I started out this week rambling to a bunch of elementary students…um…er…I mean I took part is this year’s career day. It’s always a fun event, but this year my head was just not in the game. For one group, I would ramble on about how I write blog posts to inspire people, and to another group, I would talk about the importance of staying healthy so they could follow their passion with gusto. I was all over the place.
Until one beautiful little girl with notepad in hand asked me, “Is there anything other than exercise that you can do to get the perfect body?”
Deep breath, mama! This is what we trained for.
THE perfect body. Isn’t that what we are supposed to be aspiring to? Isn’t in the pursuit of and the achievement of perfection where we find our worth — from the time we are little until the time we die? Seriously, I’ve heard old ladies in assisted living complaining about putting on a little too much weight. I wanted to call bullshit because that’s what that ideal is. But I also saw myself in her and in the other girls hanging on my words, and I knew I had to give them more.
Honestly, it was one of those blackout situations where I vaguely remember saying some good stuff, so I thought I would write what I hope I conveyed to those girls. Because no matter how old we are, I think we have to hear this, again and again, in order to drown out the messages that keeps us feeling “less than.”
- There is no such thing as the perfect body. Advertisers and fashion designers might sell us an “ideal image,” but those images change all the time and, thanks to photoshop, very rarely align with what any real women look like.
- The perfect body shape is a total red herring. When girls and women waste their time worrying how to get their body to conform to some ideal, they are misdirecting their energy. They wake up thinking about what they can and can’t eat or how much they need to exercise instead of spending time figuring out what their passions are or building their empires. We would be running this show if we weren’t all so concerned about the size of our thighs.
- The perfect body can’t exist because your body is going to change a lot…like a lot. I’m not talking about weight fluctuation, I’m just talking about weird body changes. Hips get bigger, waists get smaller, boobs….are all over the place. Because you are a woman, estrogen, pregnancy, and age affect where you store fat, how wide things are or aren’t, and how your muscle shows or doesn’t. I’ve had several different bodies in my almost four decades, and I expect to have many more. God willing!
- Trying to achieve the perfect body is often dangerous. From Eating Disorders Victoria: “Dieting is the single most important risk factor for developing an eating disorder. Girls who diet moderately are 5 times more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who don’t diet, and those who diet severely are 18 times more likely.” I was once one of those girls. My obsession with the perfect body caused me to obsessed over counting calories and to see how few I could eat in a day. I’m sure this is why my thyroid stopped working in my early 20s. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised one bit to hear that extreme dieting and autoimmune disease are connected as this sort of dieting causes stress (both emotionally and physically) and wrecks the microbiome.
Years of worrying about my body (and no matter what I looked like, I never thought I looked good enough) took its toll on my physical health, but it also left so much emotional damage. I see the damage in the women in my life, and I could even see the spark of it in that little girl. The idea of the perfect body is such a thief. It steals our health, our joy, and if we aren’t very careful, our dreams.
So how do we proceed?
How about when we talk about our bodies to the girls and women in our lives, we focus on our body’s ability to carry us through this life and help us carry others when they need it. We realize that our body’s purpose is to help us get away from danger, to help us express happiness, and to take us through all the experiences we get to have as humans.
We need to realize that our body image is as much a part of our health as our physical health. I encourage you to examine your eating habits to make sure you eat in a way that supports your health. Be on the lookout for patterns where you use food to punish yourself or to hide some internal pain. I encourage you to celebrate your body through movement because that’s going to improve our health and make it easier to follow our passions. If you need to lose some weight to be healthy, then we can do that together, but don’t for one second think that how your body looks makes you anything less than enough. Because you are so enough.