Every year around the holidays, the body image/food banter begins. There are the fitness/health magazines that flood you with ways to cut calories before, during, and after the holidays so your family doesn’t “ruin” your diet. There are the online support and communities for individuals who face eating disorders and are challenged in a different way by food each day. And of course, let’s not forget, while many of us are worrying about how many calories we’ll eat and making sure we get in those extra workouts before the holiday to mitigate the damage, there’s the very real fact that food insecurity and poverty is rampant in our world. How ironic (or disappointing, disgusting, humiliating, etc.) is it that while we’re attempting to limit ourselves and we’re faced with the “problem” of overeating on the holidays there are individuals and families who are, rightfully so, more preoccupied with wondering where or if they’ll have a holiday meal at all?
A few months ago I posted a new profile picture (above) on Facebook (nearly days before I deleted my Facebook – still SO happy with that choice!). I posted the photo because I had a great day! The sun was shining, I felt strong, confident, and HAPPY! I was surprised because this photo received nearly the most likes I’ve ever had on a profile picture (second only to my Brown University acceptance post). Not only did it receive so many likes but also there were a lot of comments. Initially the positive vibes felt so good but after a short while I was perplexed. I didn’t post this photo to receive high praises. I definitely didn’t post it for people to comment on my body!
I already wrote about why I quit Facebook but one aspect of this is still on my mind. When we post things, who are we posting them for? Why are we posting them at all? Are we looking for approval? Are we sharing information/resources/insights/thoughts? Are we hoping one specific friend will see it but too nervous to send it directly to them? Regardless of our rationale, does it really matter? Once we put it out there, others decide how it resonates with them and so even if we posted something literally because “we’re happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time” (shout out to Taylor Swift) that doesn’t really matter.
I said something to my mom about my concern regarding the overwhelming positive attention the photo (ie. my body) was getting. She told me (and her words pierced my mind) “if you gained weight they would still be talking. Just, they’d be saying it behind your back”. Ahhh, my body is for me! I don’t understand how it became anyone else’s prerogative to police of approve of my body. I don’t know why people feel that they have the right to fixate on another person’s body. Why they feel compelled, and they feel good about it too, to tell you how “great” you look! Clearly skinny is beautiful and fat is shameful and shameful things are discussed in private while beautiful things are praised publicly. Why did I have to look “holy skinny” so that others would “like” my photo? GOSH!
At this point, I want to share a resource: How to Talk to Your Daughter About Her Body. The most poignant thing I’ve read recently about “body positivity” and “self love” came from this article, “How to talk to your daughter about her body, step one: Don’t talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it works.” Bottom line, beauty is far more complex than what we see on the surface. In this piece, Sarah Koppelkam gently encourages us to “Remind your daughter that the best thing she can do with her body is to use it to mobilize her beautiful soul.” In fact, when I read that, I felt like I’d heard something of a similar sentiment before! I was right! One of my favorites, Cristina Yang (shout out to all the Grey’s fans – for more quotes click here!) said, “Oh, screw beautiful, I’m brilliant. You wanna appease me, compliment my brain!” YESS YOU GO GIRL! Except one caveat, can’t I have a beautiful brain? Why does our perception of beautiful have to always relate to the outward appearance of our bodies? Why can’t we compliment each other about things that have nothing to do with our bodies? Furthermore, why can’t we separate our self worth (or other people’s perception of our self worth) from the numeric value that appears on the scale or the clothing tag?
Recently I saw this tweet from Realize Your Beauty in response to a twitter chat about maintaining health & happiness over the holidays. The question was: “Why are the holidays sometimes triggering or stressful?” The response: “Seeing family & friends you haven’t seen for long periods of time-Feeling you have to look or ‘be’ a certain way around them.
#ProudChat” This really resonated with me. I noticed that I was worried about that too. I just hadn’t been able to articulate it. [side note: I sort of feel like this twitter chat in itself was triggering or stressful – or could have been] Going home means that I will have to endure questions and comments like “you’re really keeping the weight off!” or “how much weight have you lost?”. AND obviously we can’t leave out the drama and hassle of Black Friday shopping. At this point, these are the last things I want to hear or do over the holidays. I want to draw attention AWAY from my body, not toward it. It’s frustrating and it makes me worried to go home. In fact, I didn’t notice the stark difference in my own body until a good friend brought it to my attention. These two photos are pretty telling, to me, but what I don’t feel they indicate is “beauty”. [side note: remember, I’m great at keeping up appearances, so while I may appear happy in these photos the contrast, and the reason I’m sharing these images, is more important than the emotion they seem to portray]
My point here, is simple. No overthinking involved (I wish!). My body is for me. It is not for anyone else to comment on unless I give them explicit permission. My body is not for you to approve of or to disapprove of. Furthermore my body is not for you to speculate about “how I did it” or for you to judge or envy. I am not your success story. I am not your inspiration. [side note: watch this because Blythe Baird says ALL this way better than I could] For just a moment, please consider how telling someone they “look good” or inquiring about their weight loss can be triggering or challenging for them. It’s just uncomfortable. While likely it’s meant to be a kind gesture, a compliment, it can be harmful, embarrassing, or upsetting. Instead, focus on complimenting that person on something that has nothing to do with their body. Perhaps, their mind!
All I ask is that we cultivate the space, time, and the intentional energy to recognize how each person is different and how each person is perplexingly beautiful in their own way this day and every day.