When I was in the 6th grade, I wanted other people’s bodies. I wanted the kind of body that was tall, with narrow hips. The kind where, when you put on a pair of jeans, you could see your belly button. What I really wanted was all the stuff I imagined having that body would give me: confidence, popularity, and ease. As you might guess, my body was the exact opposite of that – short waisted and wide hips. After years of dieting, I remember the day I realized that regardless of how much weight I could lose, I would never have the kind of body I thought I wanted. It came down to two choices: continue to try to make my body be something it could never be, or accept the body I had and get on with it.
I’d like to say that freedom quickly followed. But the choice between self-hatred and self-love is not always an easy one to make.
The “arrival myth” is strong in our culture. “If only I could…” or “Once I…” (lose weight, get the right job, have a relationship, fill in your favorite) then everything will be perfect. We believe this so strongly, it’s rarely open to question. I met a woman a few weeks ago who wondered why, after being able to achieve so much in her life, she had not been able to get to the weight she wanted. It was the missing element for her, and once achieved, would allow her to be happy. This belief lives everywhere – that the right body equals the right life. And dieting is offered as the way to get there.
But most of the people I work with have been through the weight loss/weight gain cycle countless times. Many are tired of dieting, but don’t see an alternative. “If only I could weigh what I did 10 years ago, I’d be happy”. Except 10 years ago they weren’t happy. Ten years ago they also wanted to be smaller.
A teenager was describing to me all the ways she didn’t fit in anywhere. Her sense of style was a goth-punk-preppy mix that meant that she didn’t quite belong to any of those groups. She was fluidly bisexual. Her eating behaviors were sub-clinical, not fitting directly into any diagnostic category and therefore not quite taken seriously by the adults around her. She said “I am tired of trying to make myself fit into all of these molds people have for me. I don’t fit into any of them. I want people to know that they can learn to fit into themselves”.
When we can fit into ourselves, we buy clothes to fit our bodies rather than trying to fit our body into certain clothes. When we fit into ourselves, we honor our body’s inherent wisdom about what we need rather than looking to an outside expert. When we fit into ourselves, we stop comparing our body to everyone around us. And when we fit into ourselves, we stop letting someone else decide what body we should live in and begin to create a world where one body size is not privileged over any other.
I no longer want any other body than the one I have. Imagine what we could accomplish if we redirect our energy from trying to meet externally imposed standards of beauty and health to defining ourselves by our own standards. Imagine a more balanced, joyous way to live in your body!
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