Body shame is insidious; it warps how we see ourselves, how we move, what we ask for and what we hold back from. It changes how we give birth and how we have sex. I'm not sure you can throw yourself fully into the the transformational act of giving birth or giving/receiving sexual pleasure while being afraid of what you look like. And that kind of constant wondering--vigilance, really--is what keeps us small. Judging and comparing others' bodies keeps us small, too.
I'm shocked when I talk to people who consider themselves fat and they tell me people randomly take food out of their shopping carts "because you shouldn't be eating this," or make cruel comments about their weight. It's enough that most of us carry internal body shame--do we need it from the outside world, too? And how many people are told to lose weight as an answer to all their problems?
Here's the problem with that: diets don't work. Since the 1950s, studies have clearly shown that 95% of dieters gain back all their weight (and often more) within a year. The reasons are a mixture of neurological (obsessing about food makes you eat more), biological (the body perceives dieting as a stressor and slows your metabolism down to conserve energy) and hormonal (the body responds to fat loss by decreasing the hormone that makes you feel full). And of course, there are psychological reasons; it would make a lot more sense to understand why we eat the way we do than literally putting our bodies into a constant state of starvation.
I know there's a fat acceptance movement going on, and I'm all for it. I also know that obesity is a big problem in the US and that carrying a lot of extra weight causes health problems. But what I'm talking about isn't weight--it's shame. We live in a culture that shames us (and profits from it) for being who we are. There is a long history of people of color being shamed and dehumanized for not meeting white body standards. We live in a culture that believes we should look like anorexic young fashion models; imagine what a constant "diet" of these images does to young people growing up.
I believe that a constant diet of body shaming affects us sexually. When couples come to me with sexual struggles, they're often surprised when I start asking them about their bodies. What do you like about your body? Do you walk around naked in front of your partner? When have you felt most comfortable in your skin? Do you think sex would be better if you lost/gained, say, 20 pounds? Have you ever had an eating disorder? (A colleague who is a fat activist would say that we all have eating disorders because our thinking about food/eating is so disordered.) Learning to love our bodies as they are now is a first step towards discovering our innate sense of sexual pleasure and desire.
I ask these questions because I think there is such a strong connection between what we feel about our bodies and what we're willing to express with those same bodies. Learning to love our bodies as they are now can be a first step towards discovering our innate sexual selves. As activist Sonya Renee Taylor puts it, "Our relationship with our bodies is our access to a more just and equitable world." And maybe a more pleasurable one, too.
Here are some great resources:
- Sonya Renee Taylor calls loving your body a political act. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWI9AZkuPVg