Today was Love Your Body Day (decreed by the National Organization for Women.) It’s a day to take a break from the constant drumbeat of body shame, body hatred and weight stigma and bullying and love our bodies, and perhaps thank them for all the things that they do for us. Like breathing. And blinking. And heartbeat. If your heart is beating and you are blinking and breathing then consider that you may have some things to love your body for.
Of course anytime someone dares to suggest that we stop hating ourselves for five seconds, we have to hear from the people who insist that we must not tell people that they should love their bodies or everyone will abandon all healthy habits and we’ll have a healthpocalypse. These people hopped off the logic train a couple of stops too early and so they actually argue that if we are allowed to love our bodies we might not hate them enough to take good care of them.
I think that the single most profound moment of my life happened around this very idea. When I started to recover from my eating disorder I gained a lot of weight very quickly and so my doctors, who knew I was being treated for an eating disorder, told me that I needed to lose the weight as quickly as possible for my health. Yeah, I know. So I was on the failing side of what was my, at least, fifth medically supervised weight loss attempt – being called a liar and a failure for having the exact same experience that I later found out almost every has with dieting – when I had a revelation. I had spent so much time in the last three years hating my body for how it looked, I hadn’t bothered to spend even a second appreciating it or thanking it for what it did for me. My eating disorder involved compulsive exercise and very little food and so I was pushing my body well past its limits every single day. I ignored and worked through each and every signal my body had to tell me to stop until I finally simply collapsed on a treadmill – my body unable to go on. And I spent hours and hours berating my body for falling down that one time, and not even a second – not a second in three years – thanking it for all it had done to keep me standing up. That moment, that realization, changed everything for me in every moment since and my life is immensely better for it.
So when I hear someone suggest that we shouldn’t encourage people to love their bodies, I become filled with an intense rage. A rage that isn’t helped by the fact that it’s almost always about profit. They aren’t worried that we’ll stop healthy habits if we start loving our bodies. They are worried that we’ll come to our senses and stop buying their ridiculous products. Weight loss products that are legally required to have disclaimers explaining that they hardly ever work, beauty products and creams and solutions whose ads get taken down because that youthful glow is actually photoshop. All the things we buy to help us try to attain an unrealistic ideal of perfection that only perfect in the utterly arbitrary social construct of the ideal. It’s about money and I wish that they would kindly stop pretending that they are trying to convince me to hate myself for my own good.
Loving your body will not suddenly and automatically cause you to take less good care of it. Loving your body will not kill you. It is un-possible. There is how you feel about your body, then there are the choices that you make about taking care of your body, and then there are the things about your body and health that you can’t control. They are three separate things.
I think that people don’t tend to take care of things they hate and that includes their bodies, so I also think that if Captain Obvious and No Shit Sherlock had a love child, its first words would be “People don’t hate themselves healthy.”
Look at it this way. Let’s say that a friend suffered a horrible accident and they only bodily function that they were capable of was talking. So you are in charge of squeezing a bag every few second so that they can breathe, doing chest compressions every few seconds, opening and closing their eyes to blink every few seconds, pushing them everywhere they want to go, talking them to the bathroom, bathing them, cooking for them 24 hours a day. And let’s say that they spend all day, every day telling you that you don’t look good when you help them, that you are the wrong size and shape, and never once thanking you for the tremendous amount of work that you are doing to keep them going. How inspired are you to take good care of them? How much different would it be if they thanked you for your hard work?
So feel free to give loving your body a try. If you missed today, consider declaring tomorrow your own personal “love your body day”. You can try this little project to get you started (it’s really simple but had more effect on the way that I feel about my body than anything that I’ve ever done.) If a day seems like too much, maybe try an hour, or a minute. Just give yourself a single breath to thank and love your body for what it does without reservation or qualification. This can be really difficult to do considering the world that we live in but standing on the other side of it now I can tell you that, for me, it was worth the effort. Besides, if loving your body doesn’t work our for you, you can always go back to hating it, but at least you can say you tried.
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