Monday, April 2, 2012

Body Shaming

How many of you hate your body? I'm on the fence. Most days I don't think about it. But sometimes I catch a glimpse of my baby belly in the mirror at Old Navy and scream in my head!

And I am certainly no stranger to that cruel internal voice. You know, the one that says, "For crying out loud, put down that third piece of cake already, you heifer!" Do I even need to discuss the message that society broadcasts about body image? If Michelle Obama can be called fat, then there isn't much hope for me.

Google "body shaming" and you will see that people (especially women) are getting tired of these messages. They don't want to hate themselves anymore and they sure as hell don't want other people judging them. I support this movement. Hate is never the answer.

We have to face facts though. Being fat is not just another acceptable lifestyle. It is the symptom of a whole myriad of conditions that reveal a broken society. Learning to embrace this symptom is like choosing to embrace the lump that is indicative of cancer. You shouldn't welcome it or ignore it; you examine it, search for the cause, and strive to reverse or eliminate it.

We have to learn to fight the disease instead of the symptoms. Right now, the disease is the saturation of our food supply with non-nutritional food-like substances. Obesity is just one symptom. We have to fight for a society where everyday, normal activities result in health and well-being. Fit should be the default.

By default, a person should be able to walk into a grocery store and fill their carts with nutritional food without scrutinizing labels. By default, a family should be able to eat at a restaurant and not wonder if they are being served food made from natural ingredients.  We should not have to petition for the right to buy milk straight from the source. And we sure as hell should not have to wage a full scale war to stop pink slime, sugared milk, and heavily processed fruits and vegetables from being served to our children at school. 

I don't think these battles will be fought by people who are only looking inward and hating what they see. Certainly the battle won't be fought by people who don't even recognize the enemy (and instead blame only themselves). I think these battles will be fought by people who love themselves. Who are sick of being lied to and deprived of good good choices. In that respect, fat acceptance is a good thing. A step in the journey, even if not the ultimate goal.

I choose not to look in the mirror with loathing. This body got me through all-night study sessions fueled by Coke and Twix bars. This body made it through Operation Enduring Freedom subsisting on MREs (possibly the world's most processed "food"). This body gave birth to three beautiful babies. So I choose not to hate the body that brought me to this point.

But I can decide that from now on that I will take better care of it. I am not going to do it by forcing it to survive on 1,200 calories a day or wearing out the cartilage in my knees at the track. I am going to keep tweaking the food I feed it until I find a natural balance. I am going to move it and use it in ways that are productive or that I enjoy. Like swimming with my boys. Or playing racquetball with my husband. Weeding the garden, taking walks, riding my bike and living life out in the world (and away from this computer).

That's the bottom line I think. If we are going to turn this obesity epidemic around, then we need to create healthy living conditions. Dieting is a band-aid. Going to the gym turns us into hamsters on a wheel. Can't we figure out how to be active as part of living life? Can we think big? re-engineer our lives and communities in such a way that demands healthy choices? Let's plan community bike paths. Plant gardens on school grounds. Spend our food dollars on CSAs and Farmer's Markets. Walk to work. Bike to the store. Throw the kids outside.

Convenience has made us lazy and entitled. And being lazy and entitled has made us fat. Should we be ashamed? Yes, but not of our bodies. We should be ashamed that we crowded out small farmers, drove out local grocers, and now worship a body image that is unattainable without Photoshop.

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