I know more about Kim Kardashian’s body than I do my own. I overhear a girl referring to her boyfriend’s new girlfriend is an envious ‘hipster thin’ on the train. I see accusations or eye-rolls at people going for runs in the morning before work. I receive a barrage of commentary on my own weight if it fluctuates.
Body image is multifaceted and ever-present. Looking good, health, self-esteem and attracting a partner are all examples of the dimensions that confront us daily. We are bombarded with differing opinions from a variety of sources providing contradictory reminders as to what is or is not acceptable.
It is exhausting.
Running on the assumption that those reading understand I am not providing health advice, but instead addressing the harsh reality that whatever your body type or shape is– whether you’re working for it (some ideal), genetically blessed (whatever shape that means), or would rather walk on a minefield of scattered Lego than engaged in this ‘exercise’ business– you’re going to generate a reaction from someone somewhere. The point here is that you can’t win, because you’re never going to please everyone in a world of fluctuating standards and differing opinions. The task is to strategically filter out the bullshit from the good advice, and due to the large amount of faecal matter floating around the opinion-sphere, doing so is going to take a conscious effort.
"We not only ignore biological predispositions, we suggest that someone shouldn’t be comfortable with their body."
Consider that every type/shape can be spun with both positive and negative connotations. Curvy, for example, has often been aligned with (problematic) ideas of being a ‘real’ woman. Being ‘thin’ is also a well-documented ideal, yet a curse when we consider the prior, or when songs hinting at ‘skinny bitches’ appear. Instead of merely celebrating a body type, notice that such juxtapositions reallocate an ideal whilst shaming another.
I experienced this first-hand.
For a couple of university years I existed on a diet consisting largely of coffee, MI goreng noodles and garlic bread. Regardless of what my weight actually was, it’s the contrast of opinions I received which matters: you’re fat vs. your shape is so sexy. Once I decided that it was probably time to get my arse off the couch, cut back slightly on the packeted goodness and reintroduce myself to vegetables, I began to lose weight. This prompted the following: why have your gotten rid of your curves? vs. you look fit. A health kick of eliminating alcohol and flurry of expensive workout gear spurred the anxiety even amongst close friends that I was one of ‘those’ protein shake drinking, chia-seed sprinkling types: ugh, you’re eating a salad for lunch? Maybe I was being healthy, but someone was annoyed.
Regardless of what followed, I am now able to react to commentary differently and am mindful to live within my own body without beating my head against the wall trying to please the impossible outside collective. When a well-meaning friend recently commented, “you’ve got that European thing going on, you’re never meant to be skinny”, I just shrugged and responded with something non-committal rather than pondering my ancestry or calculating whether I should cut out carbs for the next two weeks. The shift here is from an unnecessary knee-jerk reaction to an acceptance that I just can’t win in a world of ever-shifting ideals. I had to learn to accept that no matter what my body shape/type was or what I did with it, someone was going to react.
The issue is not the connotations that differing standards have on our health or wellbeing, especially considering that the presentation of options can provide the means for positive changes as well. Instead, we need to avoid the trap of limiting our bodies (and ourselves) as a fashion statement blindly dependent on the opinions of others: thigh gap, bikini bridge, the online group ‘real men want curves’. We not only ignore biological predispositions, we suggest that someone shouldn’t be comfortable with their body. How about I HAVE A BODY AND I AM GOING TO LIVE IN IT? Perhaps the most realistic approach is to figure out what is good for you and your body within the realm of health whilst remembering the stupid simple cliché of being comfortable in your own skin.
It is near impossible to ignore differing standard and opinions, but it is possible to manage our perception of our own bodies without the yucky stuff – judging ourselves harshly, shaming one another – a whole lot better