At the end of each semester, my body image students write a process paper where they synthesize their learning- both personal and academic- for the semester. These papers are always a delight to read and there is so much wisdom in them that I just have to share a fraction of it (with my students’ permission, of course) with you. Here, some wise words from my students this semester. May they give you hope and inspiration the way they did me (and look for more words of wisdom next week).
We as individuals and as a society need to take a hands-off approach with bodies. In class you stated that this society has a real problem with thinking that it’s ok to judge other peoples’ bodies. I completely agree with this. Truthfully, what right does anyone have to make assumption or comments about others’ bodies? Your view that bodies are simply vehicles for us to experience life has really begun to change my view of myself. I want to begin to give my body a break and to be only thankful for all the experiences it allows me to have…. I am guilty of focusing on others appearances and bodies. It is something that I have done subconsciously, much like your example of the girl who bought a magazine every day thinking that if she could just find one person in them that looked like her, she would be able to stop her eating disorder. Although I do not have an eating disorder, my train of thought is the same when I focus on other’s bodies, “if I could only see someone who looks like me, I would be ok with myself”. This is a toxic train of thought, because of course that isn’t true! Even if by chance we do find someone who looks like us, one person will never be enough and we will continue to look for other people. This is because we cannot be validated by others, we must be accepting of ourselves and comfortable in our own skin to terminate such a terrible train of thought.
I entered this class, along with many others I am sure, with the misconception that thin equals healthy. I was rather surprised to learn that the most healthy, longest living people are those who are overweight—not ideal for the industry, but perfect for fighting diseases and being nourished. I do not know how, but it never occurred to me before this class that every physical body is different and unique, with its own needs, fluctuations, and predispositions. It is a waste of time and energy to struggle to look like the people on television and in magazine because genetics and large teams of professionals/Photoshop are responsible for creating these false images that are fed to us as realities. I have always been a firm supporter in the idea that changes in habits and lifestyles are the key to health. We, as a society, ought to be focusing on being healthy beings and respecting diversity, rather than striving to be skinny or attractive.
Something that I know and understand now is that as women, we are all different and we all experience life differently. So many factors play into this: your race, ethnicity, how you grew up, socioeconomic status, genetics, and the list goes on. Even though we are all different and experience life differently, we all have the same battle in a sense. This battle is how the world we live in tells us how to be, how to dress, how to look, and how to live life as a woman. Though we are so different and unique, this unites us as women. Understanding this has given me the realization that instead of being so “catty” and judgmental of each other, we as women need to support each other and stand up together in this world that is telling us “we aren’t good enough” and to instead choose to encourage and tell each other that we are good enough.
The one time throughout the semester that I really had an “aha” moment happened while I was writing the assigned paper, “Body Image Autobiography.” When answering the questions for the paper one question in particular really stood out to me; “What is the first positive memory/moment you have of your body?” At first I was at a loss on how to answer this question. I then remembered learning to ride a bike when I was younger and how proud I felt that I could accomplish such a task. After I answered this question and wrote about it in my paper, I was really shocked at how much has changed when it comes to how I view my body. Something so simple like learning to ride a bike once made me so proud of my body, and now I am constantly speaking negatively of it. This question helped to remind me what is actually important when it comes to our bodies. Our bodies are amazing for so many reasons. My body allows me to ride a bike, or go for a hike. My body even allows me to swim in the ocean and do yoga. Sometimes I get so caught up in all of the “flaws” I see when looking at my body, that I forget to thank it for all that it does for me.