On Body Image, Part Two
About a year and a half ago, I wrote an article about body image-my relationship with my body, feminism, and the value we place on the way we look. I was really proud of that article, and the responses I got from so many people-many of whom confirmed that they had or did feel the same way I did- made me realize that body image issues plague pretty much everyone, even though they often manifest themselves in completely different ways.
And, eighteen months later, my attitude towards my body has changed hugely. I’d be an idiot to say that all my issues surrounding the way I look were done with- I don’t think they ever really will be, honestly. But things have improved in leaps and bounds since then, and I think that’s worth talking about.
I think my attitude towards my body, at it’s worst, can be summed up in this clip from ABCs of Death (warning: extremely gory and NSFW). Something about the imagery of a woman literally slicing bits of her overweight body off to match the images she was presented in the media-it’s visceral and violent and sometimes exactly what I want to do myself. She stands there, dripping with blood, muscle and bone exposed, before she collapses and dies- but hey, at least she’s skinny. It’s an absurd line of thought, quantifiably so, but that doesn’t make it any less relatable. That’s how it feels when I try to cram myself in to the mould that the media often presents women as; I’m never going to have slim hips, proportionate boobs, skinny thighs. I’m too pale, I have a goofy smile, my eyebrows are weird in a way I have never really been able to explain. I have stretchmarks and scars. I could go on. We all could, probably.
Of course, as with all things, I went online to try and find other people who felt the way I did. I wanted people who could show me that I could look like that- that I could be a success story, even though I knew that to look the way I wanted to, I would need more than just diet and exercise. And yeah, there were people promising me that I could do it. But in my search, I stumbled across the body positivity movement- and somehow, many of the things it said were completely new to me.
I mean, of course I know intellectually that people are not worth any less based on what they weigh or how they look. In fact, I knew that viscerally-seeing the people I cared about shit on themselves based on how they looked upset me because I didn’t value them for what they did or didn’t look like. But somehow, I couldn’t apply those same thoughts to myself. Coming across a certain subsets of communities that told me I wasn’t a steaming pile of shit for not looking how I was meant to look, that felt new. It seems ridiculous and overdramatic now, but I had never actually truly considered the fact that I might be worth the same kind of consideration I gave other people when it came to the way I looked.
And so, with those new thoughts drumming around my brain, I found myself forgiving my body for not looking the way I wanted it to. And it was kind of a relief- Jesus, now that I didn’t lie awake at night grabbing my fat and scolding myself for not doing more about it, I had so much time to do something, anything else. Like actually start giving a shit about my body and how it functioned as opposed to how it looked. I knew I was meant to love my body, but in order to do that, I had to like it first.
I ate better. I drank less. I quit smoking, properly this time. I lift weights and jump around a lot and walk and do yoga and generally actually take care of my body. Body positivity to me didn’t just mean loving my body as it was, but loving what it could be, taking care of it so I could do as much as I possibly could with it.And yeah, I lost weight- a lot more than I did when I loathed the way I looked, ironically. But I wasn’t doing it to look a certain way anymore, though I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a pleasant side affect. I wanted to feel strong and awesome and badass, because hating my body wasn’t getting me anywhere. I’m not going to lie and say that all my depression and anxiety vanished with lifestyle changes, but not spiralling down valleys of self-loathing sure helped overall. Treating taking care of my body as a punishment made me hate it and it made no sense; it’s part of treating myself as I treat other people.
Taking care of your body means something different for everyone, and I’m by no means saying you have to become a virtuous health Saint in order to love your body-shit, I know I’m certainly not. But treating yourself well, and not using your body as another tool to beat your psyche with? That’s manageable. And this is simply how I did that- by turning my body not into a failed attempt at being conventionally beautiful, but a successful attempt at being strong and fast and healthy.
I still don’t adore every inch of my body-again, I don’t think anyone truly does. And it’s an inherently selfish cause to work towards, in a lot of ways, because it’s focused entirely on making yourself happy. But it’s a worthy one, I think. Because I have to live in this body forever, as trite as it sounds, and it would really be doing me a solid if I could not waste my time hating it and get on with more interesting shit instead.