It’s an interesting time we live in right now in terms of health and fitness. Kale hales as the super-God of all things healthy, strong is the new skinny, junk food is the new nicotine, and body acceptance has shoved fat-shaming out of the way, rightfully so. All these things are inherently “good” things, especially from the perspective of global health and winning the fight of the dire eating disorder statistics. But by swinging the pendulum, are we still continuing to focus too much on the exterior and not enough on what really matters?
Recently, a short film titled “Comfortable” was released in the same vain as the Dove Real Beauty Sketches project, with the underlying premise of addressing the insecurities and hang-ups most adults have with their physical features. In the short film, 50 adults and children are asked to answer the simple question, “What would you change about your body?” Most adults easily came up with a physical attribute they would change, some retelling stories from their childhood about being teased and made self-conscious about large foreheads and Dumbo-esque size ears. Conversely, none of the kids were able to answer a single thing they would change about their physical appearances beyond the fantastical. One little boy answered he’d love to have shark teeth, another girl wanted fairy wings, and still another, a mermaid’s tail.
I respect where the filmmakers are going with this project and don’t disagree that many of us could all benefit from a little more self-love. But does that always have to come in the form of total body-acceptance? By continuing to talk about the thing that drives us all crazy, just from a new perspective, aren’t we still just talking about the thing? Now, instead of being told we need to diet and nip and tuck our selves to death, we need to love everything about ourselves, just the way we are. And if we don’t, we’re just as dysfunctional as ever.
It’s all too much for me. Too much of society continuing to pressure me into not just looking a certain way, but now thinking a certain way. If you don’t love yourself 100 percent completely, you’re not comfortable in your skin and therefore you’re failing at self-love and failing yourself as a human being.
I call bullshit.
Since I was a scrawny kid in seventh grade with a slightly protruding pot-belly, I’ve been self-conscious of my stomach. It’s been something I’ve carried with me for years. While I continue to be thin through watching what I eat and exercising, the “bump” after three kids is as present as ever. In fact, that bump is so ever-present that a saleslady recently asked me, while standing half-nude in the fitting room during a bra fitting, if I was expecting — 100 percent true story. It would be the one thing I would change about my body. But so what? I don’t suffer from low self-esteem because of it. I don’t refuse to wear a bikini. I’m not running into the plastic-surgeon’s office, and I sure as hell am not starving myself to death.
Sure, I don’t like my stomach but I’m still a devoted mother, I work hard and push myself to try new things, I laugh and have a group of friends I adore, and I try to be a good person as often as I can. Being self-conscious of my stomach and wishing it was a little flatter no more defines me as a person or holds me back from living my life as my desire to be more organized and a better daughter. In fact, wanting to change certain aspects of ourselves from the perspective of mind, body, and soul is a natural part of the human condition, one many would argue is a sign of a healthy, functioning human being. Furthermore, being concerned about one’s own appearance isn’t all the fault of fashion magazines and a celebrity-obsessed Western culture, as our ancestors have been focusing on appearances for thousands of years.
I don’t mean to downplay our need to work on positive body image and undo years of damage done by rag mags and fashion runways. In fact, I wrote about facing these challenges with my own daughter last month. I think we could all agree that our media’s representation of true beauty is skewed. I’m just wondering if the solution to reversing negative body perceptions is really an endless stream of feel-good video clips and countless blogs and articles shoving self-love and positive body image down our throats. Because the ultimate question here isn’t what would we change about ourselves, but is our desire to change something about our physical appearance a sign of a poor self-esteem or just a sign of being somewhat human? And is it something we should really all be terrified of? As with anything, I think this is a case-by-case basis and an individual question of how much we let our negative body-talk control our lives. While all adults in this video offered up a physical attribute they’d change, upon being pressed for an answer, I’m sure most aren’t hiding in their homes because of it.
Perhaps we need to consider just taking a break from the constant stream of body-image talk and get back to what really counts: kindness, servitude, gratitude, charity, and civic duty. In other words, turning away from the mirror for a bit and looking outwards instead of always looking in. Because really, at this point I’d rather feel the gentle nudge to love on my fellow man more and focus a little less on myself.
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