Body image and self-love are hot topics in the blogosphere these days, and I don’t know how I feel about it.
Before I come off as the worst kind of person, let me just say that I’m thrilled people are learning to not be so hard on themselves for not being “perfect,” and for recognizing the beautiful things about themselves. I know I have my fair share of insecurities, and often I could do with a healthy dose of self-love.
But with almost every article I read in the continuously evolving collection of body image media, I’m left feeling not quite satisfied. Like the author has almost spoken to me, but was really speaking to a spot on the wall about a foot to the left.
First there was “curvy is the new skinny.” When this first became a thing, I was actually still pretty underweight thanks to my rocky relationship with my colon (we have since divorced due to irreconcilable differences), and along with many other skinny girls, felt a little alienated. Skinny-shaming is no more okay than fat-shaming is, and luckily it didn’t take too long for most people to realize that.
Then it was “strong is the new skinny.” A step in the right direction, perhaps, but what about people who can’t be strong? There are lots of us; people who, because of a chronic disease or other circumstance, simply can’t hit the squat rack to obtain the much-celebrated strong thighs and butt. I can personally attest to the fact that it’s a major bummer not being strong, and a colossal bummer knowing that, at this point in your life, you can do absolutely nothing about it.
But now, the focus has shifted to a more gentle kind of self-love. Loving yourself where you are, accepting your imperfections, and even seeing them as beautiful. I’m all for the take-no-prisoners war on body hate; absolutely no one benefits from the constant internal monologue of comparisons and self-directed meanness that goes on in a lot of peoples’ heads. Gina from So, Let’s Hang Out wrote a beautiful piece about this recently.
But I haven’t been able to get completely on board with the “love your imperfections, everyone is beautiful” way of thinking, and I think a lot of other people haven’t either. Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there is a such thing as objective physical attractiveness, and not everyone has it in equal measure. I think it’s counterproductive to try and convince everyone of their own beauty, because a) it probably won’t work, and b) it keeps the focus on physical appearance, which is what got us in this mess in the first place.
Some articles I’ve read have taken a similar stance. This one on “body neutrality” offers an interesting and helpful perspective, where “body neutrality” essentially means putting your body on the back burner and keeping it there. Not shaming it, not celebrating it; just living in it. I really love this concept, and if you can hack it, I think body neutrality is a really good place to be.
But the thing is, it’s hard to not think about your body. Mirrors still exist, and our collective societal hang-up on appearance means we’re constantly inundated with advertisements, articles, and conversations that bring our attention back to our bodies. And if we can’t immediately reach that place of “body neutrality,” and we can’t quite replace our body negativity with body love yet, we have to replace it with something else. I propose we replace it with gratitude.
I’m not perfect. And I’m not at the point yet where I can consistently love my imperfections and see myself as beautiful in spite of them, much less because of them. But when I find myself getting hung up on how much I hate something about my body, I can mentally shake myself and say something like “Alyssa, you can walk. And see.” And then I feel pretty stupid for worrying about my stomach pudge or face shape or lack of a large intestine, because not everyone is so lucky.
You know that feeling you get when you hear stories about people born with serious genetic defects, or people who get in terrible accidents and go from being in their physical prime to being completely paralyzed? That feeling of perspective and sympathy and gratitude? I think that’s a feeling we should cultivate on a daily basis. You don’t have to love your body, but you can be so darn thankful that you have functioning arms and hands that thinking about your unwanted arm flab feels ridiculous. So you stop thinking about it.
Everyone has different struggles with their body, but everyone should be able to find something, even several somethings, that they’re grateful for. I’ll get you started by listing some awesome things that my body can do.
- Pet my cat
- Cook delicious food
- Play guitar (mediocre-ly)
- Play piano (a bit more competently)
- My liver works pretty well, as far as I know
- I think my spleen does too (Spleen should be a verb. My body can spleen.)
- Think (how crazy is it that we can think? And then think about the fact that we can think??)
- Type on my computer
- Read things
- Pick things up and put them down
I could go on. The point is, the vast majority of us who get all bent out of shape over how we look still have bodies that are decently intact and function somewhat normally. Some people aren’t so lucky.
It’s okay to want to try to get healthier and look better. That’s natural. What’s not okay is hating your body as it is now. Unfortunately, loving your body is easier said than done.
So the next time you start obsessing over the way your legs look in shorts or the way wrinkles have started appearing on your face, don’t try to convince yourself to love your legs and your wrinkles. Instead, consider the fact that you have working legs, and also probably the correct number of chromosomes. You might find that you suddenly feel more positive towards your body, more prepared to treat it well, and maybe even happier about your life in general. Perspective is a powerful thing.