This past weekend I volunteered at a local fundraising event. My job was to fold countless women’s tops as eager shoppers went through them looking for bargains and treasures.
As I picked up one garment after another, folded and arranged in neat little piles, bits and pieces of random conversations floated by me and the thing I noticed most was the unrelenting body shaming words women use to describe themselves. It did NOT matter their age or what they looked like.
It disturbed me to no end.
At what age did we begin hating our bodies? When did we decide that our bodies, which are mystical and astounding are nothing more than things to complain about, things to be disdained, things to be criticized over and over again? During what phase of our lives did our bodies become private enemy #1?
Did this mindset take shape in our youth? Did it take shape in our childbearing years? After menopause? Or was it ingrained in us at such an early age that we can’t even put a finger on it?
A few years ago, while cleaning out some ancient stuff my mother found in an old closet, I came across a wall calendar that belonged to me. The year 1975. Back then I made notes on calendars the way most girls use diaries. I came across an entry made on a Friday in May.
MUST LOSE WEIGHT!!!
In the spring of 1975 I would have been a mere 14 years old and I can only imagine that I was concerned about the approaching summer and bathing suit season. Apparently I got it in my head that 110 pounds was unacceptable.
HOW THE HELL DID THAT HAPPEN? WHEN THE HELL DID THAT HAPPEN?
Not the weight gain (?) but my perception of the weigh gain. How did I, at the age of 14, come to believe that 110 pounds was fat? That gaining weigh, a normal physical evolution of the maturing of a healthy human body, was bad?
Did it come from my family? My friends? Teen magazines? Marsha Brady?
Of course I can’t remember what was going through my mind 40 years ago, but what I do know is that stigma (if I care to look, which I don’t) still lives deep inside me and I will venture to guess in most women too.
These days I no longer focus on my weight. What I focus on now is how my body functions. Am I healthy? Staying ahead of things before they break down. Making sure I eat as well (for my body) as I possibly can and yes I do have that occasional piece of cheese cake, because, well why the hell not?
It drives me crazy when a woman discounts her own beauty because she unrealistically views herself as ‘less than’ or ‘flawed’.
If I really wanted to fit into a a size 8 then I would make that my top priority. But the truth is it isn’t. My priority is being active, experiencing life. Working at things I enjoy. The size of clothing I wear will no more make me feel better about myself (in the long term) than any other quick fix.
I know women who by society standards are high on the BMI scale and they are gorgeous! They OWN who they are.
I also know women who are hyper focused on every calorie that goes into their mouths and find themselves on the never-ending carousel ride grabbing at the brass ring and holding on for a few days, or weeks until the ride stops and then starts all over again.
Our bodies change. THAT IS A FACT. The key is to keep that change healthy. Somehow we tend to view these changes as abnormal as though we are the ONLY ONES on the planet whose bodies have gone rogue. What is abnormal is comparing ourselves to 19 year old models on a cat walk.
Women out there: PLEASE don’t be so hard on yourselves! Make your focus and priority staying healthy both physically and mentally. MOVE your body daily. If you don’t use it you will lose it. Walk. Ride, Swim WHATEVER, just move.
Eat as well as you can and that does NOT mean deprivation. If you want a salad because you love salads, have a salad. I happen to love salads, but I also love other things as well.
If you feel like indulging in something that isn’t considered ‘good’ for you then have at it but note HOW you physically feel later on. If you truly enjoyed it and it made you feel good, then great!
If it made you feel like crap physically, mentally
or both (and most foods that are bad for you will leave you with that prize) then find something else.
There are some foods that taste fantastic but do not make me feel good so I avoid them. On the rare occasion I am truly wanting ‘that thing’ I’ll have it BUT I am well aware that when I feel like shit afterwards I won’t wonder why.
Wear clothing that makes you feel beautiful. That is different for everyone. Treat yourself and YOUR body with respect and it will respect you back. And if you have people in your life who focus on what you LOOK like instead of who you are, then…well, let’s just say that will set me off on another tangent!
More than at any time we are realizing the affects poor body image is having on the young girls of today. As mature women it is our responsibility (whether we ourselves have daughters or not) to lead by example. Teach them healthy choices. Movement (whatever works for them). Healthy eating NOT deprivation eating. Put the focus on the things that matter not just numbers. It starts with us. It is about accepting the fact that our bodies change throughout our lives and it is up to us to keep them functioning well.
The only way we will ever displace unrealistic body ideals is if WE start to love not only who we are, but what we look like NO MATTER WHAT.
We can only teach our girls to own who THEY are if they see that we own who WE are.