every BODY is beautiful

Bodies like these are beautiful. So are larger ones. So are smaller ones. So are shorter ones. So are taller ones. So are differently-abled ones. So are ones who don't even realize it yet.

While I’m very interested in body image, body acceptance, and the Healthy at Every Size movement, I don’t write a lot about body image. Because I recognize that as a thin, able-bodied, white, heterosexual, cis-woman, I carry around a whole lot of privilege, and really, no amount of whining about how someone called me Olive Oyl or “walking toothpick” or “knobby knees” in Jr. High is going to compare to the experience of someone who is told over and over in the media that she is unacceptable, that she is unhealthy, that she is the reason Americans spend so much on healthcare, that she is going to die, that she is unworthy of love, that she is not allowed to wear the things she wants to wear because it “grosses” others out, just to name a few.  I get that that is not my experience, and so I try to take a backseat and be a good ally. I creep on blogs like Shapely Prose and the Rotund and Fatshionista, and I try to get schooled.

That said, I was SO HAPPY to read this post by Ragen Chastain of Dances with Fat (she left me a comment the other day! woo!) over at Jezebel called “Things I’ve Heard About Thin Women.”  Her post is about the tendency of some in the body acceptance movement to tear down those whose bodies are considered by mainstream society as “more acceptable” than fat bodies.  She points out seeing the following comments:

“Stick women just aren’t sexy, it’s just gross.”
“What man would want a twig anyway?”
“It’s just impossible to be healthy when you are that thin, you have to be anorexic or a drug addict to look like that” “Real women are curvy and LOOK like women”

I’ve written about the whole “real women have curves” thing before and concluded that real women come in all shapes and sizes, and real women love themselves, no matter what they look like. I’m not going to try to play Oppression Olympics, or claim that skinny shaming even BEGINS to come close to the kind of fat shaming so many people deal with on a regular basis.  Instead, I’d just like to reiterate Ragen’s point here:

I believe that if you say that you want a size positive world, you have to mean size positive for everyone. That means not making judgments about others based on their size; sticking up for the model being called anorexic with the same fervor you would use to defend a fat women being called lazy; respecting other people’s decisions when it comes to their bodies – even when you don’t agree with them.

That’s what it means to be the change you want to see in the world.

Amen!  Women are a powerful force when we have each others’ backs and are united in the fight for fairness.  Distracting us into some sort of competitive game where we’re pitted against each other trying to define what a “REAL” woman is, or what a truly acceptable, beautiful body looks like is just another way to keep us down.  Don’t let The Man distract us with such petty crap. We are ALL beautiful, we are ALL deserving of love and acceptance, starting with loving and accepting ourselves, and branching out to love and accept each other.

the only thing we need to lose is our obsession with thinness

Image: yoga after climbing, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from lululemonathletica's photostream

I spend a lot of time reading feministy, body-positive, Healthy at Every Size type blogs, so at first I wasn’t surprised to read a piece called Never Take Fitness Advice from the New York Times. Until I realized it was written by a man, and on Gawker to boot.  Yay for encountering body-positive messages in unlikely spaces, particularly considering the staggering number of negative messages we get about our bodies each and every day!

In this piece, Hamilton Nolan critiques a recent NYT article called “Does Working Out Really Help You Lose Weight?,” particularly its assumption that the goal of exercise, and indeed all of life, is being “thin,” a word that is used repeatedly in the NYT’s article. Hamilton writes:

Being thin is an awful goal towards which to strive. It is certainly not the goal of an exercise program. Writing an entire, ostensibly meaningful and important story on whether exercise can make you thin is analogous to wondering whether going to college can get you laid. Yes, but that’s not really the point.

The purpose of working out is get in shape. Not to get “thin.” To be in shape, for the average person, connotes being healthy, and improving on the basic elements of one’s own fitness: muscular strength, endurance, cardiovascular, flexibility, etc.

Amen! The goal of working out, and even of eating healthy foods, is to be HEALTHY, which may or may not mean being thin. In fact, for many people, it will not mean being thin. And being thin does not necessarily mean being healthy, either. I should know. I’m what the NYT might call “thin,” with a BMI* naturally in the “underweight” range of the scale, and yet I am still what you might call “out of shape.” I couldn’t run a mile if you asked me to. I have a rather high resting heart rate. But I recently started exercising regularly for the first time in my life, by taking yoga classes, and I am feeling stronger and healthier and happier the more I practice yoga.

Not to mention, thinness is a crappy way to motivate people to pursue healthy activities. I eat healthy food because it tastes good. I practice yoga because it’s fun, it helps with my back pain, and it makes me feel beautiful just to be in my body. I even hear tell that some people like to run because they think it’s fun, though I think it sounds like torture! Do what makes you feel good and healthy.  Do what’s fun. It may or may not make you thin, and who really cares anyway?

*As an aside on the BMI: a lot of those feministy body-positive Healthy at Every Size blogs I read like to talk smack on the BMI. While they have a point that having a certain BMI does not necessarily mean one is by definition unhealthy, ie, just because one falls in the “obese” or “underweight” category according to the BMI does not mean one will have all of the health complications associated with that category, the BMI is still useful as a measure of predicting risk and determining if further testing is necessary. For example, according to my BMI, I might be at risk for infertility, osteoporosis, and anemia. Because of this, my doctors might suggest testing or monitoring to see if I have developed those issues, but it doesn’t mean I have to HAVE those issues– in fact, I don’t. The same goes for people who are obese according to the BMI– they are at risk for diabetes and other complications, and may require testing or monitoring, but will not necessarily have those conditions.