I feel like it deserves better treatment.
When I express the view that I love my body–it’s me after all, not a home improvement project–many people are surprised. They think it’s remarkable you can be overweight (fat, big, whatever) and still love the body you have.
Often what I think is truly remarkable about this is that it’s my attitude that stands out as noteworthy. I’m always shocked at the number of people–almost all of them women, almost all of them lots smaller than me–who are ashamed of their bodies. And I mean really ashamed, unhappy to the point of tears, and to the point of not doing things they might want to do but can’t do because they think they aren’t thin enough. Only thin people deserve nice things and exciting experiences, according to this world view.
I talked about body shame in my post about why I left Goodlife Fitness.
But here’s another anecdote. It will be sadly familiar to almost every woman reading, I think.
After a hot sweaty summertime soccer game, one of my teammates offered us all a field trip to her backyard pool. Swimming pool, snacks, and fruity drinks, post game. Count me in. Yes.
I drove to her house, ripped off sweaty soccer duds and threw on a bikini and ran to the backyard and jumped in the pool. (Yes, I wear a bikini. Started once I realized the plan I had as a twenty year old–I’ll wear a bikini when I get skinny–was based on a vitally flawed assumption. Also, I have a long torso, regular bathing suits don’t fit, and it’s pain to get them off to pee. And yes, I know the trick. But I like bikinis. Not tankinis either. I like unreconstructed belly baring two piece bathing suits. So there.)
But lots of my soccer friends hid behind towels, put clothes on over their bathing suits which they didn’t take off til the edge of the pool, and almost everyone had to make some self-deprecating comment about how bad they looked in a bathing suit. (I was tempted to mention Tracy’s solution but I’m not that brave so I didn’t.)
If bathing suits are your hang up, your particular nemesis, this is great reading, by the way, If I Hear One More Word About Beach Bodies, I’m Gonna Strangle Somebody With a Tankini: Killing your swimsuit anxiety in 5 easy steps and why a “beach body” is whatever body you take to the beach.
So I didn’t have the full blown body positive evangelical conversation with my soccer team that night. We chatted a bit and then moved on. But when I do feel drawn into these conversations–usually when it’s my turn to make a self deprecating remark and I refuse–here are a few of things I say, context depending:
1. My body, our bodies, are amazing things. I love what my body can do. This body thrived in pregnancy and childbirth, can bike 100s of kms, can lift a lot of weight, etc etc and so focusing on what it looks like, as judged by mainstream standards of beauty that I reject, seems to look past the most important stuff, the truly miraculous bits about our bodies. (Read more about this here.)
2. Being thin doesn’t seem to help with body shame either. Often it’s my thin friends who are the worst, especially as we age. It’s like they’ve never had to think about these things, to worry about how they look, until now. And I’ve been thinner too and I haven’t felt less anxious or less self conscious at a smaller size. In a weird way it’s worse. In the game of looks, I’m then ‘in.’ and it matters more. Better to be outside of those beauty norms all the way maybe.
3. From a past post, Oh no, skinny face:
“I’m typically not bothered much by traditional standards of beauty and whether or not I match them. Life’s too short. We all die in the end. The people who care about mainstream beauty don’t much interest me much anyway so why should I be concerned with what they think?
“We all die in the end anyway” might strike you as a gloomy thing to think or say. But really once you adjust to that big piece of bad news everything is small potatoes. It’s quite liberating. The joys of philosophy.”
4. And I usually thank the people in my life with whom I’m closest and I say thanks to to the queer community of which I’m a small part. Why that last one? Why the queer community?
To be clear it’s not the ‘hippie hairy herbal tea drinking love your body 70s lesbian feminists’ I’m thinking of, though knowing some of them in my teen years probably didn’t hurt. It’s the ‘queer deliberately outside mainstream beauty norms but still someone’s cup of tea sex positive queer community’ I’m thinking about.
Think ‘kink inclusive, trans inclusive, gender deviants welcome queer community’. And no, it’s not a perfect world. Still lots of work to be done especially on race and on disability. I know.
But the queer community is mostly where I’ve enjoyed learning about the specificity and details of our desires and attractions.
Tracy and I were amused recently to see that someone found our blog searching for “women with big tits wearing neon green bras.” I posted that one on Facebook and one friend commented “neon green?” and another just “bras?”
How is this connected to body positivity and loving the body you’ve got?
Think about it this way, it doesn’t make any sense to think about being attractive simpliciter. What exactly would that mean? There’s only attractive to particular people.
Whatever you look like I can assure you there’s someone out there who thinks that thing that you have is THE thing to which they’re attracted. In the world of the internet there’s probably even a group for women with big breasts who like to wear neon green bras and the men and women who love them.
So when friends say. I don’t look attractive when I’m this size, my first response is to wonder to whose standards they’re appealing. Who is the person who would like them but doesn’t because they’re too fat?
Mostly when straight women say they just want to look attractive they mean to look attractive to men. But still I wonder, which men?
The desires of men who like women are far more diverse than the world of men’s magazines would ever have you believe. Men whose desires don’t fit-maybe they like hairy legs, or women with crooked teeth, or they’ve got a thing for women with glasses or women in their fifties on motorbikes –are hurt by gender role stereotyping and hetero conformity too. Don’t believe me about the diversity of heterosexual male desire, read John DeVore‘s The Types Of Women That Really Turn Us On over at The Frisky.
There are men who like fat women, men who like muscles, women who like bald men, men who like men who are really hairy, women who think men wearing socks with sandals are the hottest (okay, maybe not that one) etc. My point is that it’s a wild weird world out there in terms of attraction.
Once you start thinking this way you realize that men who like skinny 18 year old blondes just have a particularly boring, mainstream fetish*. You can kind of accept it, yawn, and move on. Oh, right, youth. Hmm. He likes thin women. That. That’s his thing. Ho hum.
You can even work up to thinking, in an amended version of a common phrase, your thing is not my thing but your thing is okay, and move on.
And if that’s all he likes, you might even feel sorry for him for leading such a narrow, limited life in a world rich with possibility.
And yes, I know this is isn’t the whole story about body image and insecurity. Often it’s our own standards we don’t live up to. And queer people can struggle with body image as well. But to the extent that it’s about worrying that someone will find you attractive, I urge you to put that worry on the shelf, close the door, and say goodbye.
What’s the connection between loving the body you’ve got and fitness? That’s the subject of a future post.
Some further reading:
10 Ways To Be A Body Positivity Advocate
*A footnote, in a blog post, sorry. I debated whether or not to use the word “fetish” here but I decided to stick with it. We typically use “fetish” to mean a sexual taste or predilection outside the mainstream. He has a foot fetish. She has a fetish for popping balloons. Whatever. But the fetishization of youth and thinness is so mainstream as to disappear from our view. It’s what’s normal against which other tastes are judged. I think it’s time for that to end. Let’s, non-judgmentally, call the preference for youth and for thinness what it is.