Body positivity. Body acceptance. Happy in your body. With all this focus on our bodies, no wonder we are struggling more than ever.
A monumental thing happened in South Africa a little while ago. A passionate (read crazy, frenzied and manically, not joyfully) young man went on a video rampage singling out overweight women, dishing out what he would term “advice”. If it wasn’t so offensive it would have been funny. Society almost as a whole went up in arms, with full right. I myself wrote a commentary piece and found myself thinking about it long after the dust had settled. What I found interesting was how everyone started to defend their right to choose what they looked like, how much they exercised, etc. (myself included!) – why did we feel the need to defend ourselves? If we felt so strongly about our right to choose, then there would be no need, right? Right. Except we do not allow ourselves the autonomy to choose. We are still governed by what others will deem acceptable, worthwhile, and even worthy.
I have struggled with body issues my entire life. I have been, in my own eyes, too soft, too flabby, too this, too that. This was confirmed by my peers, family members, romantic partners, the media. There was a time when I was my perfect weight, only reached and maintained by extreme stress which lead to restrictive eating (because I was too nauseas to eat…) I felt good about myself then, which has in recent years lead to a lot of soul searching and questions – how I could have felt good about myself when I was clearly not ok, and my body was suffering. But that is something for another day.
This whole debacle has been extremely triggering to me. Only now, in my early 30s, after having my kids, have I felt that it is possible to make peace with my body. Not only with the way it looks, but with the way it reacts and handles life. Notice how I say, “make peace” and not “accept”. I don’t really think I will ever accept my body – that leaves too many things that I could maybe have changed but decided to rather give up on. By making peace, I acknowledge that there are still things that I am willing and able to change, and the rest I will live with. Not half-heartedly or begrudgingly, but wholly.
What has led me on this journey of body peace has mostly been my girls. Looking at them, seeing how perfect they are, but also realising their potential struggle and shortcomings, have made me realise that I need to raise them with a solid foundation of practicality. They cannot go through life forever wishing they were taller, slimmer, had longer legs, blonder hair, whatever. They need to go through life certain that they are well-looked after, healthy, strong, capable, and worthy of not only love but trust, respect, admiration, and of course, seduction. To never allow their bodies to hold them back, but to also not force their bodies into something that weren’t meant for them.
I think that there is a big hole left in society by absent, or ill-informed, fathers. The main male figure in a girl’s life who, according to me, is responsible for teaching her how men are supposed to handle her. How they are supposed to make her feel. Instead, that education is left to the moms, who so often have their own horror stories to tell. And we take those stories, from bullies telling us our boob are too big, to boyfriends raising their eyebrows when we want ice cream, to brothers teasing us, and we make sure our daughters do not suffer the same fate. But by focussing on something, especially something negative, we ultimately call it into our lives.
So many of our daughters grow up never experiencing the awe and love in their father’s eyes when he looks at their mom. Never hears a responsible male figure tell a woman how amazing she is. Only experience the catcalls, the ad campaigns, the weight loss products. That becomes their normal, their life.
I want to raise my girls to be happy in their bodies. To know that they have choices, and whatever they choose they only have to answer to themselves. To know what admiration looks like. And to be so secure and at peace with themselves that a little man-child who goes on a social media rampage will never upset them, let alone give them sleepless nights.
Here is to teaching body peace, and leaving the positivity and acceptance to other social issues.