Like many women, I grew up in conflict with my body. Namely, I thought I was too big. Too big for what, you might ask? I climbed mountains, I hiked for kilometers, skied, played volleyball all over Europe; my body never let me down. Except when I compared myself to others--the billboards, the magazine ads, my half-my-size younger sister. And when I noticed that thinner girls got the male attention. (I was too big, too opinionated, too unfeminine...)
I am grateful that my mother moved so unconsciously in her own body; she was - and still is at 94 -- incredibly active. She never talked dieting or stood in front of mirrors, looking critically at herself. (Just for an experiment, the next time you pass a mirror, stop and say something genuinely positive about your body/face. It may feel strange at first.) But still, my mother has also said she is uncomfortable around "fat people" and uses that hackneyed phrase "figure" to describe a woman's body. How come men have bodies, but women have figures? Go figure. So, she didn't entirely escape our Western culture's model of shaming women for their size, weight, breast size, ass size...on an on.
Our medical system is part of this culture; I had a friend admitted to the hospital for heart palpitations and panic attacks making it hard to breathe. The (female) doctor's first comment to her: "Mrs. X, you know you must lose weight." Really? In the admitting room, you find it necessary to comment not on this woman's heart, out-of-control anxiety, difficulty breathing -- but her weight? Losing weight might help her, but so could medication for anxiety or daily mindfulness exercises or perhaps a therapist to ask what is causing her such unhappiness. (Getting help to better cope with a child addicted to heroin might have been a good start.) Instead, let's lead with shame.
My daughter, wise soul that she is, said to me, "I have learned not to comment on people's bodies because it's not my business." A mentor of mine said that she lost 100 pounds, not through dieting, but by "refusing to listen to or engage with any statement that shamed me or my body." She took 20 years to do it, and now she is a smaller version of the same person she always has been. (Myth #1: Losing weight does not guarantee a better life.)
As for me, I am learning to be in this body now--not the one I think I should have. That means if I want to wear a shiny, tight, screaming orange shirt, that's what I'll do. And if it's not "flattering"?Well, whose gaze am I trying to impress with my only-flattering clothes? What mythical person do I need to be flattering for? Even more, I appreciate the amazing things my body can do (sit for hours as a therapist, hike the Simiens in Ethiopia with my son), and most of all, take better care of myself -- more sleep, more movement, more pleasure. And, I hope by words -- and more important, my own actions -- I can help my clients do the same.