Thoughts on January Body Shaming

by - Monday, January 07, 2013

Shaylyn posted this on her facebook this week (she also writes a blog, which is especially great if you are looking for good vegan recipes; we have tried a couple, and they are pretty awesome- ) , and I have been thinking about it a lot:

"i used to post this every january. it bears repeating: it's that special time of year when ABSOLUTELY EVERYWHERE we turn (opposed to "mostly everywhere" the other 11 months of the year) there is someone telling us to lose weight, get rid of our zits, get rid of our wrinkles, etc etc etc... and of course, you should fork over your hard earned money for their products to do this.

there is a big difference in resolving to "get healthy" and resolving to "lose weight/get skinny/finally fit into that bikini" but it's amazing the lengths our brains will go to in an attempt to convince us otherwise. let's focus on getting stronger, lowering our cholesterol, eating more leafy greens, getting some exercise and having fun. the hardest part of "getting healthy" is the mental aspect so how about this year we resolve, above all else, to love and accept ourselves no matter what. its the most radical thing you can do in a world that wants you to hate yourself if you don't look, act, or think a certain way."

Beyond just giving a big old AMEN!! I have been thinking about why this seems to be such a challenge for women and how much of a role media has to play in that. 

I think sometimes the media issue can be greatly overblown; I don't think we actually decide that we want to look like such and such person, and I definitely don't think we expect anyone else to look that way. On the other hand, watching tv or film reinforces the idea that one of the most valuable things a person (especially a woman) can be is attractive. You want to be attractive, because it will help you get what you want or it will get you attention, etc. I also think those standards are socially constructed; this is easy enough to see from a historical perspective, where even what was attractive 100 years ago isn't what is beautiful now. 

What I like so much about Shaylyn's post is the stress not only on the mediated, but the commerce-driven aspects of the attractiveness industry. Body shaming is only useful if it motivates us the consumer to buy Special K cereal or subscribe to Jenny Craig. It promises that immediacy, when anyone who has actually succeeded in transforming their choices can say that it is pretty slow-going. If they could find a genuinely marketable way to support women feeling fine just the way they are, they might do that. But capitalism is built to identify needs and fulfill them in a way that will only create more needs. Their motivation is not to make anyone feel better- they want you to feel like that one more thing will finally do the trick. 

The point in buying a brand diet or brand exercise machine or brand makeup is that it is supposed to do the job better, faster, and easier. We all know this is a lie, that it's a mental game above all else.  Even if you can shed some weight quickly, sustainable healthy choices have to be learned the hard way. Still, this industry perpetuates on those hopes. 

Shaylyn's suggestions, on the other hand, do not need to be branded or advertised. Sure, there are brands of leafy greens, veggies, etc, but all in all, nothing will do you better than just shopping the outside edge of your grocery store, where way fewer brands live. Going for a walk is free. There are any number of good choices that don't make anyone any money, so the inundation of ads is to try to prove that putting more money towards it will get you better results. I think the truth to that is entirely up to what your actual needs are. Deciding what healthy thing you actually want seems to be a key first step. 

I wonder if some of it is that even when we say we want to be healthy, we would happily settle to just feel more attractive. That we can't quite unpack the idea that if you look good on the outside, things must be working well on the inside. Thinner is an attractive shorthand for healthy, because it seems all encompassing, but that's some tricky business. (The Boy, for example, is a very thin man, but we had to work on his cholesterol last year).

I 100% believe that accepting ourselves is one of the most radical things a person can do, and I think the ripples to that decision are broader than we think. We learn how to treat ourselves from how we see other people treat themselves. I have a number of female family members, some of my absolute favorite people in the world, who constantly talk about themselves in such a nasty, mean way (in a way they would never talk about anyone else). They talk about their bodies as being so horrible, but I think they look great. They talk about how they used to be fat, but I have never seen any pictures of these supposed "fat phases" (and I have seen a lot of pictures of them, so it must have been a very short moment). I find they can't get through conversations without digs at themselves, and even though I have been there, I genuinely do not know how to respond. To be completely frank, I find these lines of conversation so boring and joyless. I wonder sometimes if they can hear themselves, and if even they get sick of hearing themselves talk about it.

Hearing them talk about themselves that way taught me to see bodies as a lost cause. Up until maybe  5 years ago, I genuinely figured I was not an attractive person, so I wasn't going to put a bunch of unnecessary energy into my body to just feel depressed that it "didn't work." Because of that, I ate a lot of junk, because I am a stress eater big time. I think I only changed my attitude after I realized how much better I felt when I ate well. Last year (well now it's been the last two... see! it's slow!) was the year of learning healthy habits in our apartment, and I can honestly say I feel really proud of myself for learning to love spinach and for making exercise a regular part of our routine.  I think we can't separate our health and our body image, because they play into each so deeply, but that makes the radical decision to love yourself first, and then make healthy decisions second even more radical. If you are already cool with who you are, you genuinely can move on!! Move on to better, more interesting goals toward both your health and your looks. Move on to try new hikes, or bike riding, or swimming, or something. Move on to try new foods, or to give up that thing you thought you couldn't do without. Move on from those ads where people shrink down to nothing in two seconds or the people magazine weight loss issue. Just move on. 

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