Two images stare back at me from my computer. The one on the left portrays a sad, frumpy larger version of the person—so sorrowful you can almost hear Sarah McLachlan in the background. The one on the right displays a happy, half-naked thinner version–who most certainly has an amazing life and personal jet by now. These images typically have many exasperating hashtags, list the number of pounds lost/goal weight, and describe how much they hate the person on the left. I don’t even know this person, and yet I’ve fallen victim to their expertly- curated Facebook life and their thin-ideal proselytism. These images awaken the demon of insecurity that lives deep within us, and stirs the spirit of body-shame.
These before and after transformation photos are meant to sharply juxtapose the fat, unhealthy version of that person with the thin, happy version. These photos prey on our insecurities, and desire to fit into the cultural thin-ideal. This pervasive thin-ideal convinces us that—when we attain the perfect body—we will gain health, wealth, love, and happiness. It impresses upon us the idea that the thinner body is a “good body” and the larger body is a “bad body”—and, through the transitive property of equality in mathematics, the person living in the “bad body” must also be “bad.” When presented with these transformation photos that perpetuate the thin-ideal, the culture of body-shaming and normalization of self-hatred is perpetuated ad nauseam. This perpetuation has a cost, however, and that cost is self-destruction, self-condemnation, and devaluation of those of us who do not fit the ideal.
Society criminalizes and fears fat at the same time—leading fat to become the last socially-acceptable form of discrimination. The prevalence of weight-based discrimination has increased 66% from 1995 to 2006 (NEDA). This is likely why 42% of girls in first through third grade want to be thinner (NEDA), and 81% of ten-year-olds have a fear of being fat (NEDA). This is also likely why the dieting industry rakes in $64 BILLION annually—outearning the wedding industry and the baby product industry. Society conditions us to second-guess any of the confidence we’ve developed about our bodies and question how someone—with our less-than-perfect body—can be accepted looking the hideous the way we do. How much we weigh, eat, exercise, etc. is nobody’s business but our own. Our bodies belong to us—not to social media, not your friends or family, not your doctor, no one. The phrase “Compare and despair” comes to mind—thank you Jenni Schaefer.
Here are the facts: THERE IS NO “PERFECT” BODY and YOUR BODY ISN’T SOMETHING TO BE “FIXED.” Contrary to what society shoves down our throat every minute of every day, there is no perfect body. Have you seen the lineup of female Olympic athletes from the various events throughout the years? Each of them represent the peak performance level of their sport, and yet every single one of them has a different body size and shape than the woman standing next to them. Not to be outdone, men from various nations recreated a similar photo. Health, like our bodies, comes in all shapes and sizes. Thin does not always represent a healthful body, just as fat does not always represent an unhealthful body. Health cannot be measured on a scale or through the flawed mathematics of body mass index. While weight can certainly be an aspect of health, it is not a sole indicator. Health is also measured through mental and emotional wellbeing, effective relationships with others, meaningfully contributing to society, and myriad other aspects. There is no one right way to have a body!
Remember, your weight does not make you any better or worse than anyone else. When we focus so intently on our perceived flaws, we will never be able to see the remarkable, astounding aspects of our bodies. There is more to life than food or weight—don’t let it become the central fixture around which your life revolves. The answer to our body and self-acceptance isn’t found in a fad diet, a new exercise trend, a pill, a cream, a tea, a detox regime, a cleanse, constricting shapewear, expensive exercise equipment, shakes, or anything else the diet industry/thin ideal perpetuators use a propaganda to convince you that you’re worthless while further lining their pockets with cash. As the amazing body-positivity activist Sarah Vance says, “Loving yourself isn’t going to come from changing your body.”
So how can we grow to love and accept our bodies—as they are in this very moment—in a world that is constantly conspiring to do the opposite? I’m no expert on body-positivity. In fact, I’m still working on it myself. What I can do, however, is recommend the celebration of a day of body love as a place at which to start. On this day, for every negative comment you say about your body, consciously counter is with a positive. Write a letter of gratitude to your body—sure it will be weird, and it will be worth it. Wear an article of clothing in which you feel great. Compliment yourself and others on their character, not their body or appearance. Respect your body’s needs: if it wants to move, move; if it wants to rest, rest; if it wants to eat, eat; if it wants a massage, get a damn massage. It’s your body and you know its needs better than anyone else. Having needs is not a weakness—though society will actively work to convince you otherwise—and denying ourselves of our needs is not the strength we are lead to believe that it is. I also recommend participating in some body activism projects. I’ve joined some body positive groups on Facebook, and blocked a TON of friends who consistently post body negative updates. I also turn around magazines that objectify bodies by promoting the thin-ideal—if people can’t see them, they can’t buy them or fall victim to their propaganda. If you’re feeling exceptionally brave, you can post body positive post-its on those magazines or on diet products. Be bold.
I leave you with this: appreciate your body, it is yours and you get only one. Your body is a masterpiece of creation and there is no other body out there like yours…none. Live your life on your terms in your body, and appreciate all the wonderful things it does for you.
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” 1 Peter 3:3-4