Posts Categorized: body image

You Will Only Ever Be You

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FOMO perplexes me. Maybe it’s because I’m a pretty crappy Facebook user and frequently have no idea what my friends are up to until I see them in person. Maybe it’s because I’m so absorbed in my own work and life that I don’t give much thought to the things I’m not-doing. Maybe it’s because I’m extremely lucky and privileged and blessed. And I can say for certain that my total lack of FOMO is due in part to my introversion. I have absolutely no desire to do the things that many people want to do. I’d much rather watch Gilmore Girls for five hours and then take a walk.

However, I am just as susceptible to other forms of comparison as everyone else. I get jealous when others reach goals that I can’t seem to tackle myself. I feel like a homemaking slacker when I visit friends’ perfectly decorated homes. And I get insecure about how my body measures up. Fairly frequently.

And that’s natural. We are hard-wired to compare ourselves, our achievements, our belongings. We compare ourselves to others because we believe it will help us understand the world and where we fit into it. We compare ourselves to others because we watched our parents doing it when we were young, and mimicked the behavior until it was ingrained. We compare ourselves to others because we don’t know how NOT to.

But the fact is that no two non-cloned organisms are alike, and no two people are capable of exactly the same things. No two bodies are alike, and some bodies will never be tall or toned or curvy or balanced no matter what extremes are taken. When you compare yourself to another person, it’s not an apples to apples situation. It’s apples to unicorns. You cannot be someone else, you can only be you. You cannot look like someone else, you can only look like you. Everything about you is singular and unique and deserves to be accepted wholly and celebrated when possible. Settling into the home of your essential self can be a huge relief because it allows you to let go of some comparative tendencies. When you know that you will only ever be you, you stop trying so hard to be other people.

Just because she’s successful doesn’t mean that there’s less success available to you. Similarly, just because she’s beautiful, it doesn’t mean you aren’t, too. Other people will have different experiences, different relationships, different life paths. And some of what they have and get and are may tweak your jealousy. Everyone you meet will have a body that’s different from your own. Your body may be different, but that doesn’t make it wrong. It is yours. It is you. And it is marvelous.

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Body Stewardship

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The first time I heard anyone talk about stewardship it was in a discussion about the environment, and in this context it meant making careful decisions that would cause no further harm to our planet. The next time was at the university foundation where I worked, and in this context it meant strengthening relationships with donors by keeping them updated on projects they’d funded. Both of those are fairly big picture, and involve other people. But I’ve started to think about my relationship with my body as being a kind of stewardship, too.

At its root, the word means the activity of protecting, nurturing, and taking responsibility for something. I remember moving to Minneapolis and suddenly realizing that if I didn’t make a dentist appointment for myself, my teeth would never be cleaned again. My mom was no longer the steward of my health and body, so I had to step up. I had to take responsibility for my eating choices, my mental health, my skincare routine. I had to make sure I got enough sleep, got enough exercise, got enough water. And those nuts-and-bolts things have been easy to take care of ever since.

But when I think about body image, the meaning of stewardship shifts. Personally, I don’t find the the body love movement to be invasive or overreaching, but I know many do. And as a friend recently pointed out, asking someone – or many someones – to move directly from loathing and misery to love and celebration isn’t terribly reasonable. Asking someone to move from loathing and misery to neutrality and acceptance? A little less daunting. And I feel like adding the concept of stewardship to the neutrality/acceptance mix can be very beneficial.

Your body is you, so thinking of it as a thing that you care for is a little odd. But aside from instincts and reflexes, your mind does a lot of the driving when it comes to your body. And how you conceptualize your relationship with your body can have a huge impact on your overall well-being. Many people are apt to make demands of their bodies, express wishes or disappointment about their bodies, try to mould and shape and change their bodies. Many of us think of our bodies in terms of the things they aren’t and the things they can’t do. What if we focused on these ideas instead:

  • This is the only body you’ll get to inhabit. No trade-ins, no backs.
  • You’re in charge of your body. If you don’t care for it, no one will.
  • Protecting and nurturing your body benefits both physical and emotional health.

Your body is not a mass of flaws to be disguised, or a list of failures. Your body is not a burdensome receptacle for your brain and soul. Your body is not a lifelong improvement project. Your body is you. And even if you’re not ready to lavish yourself with love and affection, perhaps you could think about protecting, nurturing, and taking responsibility for the well-being of your body. Because even when it is frustrating, or confusing, or filled with aches and pains, it is still yours. You are the one and only person tasked with the stewardship of your body. It’s a lot of responsibility, but the payoff is worth it.

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You’ve Lost Weight: You Look Great!

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A couple of weeks ago, I was on the receiving end of this formulaic and extremely common compliment:

“You’ve lost weight! You look great!”

The giver was a friend I’ve had since age five and one of the most cerebral men I’ve ever known, so I felt perfectly comfortable pushing back. I pointed out that equating lost weight with improved looks is both insulting and assumptive. What if I’d been ill and lost weight because I was too sick to eat? Was he implying that I looked like a horse’s ass when I was heavier? Did he realize that following “you’ve lost weight” with “you look great” is a fantastic way to reinforce the idea that only thin women look good to the observing world?

There ensued a long and vigorous debate that I will not share with you here, but suffice to say that he stands by his compliment as an evolutionarily valid one that has never insulted anyone but me, and I stand by my rebuttal that telling women they’re beautiful only after weight loss is damaging. But we had a good time hashing out our opinions picking each others’ brains.

This debate was over e-mail. It was also with a very old and very dear friend. But it got me thinking about how I would’ve reacted had the compliment come in person and/or from a casual acquaintance. Because I’m perfectly comfortable with a certain level of hypocrisy in my own behavior, but swallowing a weight-loss-contingent compliment is too much. Yet I also believe that being courteous and respectful is EXTREMELY important, and throwing a compliment back at someone is neither courteous nor respectful. Especially when most folks view this particular compliment as utterly innocuous.

So here are some responses I concocted that I think might work:

  • Ahhh, but I looked amazing before, too!” It’ll sound tongue-in-cheek, but it’ll also push the complimenter off balance a bit without being confrontational. This response is all about YOU, not about any assumptions the other person might have made.
  • “Thanks! I feel great about my body … but then, I always have.” Again, keeps the focus on you and your feelings about yourself. Hopefully, this response will leave the complimenter thinking about body image in a more general sense.
  • “I’m a big proponent of the ‘size doesn’t matter’ philosophy!” Say it with a grin and a laugh, maybe even a wink. Humor is a fantastic way to defuse socially difficult situations, and throwing a little double entendre in the mix can help a ton.

Remember, these replies are meant to make the complimenter feel pensive, not affronted. They’re designed to be playful and subtle, offering some friendly resistance without being overtly negative.

Now, if you’ve purposely lost weight through lifestyle changes, feel better with it off, and want to revel in any associated compliments, by all means DO IT! Weight loss can be positive and important, and I have no intention of implying that you should shun praise under all circumstances. But if you feel uncomfortable with formulaic compliments that link beauty and thinness – as I do – don’t be afraid to push back.

Think any of these responses might work for you? Any others to add?

Image courtesy Jørgen Schyberg. This is a revived and refreshed post from the Already Pretty archive.

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