I am tired of being told how I should feel about my body. That because the media perpetuates unhealthy body image for women, that somehow my wanting to take care of my appearance constitutes an act of gross patriarchal pandering. It’s my body, and I will do with it what I will.
The year before last I put on 20 pounds. I had some bad people in my life, and some bad habits. I partied too hard, spent too many days recovering in bed, not enough time exercising and ingested a lot of really terrible food to counteract the pain of hangovers. I was living unhealthily, and it hurt, both physically and emotionally. The day I gave up trying to fit into my jeans was the same day I decided I didn’t want my body to look or feel this way anymore.
Realistically, I was not fat. I was a little overweight for my height but not visibly or uncomfortably so. I could continue to be beautiful and sexy in that body if I so chose. But I didn’t want that bigger body–it felt wrong for me. I didn’t like the extra back fat hanging out the back of my jeans and I didn’t like how lethargic I felt from eating “whatever I wanted”. It wasn’t about looking like a woman in a magazine, because I never will. I am 5”1 with a fat ass (which I love) and big hips. So it was about looking and feeling the way I wanted, for me.
And yet I felt ashamed of myself for wanting to change my body. I felt ashamed of myself for wanting to have better eating habits. I still feel embarrassed to tell people I go to yoga 4 times a week. As if by virtue of being a confident, strong, independent woman, I should also therefore just be happy to “celebrate my body” by “embracing life” and “eating cheeseburgers.”
Don’t get my wrong. I fucking love cheeseburgers. And I still eat them. Sometimes. I believe people should do what they want, insofar as it affects only them (i.e. don’t murder someone, for instance, but feel free to cover your body in tattoos). If you want to eat junk food all the time and not exercise and be “natural” great. Power to you. If you are happy, go for it. But I know that an hour or so after eating junk food or other rich/heavy foods I feel like hell. That’s not the sort of life I want to lead, and it’s not because the media told me not to. It’s because the squelching in my intestines and the sugar crash headaches told me not to.
What makes me happy? Looking at myself in the mirror and thinking “that’s sexy”, and it’s sexy on my terms. Eating meals that don’t have me stuck in a food coma shortly after finishing, and that don’t give me weird bowel movements. Spending time immersed in the way my body feels when it’s moving through a vinyasa, aware of every muscle. I couldn’t care less how others perceive me–I’ve been fatter and thinner than I am now and at all times have found acceptance in others, probably because no one really gives a shit what my body looks like except for me.
So there it is: I want to look a certain way on the outside and feel a certain way on the inside. What is empowering to me is being able to make choices for my own body. I choose to eat salad for lunch instead of pasta; but every now and then I’ll have the pasta too. I choose to exercise because I feel purely and simply happy during and after, even if I didn’t before I started. I am not hungry. I am not desperate to please anyone else but myself, and I want to be proud of me, both internally and externally. I read books to broaden my mind, see friends to relax, sleep eight hours a night to rejuvenate, write every day to practice my craft–why shouldn’t I also try to hone my body? Why can’t I be great on the inside AND on the outside?
Dictating what women do with their bodies is ridiculous. We should do what we can to subvert unhealthy norms–trends in body aesthetics that promote or celebrate eating disorders, for instance–but we need to stop shaming women simply for wanting to take pride in their appearance. Each woman’s appearance is her domain alone, and it doesn’t make a woman any less intelligent, sassy or worldly for wanting a strong upper body, defined calves, or an excellently rounded rump.
To me, a healthy body is just another element in personal success, along with career, inner peace, the accumulation of assets and relationships. Bottom line: just because a woman wants to look great on the outside (and subsequently feel good inside), it doesn’t mean she’s been victimised by the anti-feminist “body police.”