I have noticed a trend, when idling through my Facebook feed. An interesting contrast which makes me consider my position on a particular matter. Right now, my position is ‘I’m not really sure’, and maybe writing this out will help me find some clarity.
I have a bunch of friends, almost exclusively women, who are proud feminists and are more and more vocal about the great many indignities, cruelties and injustices meted out to women on a consistent if not persistent basis. I won’t deal with that whole topic right now, but I do want to tease out a single strand.
Body image. The slavering and mostly fictional depiction, everywhere we turn, of the ‘ideal’ female body. If you don’t look like you were designed by two desperate teen boys wearing bras on their heads, there simply must be something wrong with you. You should be ashamed. Look at those wobbly bits! How could any man etc. etc. etc.
This phenomenon will not be new to you, I won’t harp on.
So, we have a response. Statements like “real women have curves” (which is also apparently the name of a movie starring America Ferreira, learn something new every day). Discussions about physical appearance, cultural programming, harmful expectations, all that good stuff. Most of the people I see posting about these issues are curvy.
Actually, I don’t really like that “curves” statement. All women have curves. Less curvy women are not somehow less real (whatever that even means). There’s a tremendous variety of shapes and sizes out there before we even start talking about the ways in which we transform ourselves, and why. But I digress.
That’s one side.
I do quite a lot of martial arts these days. A whole bunch of people on my Facebook feed, male and female, have health/fitness/nutrition/training as a very big part of their lives. They say – and I entirely agree – that if you pay attention to what you eat, and do some exercise, the benefits can be surprisingly holistic. Bad skin clears up, you add muscle, the muscle burns more fat, you slim down, you tone up, and that’s (mostly) just the aesthetic stuff. You have more energy, you sleep better, you feel better, you sidestep some health issues associated with poor diet or lack of exercise, and you are happier overall. It’s a really, really good thing. This seems uncontroversial.
Many of the people posting about this facet of life look quite a lot like the ‘idealised’ body image I mentioned up top.
Accept yourself for who you are. Don’t let a culture designed and run by old white men tell you how slim your waist should be. This seems totally reasonable.
Look after yourself. It’s the only body you get. Fuel it carefully, and use it well. This seems totally reasonable too.
I have been overweight. Technically, I probably still am, by some measurements. Six feet tall, about sixteen stone (224 pounds for the Americans out there). I’ve been bigger. Not by tons, and I have a big frame anyway so I can carry extra weight without it looking crazy, but I’ve felt it. I’ve looked at myself in the mirror, or in pictures, and thought “I don’t want this.” Was that because I didn’t look like this guy?
Was it just because I felt the accumulated effect of junk food, ice cream and lack of exercise, and I felt like I wasn’t treating my body with respect?
Probably a combination of the two, honestly.
So… where do I stand? Do I have to pick a side? Are these viewpoints mutually exclusive? At this point, for me anyway, it gets a bit muddy.
If you look at someone who is overweight, there is no magical neon sign floating over their head stating the cause.
“Was in a bad car accident, has not been able to exercise without pain for over a year.”
“I am passionate about all kinds of food, from all over the world. I cook, I eat, but I don’t have time to work out.”
“Have tried thirty different diets over the last ten years, nothing works so far.”
“I eat cake when I’m sad and I’m sad all the time.”
Most of the guesses I could make would be just that. Guesses. Not everyone is lazy. That’s a nice, simple excuse to dismiss a lot of complicated and painful problems.
Also, I realise that I am a hypocrite. When a slim person says “I’m one of those really annoying people with a fast metabolism. I eat all the time but I don’t put on weight” – I accept it. Lucky you!
When a big person says “I don’t actually eat that much, but I never seem to lose weight”, I don’t automatically place them at the other end of the metabolism spectrum. I feel a bit doubtful. Are you sure? Sounds a bit like an excuse.
That’s horrible of me. I only just noticed that I do that. I’m going to have to fix it.
I’m prevaricating. I need to make a decision.
You know what? If anything, I generally lean towards ‘you should probably eat less and exercise more’.
Yeah. I fully support those who are proud to be different, and don’t feel the need to conform to an antiquated and sexist stereotype. On the other hand, I don’t think I can continue supporting them if that also becomes an excuse to be unhealthy and unhappy.
Ugh. I’m so averse to taking a stand. To hell with it. Publish and be damned.