“We teach little boys to view their bodies as tools to master their environment, we teach girls to treat their bodies as projects to constantly be improved.” (see the link at the bottom for the video with Caroline Heldman)
Body image and the ways it can be distorted is something about which I’m passionate. I get heated whenever this topic arises, but instead of approaching this subject from my clinical, academic lens, I’d like to talk more about my experience.
I cannot pinpoint where I got the messages I did about my body. The fact is, they come from so many places in so many subtle (and not so subtle ways anymore) that it becomes difficult to even point to a reason for my body image issues. I can remember, however, being in about sixth grade and worrying about my thighs being fat. I recall, very vividly, a neighbor boy who was a few years younger than me calling me a “fat legged bitch.” It stuck with me. I can recall almost every detail of that scene. Looking back, I ache for that young girl who thought she had “fat” thighs and I wonder how this young boy learned so astutely that attacking my body would be the thing that hit the hardest.
I have looked down at my legs my entire life and noticed how they jiggle. I’ve strategically placed myself when sitting in order to diminish the size of my thighs. It’s sad to think about the time I’ve wasted making sure my body looked okay in whatever position it was in. I have noticed every single part of my body and thought of ways it could be better. I spent the better part of my first 29 years treating my body as something to be improved upon.
It never occurred to me to think of my body any differently. Even when I was working out trying to improve how I looked, I was thinking about how I looked doing it! Can you imagine running on a treadmill and instead of feeling proud, you’re wondering if your thighs or butt are jiggling too much? If you’re a woman, you probably have a similar story. It feels so ridiculous just writing this, I feel vain and stupid. But the truth is, it’s not because I’m vain- it’s because I’ve learned that my most valuable asset is the way I look. And I would like to stop buying into the bullshit.
Over the last few years, I’ve discovered how magnificent it is to shift my view from how my body looks to what it can do. I find that I push myself harder, get more from my workout, and feel better about myself. I spend less time thinking about how I look and more time in awe of this wonderful body I’ve been given. I am proud of the things it can do. I look forward to seeing what else it might be able to do with practice. Sadly, I was never taught to think like this, it was something I had to discover, but it was a wonderful discovery.
Of course, I still fall into the trap. It’s tough not to with all the body shaming (fat and skinny) that happens to women. It’s tough when I’m constantly bombarded by images of “perfection.” Of course it’s tough and of course it will happen. But, five years ago, if you were to ask me the thing about my body that brought me the most pride, I’d probably tell you some bullshit answer about some small tiny part of me that I thought looked ok and then proceed to tell you what needed to be “fixed.” If you asked me today, I’d tell you something like- “last night, I was the only woman who could do push ups without having to go to her knees and that I finished my first crossfit workout ahead of everyone else- even the men.” I am strong. My body can do things I never thought it could do and I know that it has so much more potential.
Stop looking down at how imperfect your body is and start paying attention to how it feels to be able to do all that it can do. It’s so wonderfully freeing. So freeing in fact, that as I sit here and write this, tears are streaming down my face. Don’t let your whole life go by without enjoying the most wonderful instrument you’ve been given. This is it. This is you. You don’t get another body or another life. There’s no sense in wasting anymore time looking down and judging the way your stomach looks in that shirt.