Why I’m Tired of Hearing People Say “You Should Learn to Love Your Body.”

From scan of copy belonging to the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, courtesy of Wikipedia CommonsMost of the marketing which is aimed at my supposed demographic – women in their twenties – at best irritates me and at worst just plain offends me. (Don’t get me started on how much of a f*ck I do not give about whether a new car has a shoe compartment, iPod connectivity or a “support network.”)

This rant in particular is about magazines and soap companies. You know the ones. The ones who have slender, skinny-fat models in their fashion spreads and most of their ads, but occasionally run a “real beauty” campaign showing over-weight women who haven’t had their cellulite airbrushed away, or who do a “body-image” issue showing “real” unfit women in unflattering underwear. For all the fluffy crap about “loving” yourself or accepting your “flaws,” all I really see is a consolation prize, a way out for under-achievers. “Don’t worry,” is what they’re really saying, “Here are some unflattering pics of out-of-shape women so you can compare yourself to them and feel better about yourselves. We know that you’re not happy with the way your body looks and feels, but it’s okay because not everyone can be perfect. Here are some real women.” (So, the models in your ads and fashion shoots aren’t real? Athletic women aren’t real? Women who are actually happy with their bodies – probably because they don’t put their time and energy into taking on your self-contradicting crap – aren’t real??)

Now at first you may think that this is callous, that I’m drumming up business by attempting to “shame” women into getting all OCD about their diet and exercise. Stick with me for a minute.

You don’t have to love your body. If you really loved and valued your self, would you accept that a body that wasn’t ideal was good enough for you? I don’t mean ideal by magazine standards, ideal by body-building standards, ideal by your trainer’s standards or whatever. I mean by your standards. Whether it be the way that you look and how you feel about that, whether it be chronic health problems, whether it be your performance, or whether it be just a feeling of general malaise and lethargy, if your body is not the way you want it to be, you don’t have to feel good about that! You shouldn’t feel good about that. To ask someone to feel good about having diabetes, or being so underweight that they’ve compromised their fertility, or about running out of breath climbing a flight of stairs, is ludicrous and insulting, and also symptomatic of a society where it seems almost taboo for a woman to harbour ambitions to rise above mediocrity.

Take whatever dissatisfaction or discomfort you feel about your body, and use it as the fuel and drive to make effective changes.  Change is uncomfortable. Change is painful. It can be expensive, tiring, scary, isolating, difficult, uncertain. As human beings, it is in our nature to resist change. Even on a cellular level, our bodies constantly strive for homeostasis – stability, not change.

In order for change to occur, the pain of staying the same must be greater than the pain of change.

When you allow yourself to recognise when you have uncomfortable feelings about your body, you give yourself the gift of opportunity to change.

To all the people who still think that I’m being harsh, let me say this: You are a grown-ass woman. If you respect yourself and believe that you deserve to experience the best of everything – including physical health – then you don’t need to be consoled, you don’t need to be told that it’s okay to feel average or even poorly, because the underlying message in all of that is that you can’t do it, so don’t bother trying, just be content with your lot. (Which is remarkably similar to what patriarchal society has long told us about our lot in life in general… hello…)

Consider too that other people treat us the way that we treat ourselves. If you are “settling” for second-best in this most basic part of the human experience – health – what message are you sending to others – your boss, your clients, your lovers, your family, your children, society as a whole – about the way you and women as a demographic deserve to be treated? You need to recognise what you’re unhappy about, identify what you want to change, and then start taking smart, effective action towards those goals on a daily basis. For me to join in the chorus of conciliatory voices who are trying to tell you that you shouldn’t bother with the changes necessary to experience your ideal physical health would be insulting to your innate power as a woman and your worth as an empowered, self-detirmined human being.

What do you think about this issue? Are you, too, offended by the under-achieving, patronising tone of the “love your body” trend? Or do you think I’m being unfair? Leave your comments below! 

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6 thoughts on “Why I’m Tired of Hearing People Say “You Should Learn to Love Your Body.”

  1. Thanks for an interesting article 🙂

    “You need to recognise what you’re unhappy about, identify what you want to change, and then start taking smart, effective action towards those goals on a daily basis.” Beautifully said, yes, we need to be aware of where we are and acknowledge what we want to change, then as you say work towards it day by day.

  2. I totally agree that in order to change the pain of staying the same must be greater than the pain of change.Well done for a very brave stance. I think we all know this, we just don’t like hearing it said because it shakes us up a little because if there’s something we don’t like in our lives it is easier to run away from it then to face it. Well done, great blog! xx

    1. Thanks! I think we all need to be shaken up a little bit, some in different areas of life than others 🙂 I really believe that acknowledging our feelings of discomfort is a powerful first step in committing to change. Glad you liked the blog! 🙂

  3. I agree we should be able to feel whatever we want about our bodies. But at the same time we should challenge some of the ridiculous expectations that are placed on women to obtain the “perfect body”. The constant airbrushing of supermodels to make them thinner (sometimes to the point of ridiculous alien creatures with waists the size of their necks). And even the Dove ads that actually show women in a normal to slightly over-weight BMI without airbrushing but they are all incredibly good looking.
    I have a personal trainer because I have rheumatoid arthritis (after having a serve illness), and I need guidance to get back to 100% energy levels after being bedridden for 5months. I can prove that you can loose weight lying on the couch, but its not a good thing!
    I probably look like the women in the dove ads. It is unrealistic for me to attempt any kind of weightloss diet right now, or even to attempt to look like an athlete, as I am not an athlete. All my goals are based around getting back my energy.
    Learning to respect and “love” my body has helped me take care of my body better, eat healthier foods, and seek professional help from drs, and personal trainers.
    So I do think you are being unfair in many ways. The love your body campaign is not saying don’t look after your body, but the opposite. Negative body appraisal is bad for your body and can easily lead to self destructive behaviours.
    What is the point of attaining imagined perfection (even by your own standards) if you get there and still don’t feel comfortable in your skin? What else is influencing your idea of what an ideal body shape is?
    I say don’t wait get comfortable in your skin now. Whatever size you are. There are some things you can control, like good diet and exercise (even if its just walking to start with). And leave your body shape to decide by itself what it wants to be.
    I feel that the love your body campaign helped me achieve more physical help by allowing me to have the confidence to reach out to health professionals.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Michelle. I think we are saying the same thing, in slightly different ways. When I talk about achieving ideal standards I don’t mean standards which are defined by outside sources, but standards which you define for yourself, and which may have nothing to do with the way that you look to others. For example, in reading your comment I get the impression that your standards are very much to do with your health and energy levels, that you have taken action on reaching those standards which you have set for yourself and are remaining strong in refusing to compromise those goals for anything else (such as social expectation that you look a certain way etc..) I hope I have read that correctly. Assuming that I have, for you to settle for second best would mean giving up on creating the health and energy which you want. “Settling” in this instance has nothing to do with how you look because (if I’ve read correctly) your goals are not related to aesthetics.
      I am certainly not advocating for women to adhere to some kind of social standard and try to look the way that society or the media portrays as being ideal. I would love for more women to break away from that and to identify their own version of what it means to have ideal HEALTH (which may or may not involve the way that they look) and to make that ideal a reality. I believe that acknowledging our discomfort with those things we’re not happy with – such as pain or lack of energy, for example – is the first step towards positive change.
      Having said all of that, however, thank you for your comments about the Real Beauty campaign also. I’m glad that you found it empowering and I enjoyed reading your opinion of it. All the best with your own health journey, Michelle 🙂

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