“So, do you think I lost weight since the last time you saw me?”
“If I had her kind of money, I’d definitely get plastic surgery. I mean, look at these wrinkles!”
“I would love to wear a bikini, but my boobs just haven’t been the same since nursing.”
“I wouldn’t say I hate my body. I just wish my belly were less… wobbly.”
“I’ve tried all the store-bought shit. Does anyone have some homeopathic advice for killing my cellulite?”
I hear variations of these comments constantly, whether I’m with friends, colleagues, family members, or strangers in fitting rooms at Target. I hear them in groups of “body positive” or “fat positive” individuals, too, because no one is safe from body hate. So many women talk disparagingly about our bodies, particularly when we’re in the company of other women.
It’s no wonder, given the messaging we receive. Especially during the holiday season, when female-marketed ads and tabloids are filled with urgent headlines: The best way to prevent holiday weight gain, 31 Science-Backed Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain, 12 Simple Steps to Lose Weight in 2019.
It’s clear that women are supposed to care about their bodies. Not “care” in the sense of look after with kindness, or nurse back to health when ill, or treat to warm baths and sufficient rest. Rather, “care” in the sense of “obsessively think about.”
More specifically, “obsessively think about perfecting.”
We are conditioned, painfully early on, to seek aspirational beauty. Our worth, we learn in one way or another, is intrinsically tied to how thin we are, how white we are, how able-bodied, how “pretty.” We learn what “pretty” is from the images presented to us time and time again.
Petite bodies. Petite features. Petite voices. Long, flowing hair.
We learn what “pretty” is from the images presented to us time and time again. Petite bodies. Petite features. Petite voices. Long, flowing hair.
I’ve heard people judge women for talking about their bodies so frequently. They might call it “shallow.” They wonder when we’ll experience our self-love awakening, when we’ll develop a sense of self-worth that’s completely independent of the culture we live in.
But we don’t—and can’t—exist independently from our culture. We talk about our bodies because we have been taught from childhood on that they are the most important thing about us. They are what we have to offer the world.
Even after years of immersion into body acceptance work, I still have my moments of self-doubt. They are now less defined by the desire to lose weight, or change my shape, or take up less space. But they’re no less rooted in my proximity, or lack thereof, to conventional beauty standards.
Some mornings, I look at myself in the mirror and judge the bags under my eyes, or the lines that are beginning to form around my mouth. I catch myself wondering whether my stretch marks will ever be less red. I’ll contemplate how much saggier my boobs are at 27 than they were at 17. I’ll pick at the keratosis pilaris bumps on my arms (even though I know I shouldn’t) because I so wish I had smooth skin.
The thing is, though, these thoughts never last long anymore. They come, they annoy, and they go. It’s not that I’ve reached some fluffy utopian ideal of “self-love.” I’m not entirely sure that exists. The damage done by a culture of beauty standards is probably going to take a couple of decades to repair. Sometimes, I don’t believe it’ll even be possible to repair it in my lifetime unless I’m here to witness the collapse of the diet industry.
The damage done by a culture of beauty standards is probably going to take a couple of decades to repair. Sometimes, I don’t believe it’ll even be possible to repair it in my lifetime unless I’m here to witness the collapse of the diet industry.
Instead, the reason these moments don’t last long or make their way into conversations with the women around me is because I’ve realized that none of it actually matters. That is, nothing about my body will ever be as interesting as what I worked on that day, or what funny things my kids did, or what kind words I received about an article or Instagram post, or what new book I read, or song I listened to, or dream I dreamed, or random fact about The Walking Dead I picked up online. None of it will ever be as interesting as my hobbies, or my humor, or my mind, or my heart, or my goals.
None of the physical things about my body will ever be as interesting as the stories behind them, either.
The circles, a sign of my exhaustion after spending the night hanging out with a hungry newborn. The wrinkles, a product of being closer to 30 than 20 and undergoing a hell of a lot of personal growth in that time. The stretch marks, tangible reminders of the humans I grew inside my belly. The saggier boobs, badges of a nursing mom (though they were saggy before I was a mom, which is totally cool, too).
I began to really believe in this during a recent holiday season as I sat surrounded by women and girls whom I loved and admired. But I so clearly felt like I was witnessing the harmful effects of beauty culture. I didn’t want to know about their distaste for their FUPA or lack of a thigh gap, because I knew they all had so much going for them outside of body stuff.
Their classes at university, their promotion at work, their new relationship, their new dog, the recipe they finally perfected, their impeccable wit and charm and sass. I wasn’t judging them for worrying about their bodies, because we’ve all been there and still are there and will be there. I didn’t want them to feel unsafe voicing those thoughts, either. I just wanted to know more. And I hoped that they would want to know more about me. And I hoped that if we, in that moment, could forget about our figures and all the pressures that come with them, we could maybe start a new culture among us—one rooted in inspiring strength, self-worth, respect for others, and empathy for all bodies.
If we could forget about our figures and all the pressures that come with them, we could maybe start a new culture among us—one rooted in inspiring strength, self-worth, respect for others, and empathy for all bodies.
None of this is to say that you should never think about your body—that would be ridiculous, given it’s the shell in which you survive this world.
None of this is to challenge body autonomy, either, because I firmly believe we all have the right to make the choices that are truly best for ourselves, and our bodies.
None of this is to say that I don’t genuinely love my figure, in all its fat glory.
Come the holiday season, however, I still like to remind myself that my body is the least interesting thing about me. In doing so, I give myself a moment to reflect on all the great things the year has brought me, and even the not-so-great things that I still learned something from. I give myself a moment to appreciate all the changes in my figure that come with a story, and all the ones that don’t. I give myself a moment to remember that maybe if I’m not hyper-focused on my body in the way that the world wants me to be, my girls will learn to follow suit.