What if, instead of hating our bodies or loving them, ?
- December 09, 2019
- Hamza Sheraz
When women don’t love their bodies, they’re made to feel like that’s yet another failure. There is another way, says Lily Peschardt.
Last week, my best friend went to donate blood for the first time in 18 months. As she stood all 5ft 1in of her body on the scales, the reading said she’d put on seven kilograms since her last visit. She told me this on the phone, laughing. Laughing. “Their scales are obviously wrong,” she said. “But who cares?” I could hear the shrug in her voice, the genuine apathy. She lives in a world where scales can be wrong and weight can be gained and lost with a casual nonchalance. I have known her since we were three years old and, as far as I know, she has always lived in this world.
Meanwhile, I lived in the darker, twisted, sadder world. A world that told me so often that my weight and my self-worth were inextricably linked that, after I while, I started to believe it. That packaged up and sold me a lifetime’s worth of unhealthy behaviours that I adopted gladly. That’s the short version of the story of how, at 15 years old, I found myself severely anorexic. Years of my life were filled with doctors appointments and cancelled dinner reservations and a self-hatred that was so visceral it left a metallic taste in my mouth. It’s a decade later and I am well now.
Well enough that when people actually tell me I look “well” I don’t immediately assume they’re saying I’m fat. Well enough that, earlier this year, when stress turned me boney and thin, I ate and went swimming and took care of myself the way I knew I needed to. I pulled my body through the water, delighting at the twinge of pain between my shoulder blades as I felt my back strengthening, I did seven somersaults in a row underwater and giggled as I emerged, my lungs tired and empty. I lay a blanket on my tiny living room floor doing yoga, smiling whenever my cat nuzzled my arm while I was doing a downward dog. I went on long walks with my friends and ate all the cake that was offered to me. I believed – maybe for the first time in my life – that this body I had, with the dozens of freckles and the comically tiny toes, was something worth taking care of.
Despite that, I am not someone who can get involved with the body-positivity movement. To me it’s just another way we make women feel inferior. It’s hard to love your body. I know that. You know that. We all fucking know that. And yet in an effort to try and encourage women to stop hating their bodies, we have made them feel guilty if they don’t love it so much that they want to post naked selfies on Instagram or wear bodycon dresses. Writing for BuzzFeed about her complicated relationship with weight, Scaachi Koul put it this way: “Being hurt when someone calls you fat feels anti-feminist, like you’re not just failing yourself by being uncool about it, but failing a community. It feels like I’m falling for a trap that I already knew was there, one that I still wasn’t smart enough to sidestep. In the last five years, I’ve written a best-selling book, gotten engaged, gotten promoted, and worked on a television show. I’ve also gained 20 pounds. Guess which one I think about the most.”
We punish women for not looking a certain way. And then we punish them again for not having the self-esteem to join the ‘body confidence’ movement
We punish women for not looking a certain way. And then we punish them again for not having the self-esteem to join the “body confidence” movement. As if it’s the least you can do, to take your un-magazine-like body and revamp it into a quasi-political statement. Koul explains, “I know that all of this – feeling bad about my body, then feeling bad about not trying to do anything about it, and then feeling guilty for having these feelings at all – is an endless cycle designed to keep me sick.”
There is a growing movement of women who don’t want to learn to love their bodies, they just want to learn how to live in them comfortably. To not berate themselves when they gain weight or to congratulate themselves when they lose it. To turn their backs on a culture that assigns some perverse morality to weight. Koul dreams of apathy: “… frankly, I want to spend as little time as possible thinking about my arms and legs and the way the fat on my back folds when I’m not paying attention at the beach. I just want apathy – to feel nothing about my body at all, to be merely grateful that it functions as I require…”
This weekend, Bethan Holt, a fashion editor at The Telegraph, spoke candidly about her recovery from anorexia and the role that fashion magazines played in her illness. I bristled when I saw the headline, “From teenage anorexic to fashion editor”, on the front cover, and parts of the piece felt somewhat problematic: Holt gave the exact weight she was when she was diagnosed and wrote about some of the strategies she used to avoid eating. Plus, she said the models at Alexander McQueen’s spring/summer show had “slightly chunky legs and a little roundness to their arms and stomachs”. However, she raised an interesting point when she described her relationship to her body now and her belief in the concept of “body neutrality”. She explained: “Body neutrality encourages more gentle acceptance rather than pure hatred or overweening pride in one’s body – it’s open to all shapes and sizes and is probably how most of us would realistically hope to relate to the skin we’re in.” A sentiment echoed by Angelica Malin, editor-in-chief of About Time Magazine:
I love this term, “body neutrality”. It’s the closest I’ve got to being able to describe how I feel about this body of mine that, at various points, I’ve tortured and nurtured and grown into. My relationship with my body is a quiet one built on mutual respect. It thanks me for taking care of it, and I thank it for continuing to put one foot in front of the other, day after day.
I rarely think about my weight anymore; I haven’t weighed myself in about eight years and the only signal I have to measure its fluctuations is how tight or loose my jeans are on any given day. For years of my life, my weight was all I could think about. I found it more interesting than my friends or my school work or the world around me. Perhaps there are only an allotted amount of minutes any one person can spend in their lifetime thinking about how much you weigh, and I used them all up before my 21st birthday.
It takes an extraordinary amount of time and effort to be cruel enough to your body to hate it, as if it’s something other and separate from you. It also takes an extraordinary amount of time and effort to love your body unreservedly. In many ways, body neutrality takes a herculean effort to achieve. But maybe it’s actually a body movement worth fighting for.