It’s funny how common it is that our relationship with the entity that keeps us alive — our bodies — is such a complicated one.
And by funny, I mean not funny at all. We live in a society obsessed with what our bodies look like and how we can get them to look a certain way. We are constantly inundated with the idea that unless we do this, we will not be appreciated — we won’t be accepted.
This is the case for so many, if not all of us. We are constantly told, beginning in our most formative years, that our bodies are meant to be looked at and meant to look a certain way — thin and unblemished.
This is a societal problem that infiltrates every part of life. There are impossible standards of beauty and appearance everywhere we go. I-15 is filled with billboards providing quick “remedies” to make your body thinner. Larger bodies are seldom represented in television and film, and only now are we starting to stop making body size the brunt of our jokes in popular culture at large.
This is the reality of our world — a reality that is extremely toxic and harmful. Speaking from my own experience, this is an exhausting way to live!
I have grown up experiencing a very complicated relationship with my body. When my body didn’t look like the people I saw on TV or in magazines or when I was told that my calves were too big or when I never could find clothes that fit, I became self-conscious. I started hating the way I looked. I stopped appreciating my body for what it could do and started only thinking about how it was perceived by other people.
This attitude pushed me into disordered eating and over-exercising in order to make my body look a certain way.
While it caused me to lose weight and be appreciated by the people around me — the number of times I heard: “You’re so skinny! You look so good!” in the halls of church and school shows just how much our society values thinness — it didn’t heal my relationship with my body or myself.
I still struggled just as much, and I still struggle to this day. How do I not struggle with body image, when I am constantly told I am not good enough because of the way my body is shaped?
Through the road of recovery and trying to mend my relationship with my body, I have learned several important things.
We do not exist to be looked at
My body is an instrument, not an ornament.
An extremely healing and educational force regarding changing the way we view our bodies comes from the work of Lindsay and Lexie Kite, Ph.D. graduates from the University of Utah. They have dedicated their careers to helping people understand their body is more than just something to be looked at.
They discuss everything from aging to debunking the dangerous myths of diet culture, “post-baby bodies” to social media filters. Their thesis throughout is that our bodies are more than just something to be looked at — instead, we need to learn to value ourselves and each other for more than how we appear.
Health looks different for everyone
Health comes in all different shapes and sizes. There is no one-size-fits-all body type. It’s not worth starving yourself in order to fit into society’s perceived version of health and beauty.
So instead of making choices on diet and exercise in order to look a certain way, do what you can to feel healthiest, what makes you feel best. That is something that looks different for everybody. Fit your lifestyle to your needs, not to society’s standards of appearance.
Remember what’s important
People aren’t going to remember me for my body — they’re going to remember me for my empathy, my kindness, my creativity and my desire to have fun and experience life to the fullest.
This is something that is a continual struggle for me and is not an attitude that comes easily. However, it is something that I believe we can continually work on, and something we can help each other with.
Instead of complimenting people on how they look, compliment them on how they act, interact and how they show their passion and love.
As you continue on in your busy lives, pushed forward by the body you’ve been given to experience life to the fullest and something that helps you thrive, remember to treat your body kindly. It has done so much for you.
Remember it is not something meant to be looked at. It is something that helps you run, dance, jump, eat, laugh, love and make connections with other people.
While you are inundated with messages from television, social media and corporations trying to target your self-esteem in order to grow their own wealth, remember what your body has done for you. It’s keeping you alive.
Try to reject the messages that tell you it needs to look a certain way because it doesn’t. It’s doing just fine.
For those struggling with eating disorders and body dysmorphia, know that it is a real, valid struggle and that you can receive help.