In this over two-and-a-half month long hiatus, this whole “predicament” of bodies and body image has been constantly ringing in my mind and contrary to what you all might be thinking because of the way I’ve worded the first clause, it wasn’t really a bad thing .I’ve been able to yield a lot of conclusions and semi-conclusions, ask questions and end up with thoughts pretty much still in the embryonic phase too. This post will be about the things fitting into the conclusions/semi-conclusions category.
Throughout my late-childhood and adolescence, I have pretty much grown up with the idea that as a female, it’s important for my body to look good. And no matter how body-positive members of my family were I couldn’t help but internalise a lot of that twaddle. I know what you all are probably thinking “oh no, here we go again, another clichéd body image post on the blogosphere” and you’re right, it is exactly that.
But with something like this, with so much negativity surrounding it accompanied by a very real course of toxicity served alongside, looming around every day, I’d like to say my piece. As I have managed to successfully internalise some hackneyed tat about what my body should mean and how it is expected to be, I’ve lived on for a long time as though my mind and body were almost two entities independent of each other. Like my mind and body needed to feel different to one another and to be treated that way, and in effect, nurtured exclusively from each other and that my love of one can be detached from my love of the other.
I didn’t look at my body as something that was gifted to me, equipped with all the tools I needed to function, do all the things I love and fulfil my purpose, just like my mind. Instead, I saw it as something which needed to look good and something which can be compared and scrutinised. It was only when I became ill one way or another did I realise that these fully-functional parts were not to be taken for granted. I noticed how beautiful it looked and how comfortable it felt to have the whites of my eyes actually remain white and not be a shade of red and inflamed as it was when I had conjunctivitis. Spending a week over two years ago with my right foot blown up and gulping antibiotics after a trip to the mangroves had left me teary and vulnerable had led me to remember the blessing it was to be able to use both feet to walk. Soon of course, the sweetness of those essential reminders was rather overtaken with thoughts floating around the realms of “it looks/I wish it looked/it should look/ I am glad it looks a bit like this.” I was covertly re-directed to the idea that the focus on the way my body looked was key and inevitably, having it look as close to “right” as possible was currency I needed to pay for having it. Although I started to grow less inclined to that idea, it often felt called-for to return to old patterns of thought. Years of chomping down (and occasionally being force-fed) ideas that deviating from what is “right” by an ounce, inch and even a shade sometimes, is a green-light for people shout all sorts of abuse or dish-out unwarranted, “friendly” advice and is a validator of negative self-talk and body hatred was not going to be undone easily .
Because don’t forget this women of the world, it’s essential that you stick to that vaguely-elusive, ever-changing, semi-amoeba like brand of beautiful because you need men to okay your appearance and let you know that you’re allowed to take up space. Men are monolithic creatures who cannot see beyond what you look like and only like deem very limited qualities as beautiful and you need to trap them like honey because later on, you need to fulfil your most important mission and marry one of them. This is of course until you realise that you need to be preserved in amber for all the years to come to keep him interested with your looks. If you couldn’t detect the sarcasm in the last three sentences then I fear that you and I suffer a slight communication deficit, anyhoo….
It’s just a little bit disturbing that such a large, wonderful system which carries out amazing and barely quantifiable functions is made to stand up against other equally-wondrous systems to be valued and judged on its appearance alone. And when signs of all the wonderfulness God had allowed this system to muster up show on its surface, they’re suddenly “ugly”. Like those scabs on your knees made to protect those wounds you got after a rugged adventure at the park, or those stretch marks which are a sign that your skin was saved from exploding after you put on a bit of weight during that summer spent with grandma after an intense academic year, where you barely had to lift a finger. And I am not encouraging getting wounded and being sedentary, but I am also not standing for body-shaming and tailoring people’s values and worth solely to the choices they’ve made about what only clothes the parts of them which are really amazing – even if the clothing itself is pretty fantastic. And besides, has no one ever made a choice that wasn’t the best (or even a series of them)?
The body, like the mind, needs to be treated with love and nurtured properly, and just as we need to be in tune with our minds’ needs, we need to be in tune with our bodies’ needs as well. How can you be expected to maintain a healthy relationship with or make changes to your body if you loathe it? Loving your body doesn’t always mean that you think it’s perfect, but it does include realising and being grateful for what it’s giving you right now. If you can read this at all and have been able to scroll down your window to get this far, then you are blessed with a lot already.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying what you have at the moment and being confident with it and grateful for it; even if you do know that you need to make a change. The two thoughts can coexist and when they do, they harmonise in a beautiful way which would not only bring about a physical change, but intellectual, emotional and even spiritual changes. And yes, that does include the outside too! You don’t need to wait until you lose/gain a stone to start acknowledging that you are good enough and that there is beauty in what you have now and treating yourself on that basis because it can even be the start of your journey to self-improvement.When you start having relaxing bubble-baths or rubbing on velvety lotion, or even getting out of bed to style your hair and put on dangly earrings just for a day spent lounging at home, the desire to be more mindful of well-being in other areas kicks in too. And all because you knew you were worthy of that unconditionally from the start. When you also start seeing your body for the amazing machine it is with the capability to do and learn extraordinary things, it might be just a bit more likely that you’ll want to explore what its muscles have to offer you and to use them to move in ways you enjoy and maybe learn a new skill.
I remember near the beginning of primary school when I was learning about my body I was taught how important it was to have a nutritious diet so I can grow up to be strong, and little was said about appearance. I wish that discourse stuck throughout the years . I would rather feel need to take care of what God gifted me and serve my body so it can be healthy and strong and not so I can conform to some expectation for which I don’t think I genuinely care. And sometimes, juuust sometiiiimes, taking care of yourself and having a healthy relationship with your body can mean not depriving yourself of that bar of chocolate you really want.