Body Con(scious)

Part 1 – I always feel strange writing about body issues – especially considering my size.  I worry that, since I’m on the small side, I’ll be subject to a lot of negative commentary pointing out that I’ve got nothing to complain about.  And that’s exactly the problem…

Natalia Vodianova in Love Magazine’s Body Conscious Series January 2010

During a recent conversation with friends, a gal I know mentioned going on vacation and wanting to shed a few pounds for the beach.  She was asking about our workout routines (for those of us who are so inclined).  There were a few different camps – those who said that diet could change it, those who said that exercise could change it, those who (like me) said “get a trainer because they are magical creatures who tailor your workouts…” And then there was the camp that shamed us all, saying “That’s silly. You don’t need to go to the gym.  You’re fine the way you are”.

It felt a little like saying *if you have to go to the gym you obviously don’t love you and that’s wrong* – like wanting to better your body is not a legitimate goal. I started to feel like that’s just as damaging as the whole “thin is in” campaign we see in fashion mags, etc.   It’s very damned if you do, damned if you don’t – when did we start subconsciously shaming  girls for wanting to care for their bodies?  For striving towards becoming a better person (in whatever regard that may be)?  Or for just loving and accepting themselves as they are now?

As Kate from Eat The Damn Cake says in this post:  “Really, there’s probably a compromise here. If someone is trying to lose weight, I’m not standing next to them at the gym with a bag of Doritos, going, “You’re wasting your time! Want some pizza? I could really go for a pizza…” I think losing weight is a completely legitimate goal in plenty of cases. I don’t think it has to be a symptom of superficiality or self-hatred. It can be really, really healthy.

When I shared my thoughts with Kate, she added:

“I think sometimes on my blog I lean too far in the direction of the women you were describing, who act derisive about weight loss. I don’t feel like that, but I feel pressure to act like that publicly. Reading [your note] helped me put that tendency in perspective and understand better how unfair and, like you said, shaming it can be, to emphasize either approach without giving people room to make their own decisions. Life is too complicated for extremism in either direction.”

It feels like the “real women”, body-love mantras we hear so much about are walking a fine line; we should start loving us regardless of what our body looks or seems like, but we should be ashamed of wanting to change ourselves (and, we know that certain body love movements can be very exclusionary).

While it’s great that the motto of many bod-acceptance movements is “love thyself”, I feel it’s can be healthy to both accept yourself and be a little conscious of your body, knowing its limits, knowing what it can do and what’s good for it.  And if you’re comfortable with you, rock on!  Work it!

But if you want to shed a couple pounds before your tropical vacation, that’s a legitimate goal.  You can eat what you want, and/or be religious about exercise if that’s your thing.  Being conscious of you, of how you look, of how you want to look doesn’t mean that you hate your body, or that you’re necessarily trying to conform to a thin ideal.  Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot of “thin idolatry” out there, and current beauty standards do shame girls for not having the perfect body (whether it’s Christina Hendricks or Twiggy.  And, of course, this is not touching on cases where there’s something else going on etc.).  But we all realize that the perfect body doesn’t exist, but in a few very lucky cases.  The majority of us are gloriously imperfect.  And you have the power to demonstrate enormous self love by caring about your body – whether it’s feeding it cookies or taking it for a walk.

More tomorrow…