By: Sarah Meinel
Sometimes, thinness is a curse: beautiful young women in the supermarket glare at me, unprovoked. I try to smile, but it seems to only make them angrier. They swish their hair as they approach, refusing to make eye contact and yet ensuring with their body language that I know they are paying attention, as if I have somehow intended to upset them. Mere acquaintances ask me what I am eating, how I stay so thin. Older women look me up and down. “Oh, I hate you!” they banter, slapping me on the shoulder. “Gosh, you are so skinny,” the heavier women say. “I’ll give you some of my butt and then you’ll have boobs!” A perfect trade. “
It is only women who make these comments–and I don’t pretend to be innocent here. I have fallen prey to the body myth, too, and I have been cruel to other women, because I live in the same world as everyone else. I am subjected to the same messaging that says my body is not good enough, will never be good enough, and which tells me that neither is yours. I live in a culture that taught me to compete with other women for the attention of men, to see other women as adversaries until they morph into distinctly close allies. I live within the same cultural myth that says a woman’s value is tied to her physicality, her sexuality. I fight against that every day, too.
I have always been naturally thin, yes; but I have also gone through periods of excessive exercise, and I have a skewed view of my own body. Like dysmorphia, I only see the bad parts in the mirror, the spots where a roll of fat impedes the beauty of a curve, the severe bloating from a digestive illness, the stretch marks it has caused on my sides, the degradation of muscle from intense fatigue, the way it hangs and swings instead of shoring up into firm mounds, a reminder of the strength I do not have. We don’t comment on the bodies and the food choices of heavier women, because it is rude. But it isn’t any less offensive when the person receiving the unwanted comments meets the perceived, culturally agreed-upon standard for beauty: thin. These comments–which are masked as compliments but are ultimately polarizing, damning, and invasive–are a symptom of a much larger problem.
Lest we forget, healthiness is the rub. My sister Ellen has struggled with obesity all her life, despite two siblings who are naturally stick thin. She recently had weight loss surgery and is now running marathons. I am immensely proud of her, but it isn’t because she has met societal expectations of beauty–no, it is because she is taking care of herself. I am so proud of her for getting this disease under control. You see, when it comes down to it, obesity is a dangerous condition, and we shouldn’t encourage it by suggesting that there is beauty in being fat, just as we shouldn’t suggest there is beauty in excessive thinness. Friends, if it ain’t healthy, it ain’t beautiful. Period.
But here is the part that really gets me: as my sister drops pound after pound after pound, and I see the bones of her face emerging for the first time in over twenty years, and as she and I begin to look like one another again, I am starting to understand that I had never seen her as a “fat person”. I had only seen her as Ellen, the bubbliness of her spirit, her vivacity, her resiliency. For me, that was what had always shown through: her true self. Her unhealthy body was never beautiful, and neither was mine. But now I understand that those very same strangers who have treated me poorly because of my physical body can only see her body, too. Nothing more. The problem here isn’t that we are ignoring the person, and the solution isn’t to declare all bodies beautiful. The problem is that we simply value and devalue the bodies of others too much, when the only body we should care about is our own, inside and out. It’s time for a new definition of beauty, one that includes health and autonomy.
This Love My Body Day, my challenge to women is to consider the pressure we place on one another. Notice how you think about other women’s bodies today, not just your own. Join me in asking yourself: How many times have I commented on someone’s weight recently, or asked them about their food? When was the last time I gossiped about another woman’s appearance? Let’s take an oath here, today, to stop hurting each other the way the culture hurts us. Let’s take an oath to hold each other up, encourage true health and selfhood, shun judgment and seek instead moments of real beauty in one another’s lives.
Love your whole body today, ladies, because after all, you’re the only one who truly can.
*I have changed my sister’s name to protect her privacy.
10 Ways to Love Your Body
- Indulge on your own terms. Whether it’s fresh veggies from the Farmer’s Market, or a pint of Häagen Dazs Vanilla Fudge ice cream or loving your body is also about loving your taste buds every once in a while.
- Stretch your mind and body. Yoga—gentle yoga that encompasses relaxation and a healthy lifestyle, as well as meditative yoga—can bring one to the consciousness of their unique inner being. Yoga can rejuvenate the mind and body and teach us how to care for ourselves.
- Read. It can be a source of entertainment, a way to catch up on current events or an educational tool. Several books have been published on loving your body—get some new ideas!
- Throw a private party. It worked for India.Arie and it can work for you too. Take a day for yourself and yourself only. Turn off your cell and log out of your instant messenger. Just spend the day looking in the mirror and exploring your body. Once the celebration is over you’ll realize that you learn something new everyday.
- Laugh out Loud. This isn’t just an Internet acronym spelled out. It’s an action that will do your body some good. Don’t be afraid to show the world your smile. It’s contagious.
- Have safe sex. Loving our bodies is about keeping them healthy and free from diseases. And besides, there’s nothing like getting a two for one on Love Your Body Day.
- Spend time with your family. Whether it’s a pet or partner, your spouse or a sibling, quality time is a must-have in nurturing relationships which in turn nurture and love your body.
- Listen to positive music. Developing a theme song can do wonders for your body esteem and your overall outlook.
- Develop a creative outlet. Everyone needs a medium to express daily stress and frustrations constructively. Maybe you’re a photographer, writer, poet or all three. Maybe you can knit, make shapes out of clay or finger paint. Loving your body is also about loving your mind.