I’ve often wondered what women might accomplish as a gender if we put all of the time and energy we devote to hating out bodies toward something else. Personally I could have built a house or learned a language or an instrument. That might come as a surprise to most people who know me, because I have come a long way toward having a healthy image to go along with my healthy body. I don’t hate my body any more, but I regret the time I wasted doing so. I regret going on diets and counting calories and all of the energy I devoted to the chimera of the perfect body we’re all so conditioned to chase.
Like many of us, I’ve struggled mightily with body image since I was young. I am not now and was never overweight by any medical or indeed reasonable, objective definition of the word. I’m tall and athletic, I’m not a small person and I wasn’t even when I was at an age when most of my friends could eat whatever and not gain an ounce. Once I was old enough to be conscious of the fact that my body didn’t fit the ideal, I loathed it.
Throughout my teenage years and college and my early years in size-six-is-the-new-sixteen New York; I went through periods of tacit self-acceptance and spirals of loathing that most of us are probably quite familiar with. I never had an eating disorder but I went through long periods where my relationship with food could be described as adversarial at best and unhealthy at worst. I ask myself looking back what any of it was for. It was never really about men in anything but the most tangential way. It was more about worth, about what shape I thought I had to fit in to be truly valued as a woman. A couple of years ago, I decided I had had enough; I wasn’t going to do this anymore. I was never going on a diet again. It finally dawned on me how pathetic it was to buy into all of this nonsense; there is just nothing noble or admirable about the pursuit of thinness.
I’m all about eating healthy and exercising but the benefits of these things go way beyond aesthetics; those objectives are just harder to market. There is the perverse sense that all of this energy we put into hating on our bodies is going to accomplish something: a better-looking body, a healthier life, I don’t know. But the truth is, it won’t. I have never once seen anyone hate themselves into a happier life and a healthier body. Not once. Least of all myself.
I’m not going to pretend that I’ve risen above it all and now live in some constant Zen state of body-love. Coming around wasn’t so much epiphantic as it was a slow progression, one that is still happening. But now I look in the mirror most days and am happy and comfortable in my skin; and it’s ridiculous how much effort it took to get there.
Your body and how you feel about it is your own responsibility. Society isn’t going to help you. Getting women to hate themselves is lucrative business for the diet and beauty industries but ultimately, you decide whether or not you give into the hype. Ditto this with giving credence friends, relatives and boyfriends who are toxic about weight.
There is no doubt that the deck is stacked against us ever feeling good about our bodies but a good place to start is to stop saying negative things about yours. I don’t know how this ever became a way for women to bond but it needs to stop. Not only is it uncomfortable and depressing for those around you to listen to but it’s adding to the deep collective well of body hate that we all have to deal with. You know how this goes, you start in on your thighs, your friend raises you a fupa and a fat ass and it continues from there. Everyone loses in these conversations.
God willing, I will live to be 100, and you know what? My body is going to look really different at that point. What a shame it would be to look back at these years when my body was healthy and young and know that all I could see were its flaws. I don’t usually refer to Samantha Jones as a source of wisdom but she had the right idea on this matter when she said: ‘When I’m old and my tits are in my shoes, I can look back at this picture and say: damn, I was hot.’