There’s a lot of talk about the term body positive these days. I believe it’s something we could all use a bit more of. Some medical experts say that the body positive movement is bad for our health, causing us to celebrate things that aren’t necessarily healthy. I’m not so sure I agree. It seems to me that the only way we can love our bodies is if we can first celebrate them. So what exactly is the harm?
Nobody’s born hating her body. No baby finds her toes for the first time and, before popping them into her mouth, thinks “Ugh, my thighs are so squishy in the middle.” Just like everything else we learn in life, we are taught to hate our bodies. Lesson by lesson. Inch by inch, follicle by follicle, and cell by cell. We are taught by well-meaning people who were taught to hate their bodies by other well-meaning people.
Meaning well and doing well are two very different things.
I guess what makes me the saddest is it doesn’t have to be this way.
I can vividly remember a time in my childhood when I didn’t hate my body. When I didn’t feel the need to judge or critique it or cover it up under layers of bulky clothing. When I didn’t feel judged or critiqued by others. When all was right (or at least as far as I knew it). I rocked my baby bikini with a vintage fur stole and never once considered the need to suck in my stomach. I pranced around in my white fringed cowgirl boots and never thought for one second about whether they made my ankles look fat.
I remember when the number assigned to the size of clothing I wore meant absolutely nothing to me. Searching the racks at our local department store for a Rainbow Brite t-shirt in my size, 6x, had no bearing on how I felt as a person. I was in the first grade.
I remember when getting weighed at the pediatrician was nothing more than a routine part of my check-up and didn’t stress me out in the least.
I remember when my favorite food dish consisted of gravy and bread, which my little country granny would fix for me by taking a slice of loaf bread and covering it with brown gravy. I enjoyed every bite and was completely oblivious to the existence of carbs and saturated fat.
There was a time when my grandmother would take my face into her hands and trace around the edge of it, saying it was perfectly round like a Moon-pie. “How wonderful,” I would think. What a wonderful thing to have someone say about you! I loved Moon-pies.
I remember when my grandpa would let me help him do projects around the house and he called me his “Big little helper,” which was a great source of pride for me.
I can’t really pinpoint when all that changed. It might be easier to identify if it happened overnight in one fell swoop. But the changes were sneakier than that.
One day, I decided I didn’t want to be called a “big little helper” anymore. I couldn’t explain why, but it didn’t seem like something I wanted to be. Big.
Little by little, I took inventory of my body. And found hardly anything to love about its appearance. Having two strong, working legs was lost to the idea that they might soon be covered in spider veins, my genetic birthright. Two fully functioning arms, complete with a pair of hands that each had five working fingers (of all things!), were deemed too flabby for anything but shirts with sleeves.
And all of a sudden, going swimming with a group of people my own age seemed like torture. I spent way too much time and energy worrying about whether or not my 6th grade gym teacher was going to pinch my flab with the big metal calipers, in front of God and everybody else to see.
Then, there was the incident in junior high when a classmate declared I was fat.
My stomach hasn’t seen the light of day since 1990, and I can’t imagine it ever will again.
The thing about hating your body is you can’t really do it without also hating yourself. You might think you can. You might think, my flabby stomach isn’t me. My thighs are not my personality. My jiggly arms are not my sense of humor.
You might think you can separate your hate for your body, put it in a box and keep some semblance of love for your inner self in a different compartment. But ultimately, it’s all going to bleed together.
Because your brain and your heart are still the ones receiving the messages. Your stomach doesn’t care if you hate it. Your jiggly arms aren’t going to know if you despise them. It’s your heart and your soul that will bear the brunt of these feelings. And throw in a good measure of guilt for feeling that way in the first place, especially when you consider all the people who’d love to have working legs, or a strong back, or fingers that can type 90 words per minute.
So what’s the solution? Some people think the way to fix this is to change the things you hate about yourself. I’m not so sure. That’s not to say having a desire to lose weight or get in better shape is wrong or strange. Anyone (which is everyone) who is on a journey of health and finding out what lifestyle choices work for them should feel loved and supported for by their community.
But what if your hatred for your body fuels you to change it drastically and then you still feel sad? What if this causes you to promptly seek out something else about yourself to hate? Sometimes the things we want to lose are also the things we want to keep. So we snuggle up to the devil we know, and keep right on hating our bodies.
What if, instead of trying to change our bodies, we just stopped hating them? What if we put our foot down and said, “That’s it. I’m done. I’m through hating my body. And I’m not going to do it anymore.”
Isn’t it worth a try?
When I was in high school, I got this wild idea that people who ate blue cheese dressing on their salads were more cosmopolitan and sophisticated than people who ate boring old ranch. Only problem was, I didn’t like blue cheese dressing. Hated it, in fact. I thought it was gross. But I so wanted to be more cosmopolitan and sophisticated. One day I came across a bit of research that said you could do something a certain number of times to make it a habit. I think it was like 13 or 17. So I decided right then and there that’s what I’d do. I’d eat blue cheese dressing on the next 13 or 17 salads until it felt perfectly natural to me. And that’s exactly what I did.
What if I could do the same thing, except with not hating my body? Is it possible to retrain myself and end these feelings of hate, by just repeating non-hateful behaviors over and over again?
What if you could do it too? What if some of us stopped hating our bodies, and it created a little ripple that caused others around us to stop hating theirs. And what if one day some girl (or boy) did some amazing thing that impacted all of us for the better, all because s/he had never been taught to hate the things that made her/him strong, capable and able?
I am willing to try. Are you?