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Do you really — women-only question, for a moment — long to look like the model in this photograph?
Several bloggers here at Trueslant have recently focused on how much some girls and women loathe their bodies, starving them through bulimia and anorexia in an effort to mimic the sleek, long-limbed specimens shoved in our faces daily by the media. Yes, we all need to reach and maintain a healthy weight — not sliding into diabetes or obesity. But this absurdly narcissistic focus on the size, shape and allure of our noses, breasts, faces, hips, thighs, bottoms and even our genitals (yes, women are paying surgeons to alter the shape of those, too) has to stop. Why?
Hating the parcel of flesh that is now carrying you through this lifetime — to the movies, to work, to win (or lose) a soccer game, to make love, to produce, nurse and hug your kids, to enjoy a sunset — is madness.
There are six reasons I love my body, with all its spider veins, moles, wrinkles and double digit size. (And, no, that’s no a size 00) You should love yours too.
Maybe one of these will resonate for you:
1) Between 2005 and 2007, we lost 12 friends, colleagues and relatives forever. I felt like a figure in some 15th. century woodcut cringing in a corner as Death swung his scythe hard and fast and furiously all around us. Trish died at 49 of ovarian cancer, “Killing Fields”photographer Dith Pran at 65 of pancreatic cancer, Sandy at 63 of lung cancer, my aunt Barbara, at 82, of cancer, my Daily News boss, Bill Boyle, at 59, dead of melanoma, New York Times editor David Rosenbaum at 63, murdered the day after he retired. What wouldn’t every single one of them have given for another day, week, month in their bodies, in this world?
2) If your life/body has never been threatened, you may not realize its value to you or others. My mom, at 75 still kicking my butt, has survived three kinds of cancer: thyroid, when she was 30; breast cancer, and a brain tumor at 68. A very thin scar circles her throat, as much a part of her as her bright blue eyes and ready laugh, the scar from her first cancer surgery. I grew up knowing cancer, and its shadow. Before her six-hour neurosurgery in 2002, I reassured her she’d be fine — but she doesn’t remember, so badly affected was her cognition at that point. Two days later, with 20+ staples in her scalp, we fell happily back into intellectual argumentation. (There’s a piece about this on my website.) I’m deeply grateful she’s survived what her physician airily called “her malignancies”, and equally grateful having learned, early, how fragile our bodies can be.
3) Millions of people around the globe want nothing more, this second, than reliable access to sufficient, clean, safe food. They are dying of starvation. For a little perspective, consider this map of the world showing countries well-fed as thin and those whose inhabitants are dying of starvation swollen by these deaths. Obsessing over calories when we are drowning in their easy, cheap availability seems a little neurotic to me.
4) My body still allows me to enjoy the life I most value. I’ve had two knee surgeries and a shoulder surgery since the year 2000 and tons of re-hab. After the age of 35, it helped me climb the rigging 100 feet above the deck of an Australian Tall Ship, to compete nationally as a saber fencer, helps me hit to the outfield most Saturdays. I can’t play squash three times a week anymore (my knee cartilage now shot), but I can, and do, walk, ski, skate, run, play softball, dance, travel. Spoiled, demanding, impatient, I used to rage at its deficiencies. Now I thank every ligament, tendon, muscle and bone for its continued service.
5) Love your body, then form a fan club for it. If your partner, whatever their gender and putative desirability, demands you be rail-thin and wrinkle-free to win or keep their love and undivided attention, why are you putting up with this? (Parents, if you’re doing this, shut up!) Yes, we all need to maintain a healthy weight, and it’s nice to take care of your appearance. But spending time with someone, let alone internalizing their hatred of your body as it is, who consistently picks at the psychic scab of your self-loathing and shame, is not a wise choice.
I’m lucky to have found a sweetie, (10 years so far), who loves my curves. The size of my brain and heart matter more to him than the size of my butt. (Tell ’em I love your butt, too, he insists.)
6) If your body is strong and healthy, that is enough. On March 16, 2007 I was admitted to my local hospital with a temperature of almost 104 degrees. In the ER, the doctor read my chest X-ray and closed the curtain around my gurney. That’s never a good sign. “I think you might have lung cancer,” he said. “The spot on your lung is very big.” There are no words for that moment. I did not have lung cancer, only pneumonia. Self-employed, scared to disappoint clients and lose income, I had driven my body like some Dickensian factory owner, working it non-stop through worsening illess. In the hospital shower, drenched with fever sweat, so weak I could barely stand, I apologized aloud to my body. Never again would I — will I — treat it with such dishonor.
The next time you choose to hate your body’s imperfections and weaknesses, please stop.
It’s all you’ve got in this lifetime. Cherish it.