I love it, I love it not. About the difficulties to like my own body
April 10, 2017
Recently, these diet advertisements have started to pop up in my Facebook news feed. Look at the below video clip. This channel particularly caught my attention because it kept on posting videos of women whose bodies looked perfectly fine to me before they even started the diet. I looked at them and started to wonder: If these women are unhappy with their bodies and want to lose weight, maybe I should consider the same...? The shape of my stomach definitely has more resemblance with the before-version of that girl but to me, this is no reason that urges me to lose weight.
I really struggle with the fact that I completely internalised the beauty ideals I am surrounded by. I know that my body looks fine, no matter if I weigh 5 kg more or less, I know it's crazy to aspire a body that is literally anorexic, I know that I should not compare myself to others, I know that it's awful to judge anyone by the way they look. And yet. Unconsciously, I constantly compare myself to other women; if they are slimmer and prettier, it makes me feel insecure and inferior, if they are bigger than I am, it makes me feel like my body is actually OK. When I was a teenager, I weighed less than 50 kg (my height is 1,65m) and although I know that I had the shape of a young girl and not a grown woman, it is still the ideal weight that I am dreaming of. I am definitely not a person who worries a lot about her weight (truth is, I am blessed with great genes, so I don't put on weight easily), I find it alarming how much time I spend thinking about my body, how relentlessly I criticise and reject it, and how hard it is to accept, let alone love the way it looks and feels.
The ways I perceive and judge my body constantly change. Sometimes, I feel happy and self-confident in my own body; at other times, I struggle wearing anything but saggy clothes that hide every shape underneath. Two weeks or so after I had returned from my 6-week long pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago, I signed up for Bikram yoga classes. After having walked nearly 800 kilometers across Northern Spain, my skin had a nice tan and I looked slender, healthy, and fit. It is unbelievable how much one sweats during a 90-minute long yoga session at a room temperature of 40°C, so the yogis wear bikinis, bathers, or any outfit really that covers as little skin as possible. I don't know why but an entire wall of the yoga room was basically one huge mirror where we could watch our own desperate attempts to elegantly bend into the 26 different postures. I kept looking at my reflection, judging what I saw, and comparing myself to other women in the room. Since my body was in a good shape, I was mostly content with what I saw, and my flat stomach and my thin but muscular thighs made me feel strong and in a way superior to other people; an absolutely despicable thought and feeling! At the same time, I absolutely hated the thought that one of the other women might peer at my body and feel sad or inferior at the sight. I hoped that they would instead be proud of their big breasts, their long straight legs, or their delicate shoulders - all the things I wish I had.
What does that mean: control over one's body? I don't think it means forcing yourself to lose weight because society tells you that this is how strong, attractive, and successful women look like.
Then there are times when I really dislike my body. I spent the summer of 2015 in Copenhagen; I was new in the city, the weather was exceptionally good, I didn't have a job, and lived a ten-minute bike ride from the next beach. Although that sounds like the perfect conditions for a great summer, I felt insecure, anxious, and quite useless. So of course that resulted in a general feeling of being unattractive and undesirable, and among all the blond Danish beauties on the beach, I felt chubby, plump, and awkward. I was in my bikini only when I was lying on my back or belly; every time I sat up, I would put on a shirt to cover my upper body. I felt too ashamed of the small fat rolls around my hips and my belly. Also, I had seen a picture of me that a friend had taken on the same beach a few days earlier, and the sight of my short and sturdy legs had made me cringe. So I started to use my towel to cover up my legs, pretending it was a protection against the sun or the cool sea breeze. I certainly had a few kilos more than usual because I had spent the previous months frantically writing my master thesis, doing no work out whatsoever, and eating extremely unhealthy food. But the main problem obviously was not my weight but my negative state of mind that had a huge impact on my self-perception. I think this is also very obvious in the Youtube clip above: The thing that really transforms the girl into a more beautiful person is that she is beaming with self-confidence and self-love, not the few kilos she has lost.
I find it extremely problematic that there seems to be a very common connection between being thin and feeling strong. Actually, it is a notion that is very familiar to me. But why is that? Strong because it requires willpower and self-discipline to eat well and live healthy? Because strength equals (self-)control? Because thin people are physically stronger? Because eating whatever and whenever you like means you're weak? Because being thin empowers you? What does that mean: control over one's body? I don't think it means forcing yourself to lose weight because society tells you that this is how strong, attractive, and successful women look like.
In a way, it is a deeply capitalist way of approaching beauty. It doesn't matter where you are from, what your life looks like, how old you are, what sort of individual you are or want to be; the perfect and desirable body is lean, smooth-skinned, and well-toned. No exception. But capitalism needs a driving force, right? So what if we place the beauty ideal beyond reach for like 95% of people? Voilà, we keep on striving and struggling and yearning and the best thing: it turns us into the perfect consumer! We buy all these products and services that promise to make us healthy and thin and fit and beautiful and in the end... happy and lovable. We constantly compare ourselves to one another and so it makes us compete.
All of a sudden, I have all these voices in my head, telling me to lose weight, to eat less, to work out more, to use more skin care products.
It is always said that the most harmful influence on body perception are the media. And for me, this is definitely true. I think I really notice that because my exposure to media of all sorts is unusually low. I don't watch TV, I live on a small island where there's not a single public advertisement, I don't read women's magazines (or any other magazines for that matter), I hardly set a foot into shopping malls, I rarely order clothes in online shops or from catalogues, I don't follow anyone on Instagram or Facebook who posts pictures of their well-toned bodies. Instead, I engage a lot with feminist writing and thought, adore self-confident women who love their bodies, and reject all the dominant beauty standards and ideals. Well, theoretically, that is. Because mostly, when I look at pictures of women with "perfect" bodies, I can virtually hear the struggle starting inside my head. I feel anger and resentment about the fact that we are basically forcefully exposed to these images, and the complexes and insecurities that they cause in us women; I despise the objectification and commodification of the female body and hate the fact that we get downright encouraged to constantly degrade and depreciate our bodies. But at the same time, I secretly wish I would look like these models. I stare at their flat, well-tones stomachs and compare it to mine. All of a sudden, I have all these voices in my head, telling me to lose weight, to eat less, to work out more, to use more skin care products. In Germany, studies have found out that many young women have negative feelings about themselves while watching music video clips showing thin girls and women. In 2014, more than every second woman expressed discontent with their body and weight. In a survey done in the US, 80% of women told the magazine Glamour that they felt bad when looking at themselves in the mirror. These numbers make me sad. I do not blame anyone for feeling bad about their bodies, no matter what they look like. I blame this crazy world we live in, that feeds us shitty food and then makes us dislike ourselves, that turns weight into an issue of class, that makes us judgmental and unfair and competitive about our own and other people's bodies, that makes over-weighed women more likely to be unemployed and gets thin women higher salaries (whereas there is no difference for men), that makes the struggle to love and accept ourselves so much harder than it already is.
For me, it is very healing and liberating to do moderate physical exercise. I don't try to go to the gym or go running. I know from experience, that this only makes me feel worse because I am surrounded by fit and beautiful women with swinging blond pony tails and tiny upper arms. But biking around the city, doing yoga in the morning or before I go to bed, going for walks and hikes in the nature - all that makes me feel good about myself and most of all grateful to be in good health, to have a perfectly functioning body that carries me everywhere and is this amazing mysterious entity that keeps me alive.
UPDATE: The ultimate way to lose excessive weight without any effort: cancer! Yay, stay positive! (WTFF!?)