against myself as if it were the worst insult I could fling. Sometimes I beg my husband for reassurance that I'm beautiful, even though I know he always thinks I am.
I know what you're thinking: "Didn't this girl just write a whole body positive piece?"
I can also guess at your next thought: "What? No! You're so beautiful!" or "Ugh. Nebach. You don't even know what it's like to be really fat."
You're right. I am beautiful and I do know it. I don't know what it's like to be really fat, because I never have been. I know it must be a real struggle because of our society's unrealistic beauty standards and the fat shaming that runs rampant in our world.
It's crazy to me how loaded the word "fat" has become. Inherently it is as tame a descriptor as "skinny", but in our world these two words are charged with love and hate, envy and apprehension. Less than a hundred years ago "skinny" was the thing we wanted to avoid. How times have changed.
And yet, they've stayed the same. Women are still judged and complimented and valued based on our bodies. There are still too many should's, too many shouldn't's.
You should be thin. You shouldn't be emaciated, although if you become less fat by not eating, you'll probably receive more compliments than concern. You shouldn't be fat, even if you work out every day and eat healthy meals but your body is how it is. You certainly shouldn't be fat just because you're too busy living your life to get on the treadmill every day, even though you know you really... should.
The worst one: You shouldn't complain about your body if someone else thinks it looks great. If other people think you look good, how dare you think otherwise? Not sure what they think? Just open your mouth with them in earshot and oh, they'll tell you.
When I had the audacity to write about my weight loss, someone informed me that because I carry the weight well, weight is just a number on me. As if I have any less right to feel bad about gaining weight or to try losing it, just because 5 pounds shows up differently on my body than on other bodies. Another woman told me that I should just feel lucky that I gain weight proportionally and carry it well. Um, thanks? For a minute I felt bad, as if all I had done in that piece was complain about my body, something I don't think I did at all. Maybe I shouldn't complain, I thought, other women have it worse than me, who am I to feel bad about my body? Then I clicked on that woman's Facebook profile, and saw that she was, as they say, a stick. I thought, hmph, who is she to complain? How dare she tell me to feel lucky.
Seriously? I thought that? That very thing that I hated other people for thinking and saying about me? I don't know anything about this woman except what I could glean from her profile picture (not a lot), and the first thing I did was pass jugdement? How embarassing. Maybe I'm not the tzadekes I thought I was. Maybe none of us are immune. Thoughtful and critical of popular views as we are, all of us are in some degree a product of the body-image-brainwashing we receive.
There is hope. The world is changing for the better in this area and popular opinion is slowly but surely shifting towards a healthier mindset. Unfortunately, with this change, I think some new should's are coming into play.
You should love your body. You shouldn't feel bad about your [insert body part here]. You shouldn't talk badly about your body, especially if someone else thinks you look fine. How dare you? Don't you know that someone else has it worse?
Someone else has it worse? What? Doesn't that just reinforce the notion that some bodies are better than others? Can't all bodies be good bodies? Can't we all just love our bodies how they are? Can't we all hate our bodies, at least a little, just sometimes, because the world is not yet perfect and neither are we?
I have a great body. I think it's a shame that I don't always feel that way, but I am still bombarded by hundreds of images of women with homogenous bodies that are proclaimed ideal and... I internalize that. How can anyone not internalize it, at least a little? My body is not a problem that needs solving, but some days that's exactly how I feel as I stand in front of my mirror and get dressed in the morning. How do I choose the right outfit to solve the problems of this body of mine? How do I flatter what should be flattered and hide what needs hiding? And how do I figure out what falls into which category?
And then there are those very well-meaning people come along and say, "But you have a great body!" or "What are you talking about? You look FINE!"
I know. I know. I KNOW! But also, my thighs are big. And I have love handles (which is a pretty nice name for something society tells me is unacceptable). It's hard to find tops that fit over my chest. And it's even harder to find tops that fit over my chest and also highlight my waist, but don't make it obvious that I don't have a flat stomach. And my hands are too small, but not in a dainty way-- can't you see my stubby fingers? And my neck isn't long enough, or else it's too long and it always looks weird in group pictures, because I can't figure out how to stand next to people like a normal person, apparently. And my arms are kind of fat. And my face is too round and my chin sometimes verges on doubling. And, and, AND.
So I have to go through this list in my head, to prove to myself that my negative feelings about my (otherwise completely wonderful) body are valid. After all that, I don't feel bad about my body anymore. I feel terrible about my body.
You telling me that I have a good body doesn't change how I feel about it. My husband's reassurance that I have a good body doesn't change how I feel about it. I feel how I feel and it's hard for external comments to make me feel better. They do help, and it's nice to hear good things about how I look, but context is everything. If the only compliments I get are about my body, it sends the message that my worth is tied to my appearance, and makes me even more self-critical, because I feel a lot of pressure to maintain a worthy physique. If your comments follow my own negative comment, they mostly serve to invalidate my feelings. More than that, if you are so quick to reassure me that my body is great and refuse to allow my negative feelings, it sends the message that possessing a good body is crucial and that having a "bad" body, a complaint-worthy body, is the worst fate imaginable. It reinforces the notion that there is a hierarchy of bodies, the notion that some bodies are bad bodies, the notion that I must fit the mold of having a good body if I am to have any semblance of fulfillment. After that I feel bad about feeling bad. I can't imagine that this was your intended outcome. At all.
I have sworn up and down that I am losing weight for the benefit of my health, that I love my body however it looks. But I would be kidding myself and my readers if I didn't admit that, you know what? It is a little bit about my appearance. I liked how I looked before, it is easier to feel good about and dress a slimmer body than a heavier one. I know that these feelings are influenced by current, changeable views and ideals about feminine beauty, and but it's hard for that knowledge to change how I feel. Does that make my feelings "right"? I don't think so. They don't seem right, they don't seem feminist, they don't align with my body positive beliefs. Hence all the swearing up and down about my health. But what does denying my feelings accomplish?
I would love to live in a world where women are valued for our minds as much as for our bodies. I would love to live in a world where everyone truly feels that every body is a good body. I would love to live in a world where this piece does not need writing, where the body positive piece I wrote earlier this week didn't garner so much excitement. Until we live in such a world, let us continue to think critically about the messages the media hurls at us every day. Let us strive to love our bodies, and to strike the words "imperfections" and "flaws" from our collective consciousness. At the same time, let us allow ourselves and others to feel how we feel, no shame, no qualifications, no judgements.