By Angela Noel
February 2, 2017
Simone de Beauvoir, French author and philosopher, wrote, “To lose confidence in one’s body is to lose confidence in oneself.” Put another way, to have confidence in one’s body is to have confidence in oneself. Like many American women, I have some body issues. When I’m not mad at it for its pimples, wrinkles, or saddle bags, I’m disappointed in it for not being healthy enough. In 2016 I struggled with my body. My confidence wobbled. Clearly, something was wrong.
If your read my post A Resolution Resolution you’re familiar with my annual commitment to creating Intentions, statements that encompass an idea or way of being, to live into. This year, one of my Intentions is to honor my body. To do that, I’ll need to address years of negative influences, both outside and inside my own head.
Bodies Break. But That Doesn’t Make Them Bad.
My body broke this past year. I fractured my hip and tore two ligaments. I didn’t fall or anything; I just pushed myself too hard, and paid too little attention to my body asking for rest. I’d even injured the same hip the year before.
Bones heal if you’re nice to them. Miracles of mending, little biological mechanisms using calcium and vitamin D knit fractured places together again. Amazing! And they don’t typically break in the first place if you treat them with respect.
I also worried I’d developed some kind of bladder problem. (Fun!) At the same time I couldn’t trust my body to walk or run properly, I also couldn’t trust my bladder to work like a happy bladder should.
Anxiety over something else–possibly my broken hip– caused the problem, then anxiety over the problem itself made it worse. What if I have to wear diapers? Would I need surgery? What if . . . ? Shame and fear all mixed together.
After days of worry, like a fever breaking, I stopped.
So what if my bladder wasn’t behaving? Millions of people have misbehaving bladders. Why should I feel shame about that? I went to the doctor and talked with my mother. I stopped hiding and paid attention to my body. I worked with it not against it. My body figured things out. A little mental reboot solved my pee-pee problem.
Honor my body means listening to it, and celebrating what it can do without feeling ashamed of its quirks. When my body needs rest, a bath, a massage, a hard workout, I vow to listen. When my mind feels shame over what my body can’t do, I’ll observe that shame, find the source of it and set it free.
But honoring my body is about more than celebrating its capabilities.
Becoming Size Wise
As a teen, I worried about being “fat.” Sweet Valley High books told me heroines are blond and a “perfect size six.” I believed it, and I’m not alone.
(Imagine for a moment that Frank and Joe Hardy from the The Hardy Boys had been described this way: “Along with solving mysteries, Frank’s perfect 32-inch waist was the envy of all his friends.”)
Consider a recent Huffington Post article about a twenty-seven-year-old woman offered a clue about why body image continues to torment many of us. In the article, a woman demonstrates how the very same human at a particular point in time could easily own a host of pants, all fitting generally the same, but labelled with widely varying sizes from six to twelve or beyond. So does size matter?
Fashion people know bodies are different. An international standard for “size six” doesn’t exist. Whereas an ounce of peanut butter weighs the same as an ounce of gold, a size six from one brand is not the same size six offered by another. And yet, the world seems to care–to devastating effect. A 2011 article by Glamour magazine claims 97% of women are cruel to their bodies on any given day. Ninety-one percent of women, according to DoSomething.Org, are unhappy with their bodies. But if you don’t believe the statistics, just Google “what pant size is considered fat?” Then marvel at the results–all 1.6 million of them.
Making Conscious Choices
I spent my childhood making up dance routines and reading fairy tales. I wrote short stories and played for hours alone in my room. Neither sedentary nor active, I valued imagination over exertion. But something changed in my thirteenth year: I started working out. I had a gym membership by the time I was sixteen. Why?
I’ll call it The Sweet Valley High effect.
For most of my teen and young adult years I worked out as a means to an end–keeping my weight down and relieving stress. Only in the past three years has working out become a joy and not a chore. Now, I love how strong I feel after a hard lift, or a billion and one squats. I love the rubbery feel of my legs after a long run. But that doesn’t mean I’m free from inspecting my butt in the mirror with a look of disgust. It happens less, but it still happens. I want to look in the mirror and enjoy the strength of my glutes not lament the dimples in my skin.
Honor my body means making conscious choices to see through what the world expects, and live into a gracious and loving relationship with the one set of organs and limbs I’ve been given. I vow to honor the size of my body, whatever weight it is, how ever many inches it is, whatever pant size it wears. I will feed it healthy foods (no sweets during the week, fruit for dessert). And I promise to steer clear of too much wine, beer, or Moscow Mules. Not because these things could make me “fat” but because my body feels better when I treat it well.
Fueling My Contribution to the World
As de Beauvoir said, my body should be a source of confidence, not the reason I lack it. I want the energy I have, the strength I feel, and the mountains I climb (real and metaphorical), to guide me, not the size on a label affixed to a waistband.
My body can hike fourteen thousand feet. It runs, practices yoga, and dances. It hugs, cuddles, and kisses. My body cooks, sneezes, and types. It smiles and laughs. It fuels my potential and my contribution to the world. It deserves my respect. So this year, I honor it.
Your turn: Have you struggled with body image or know someone who has? What’s amazing about your body? How will you honor it?