Body Wars (And Peace)

It’s that time of year again; the time where a lot of us look in the mirror and analyze every inch of our reflection. Whether it starts on New Years or a month before spring break, we stare, we scrutinize, and we tell ourselves that it’s a matter of practicing good posture or actually sticking to doing those fifty crunches that we were told would make our stomach’s flatter in six months. Soon enough, that all-too familiar voice chimes in and gets louder by the minute; it sounds like nothing yet comes from everything around us, from the media to even friends and family.

You are too much of this, and not enough of that.
Growing up, I never dealt with any major weight-related issues, unless you count the time period when I was an infant and had to gain four pounds in order to go home from the hospital. My grandmother affectionately nicknamed me her “Bag O’ Bones”, because of my lack of body fat. Some will argue that I’ve had it easy, and I won’t deny that in some respects that’s true. I was, and always have been fairly active person, especially coming from a family of athletes. My fast metabolism and a liking for healthy meals early on in life have definitely helped as well. When I went to college I avoided the freshman fifteen by long walks around campus a lot (rather than taking the bus) and learning how to make decent food choices. 
Yet somewhere in there at least one person would make some sort of comment about my figure: 
“You’re too skinny!” 
“You need to eat more!”
“Why do you even work out? It’s not like you need it.” 
“We’re going to fatten you up when you get home.”

It’s as frustrating now as it was back then, given that I’m constantly taking care of myself to the best of my ability. I’m well aware of my eating and exercise habits, along what works for me and what doesn’t. But it’s not so much the remarks in themselves that I find annoying as much as whom those words are coming from; it’s sad when those who should be encouraging you to love and accept yourself are the ones trying to convince you that you’re somehow not healthy.  That’s not to say that there wasn’t genuine concern, but there are better ways to go about the conversation than making snarky comments or dropping hints.

Maybe it wasn’t even about me, but more so about people projecting their personal insecurities onto me.

With developments in technology over the years and the fact that more are now openly discussing the subject, dealing with body image and what’s healthy versus what isn’t can be complex. New studies regarding what to eat and what to avoid are being released all the time and it’s constantly sending people into a tizzy. There’s a love/hate relationship for Victoria’s Secret and “Fitsporation” on Pinterest, while celebrities are being glorified or attacked all the time getting older or having babies. A lot of popular music urges people to celebrate who they are, but not without undermining others by referring to them as “skinny bitches.”

Do we really have to look at one side as the enemy in order to embrace the other? It seems exhausting and completely unnecessary.

While I was training for my first 5K race last spring, I went to a health specialist at the my University’s rec center to make sure that I was doing the proper preparation. Not only was she incredibly helpful, but it was nice to hear that I wasn’t necessarily doing anything wrong as it was. She explained that because I’m living with Cerebral Palsy, it’s perfectly normal that I have a slightly different diet and exercise routine. And as I went about my days getting ready for my upcoming run, I noticed a change in how I felt because I ate certain foods or focused on specific exercises. As I type this, I’m recalling a line from a commercial that I saw on TV a long time ago; it’s been well over a decade, but the message is still relevant now as it was fifteen years prior.

“It doesn’t only matter what you look like, but what you feel like.”

It really comes down to this: Pay attention to how you feel while and after you’re doing something, and that goes for both workouts and food. I like  to involve lots of cardio and movement, where I’m aching by the time I’m done. I’m not one for a ton of greasy or heavy food because they both make my stomach hurt. And in terms of how I eat I’m much more of a grazer throughout the day as opposed to eating three big meals at designated times.

No one body is exactly the same, so I don’t think you can determine whether someone is living a healthy life based on looking at them. Yes, this country has problems with both obesity and eating disorders, but how one navigates that is not exactly black and white. I get the reasoning behind some countries banning models who don’t meet a specific BMI requirement, but who’s to say that they’re always in control of that? It’s kind of insulting to those who do struggle with such life-threatening conditions, because there are other factors that go into it besides dramatic weight loss. As I said previously, if the signs do indicate that something isn’t right, there are more genuine and loving ways to discuss the subject then just demanding that they eat.

But there are times where body acceptance does not just involve clothing size or weight.  For me, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I’m fairly petite for someone my age and am done growing. I have moments where I absolutely hate it because it’s difficult to find shoes that fit, while tops and swimsuits can be a struggle because the straps don’t stay up a lot of the time. I know that some aspects of sex are not going to be easy (at least at first), and while that might be awkward to read, it’s important for me to think about as I determine what I want in my life and who I want to surround myself with. I’m an adult now, and even not everyone understands that, I have to choose what’s best for me.

Just as choosing to make lifestyle changes is honorable, so is choosing to accept things as they are, as long as that person is doing so in a safe way and for the right reasons. As much as I wish women would stop complaining about getting back to their pre-pregnancy bodies (or struggling after a certain age), I have no room to comment because I have not been down that road. As much as I wish that some of my family members would exercise or that others would stop smoking, I can’t force them to do it. I believe in leading by example, but not in the way that we shame or blame others if they choose not to follow. 

I hope one day that we’ll realize that our bodies are not the enemy. Food is not the enemy. Instead, it is that false, monotone voice that spits out unrealistic expectations without experiencing real life. It speaks out of fear, rather than speaking from a place of love. That’s where I’ve found peace; knowing that I am what I am because I’m a human being and a child of God. I don’t need anything else to define my worth.

I’m ready to put my weapons down.



photo credit: Tell me that you’ll open your eyes via photopin (license)

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