Body by Morgan Smith
This morning I was waiting for my coffee to brew, savoring one of the last school-free mornings as I scrolled through the news app. To my disappointment, but not my surprise, I came across an opinion piece about whether or not Roe v. Wade would be overturned. Regardless of my personal opinions on the matter, it got me thinking. A judicial ruling that could have widespread effects on teenage girls, young womxn, and adults is sparking debates, getting national news coverage, and is even becoming a point of contention in the selection of a new Supreme Court candidate. And what is this all hinging on? The legislation of female bodies. Womxn’s bodies are villainized and venerated; from justifying rape by saying girls were showing too much skin to using girls in bikinis to sell perfume, beer, and even hamburgers. The female body is now so much more than a body; it is a debate that everyone feels justified weighing in on.
“By the time we reach fifteen, we have internalized endless rules for our bodies.”
Given all that, you can imagine it would be pretty exhausting to be a teenager living in one of the aforementioned bodies. By the time we reach fifteen, we have internalized endless rules for our bodies; how we she should dress it, where we can and cannot have hair, how much makeup we should put on, what diets we should follow, what we should weigh, and how all of these will affect our social value, ability to get romantic partners, ability to get jobs, and even our safety.
“I thought that if I was thin and beautiful I would be happy, that the world would suddenly become easy.”
For many womxn, myself included, this can be overwhelming. I reached a breaking point my sophomore year of high school. I had struggled with anorexia on and off since I was nine, made worse by the fact that I was a competitive gymnast. When I began puberty, a completely natural process, I was terrified. I hated my body for what it was becoming; something that could put me at risk, that could damage my standing as a gymnast, that would make me ugly. I punished my myself endlessly, exchanging meals for risky diet pills, running miles after practice, even taking cold showers because some article in a “ladies” magazine said it burned fat. By the time I hit junior year, I was thin and miserable.
I thought that if I was thin and beautiful I would be happy, that the world would suddenly become easy, that I would finally fit whatever fictional mold made things better. Well, I have some good news and some bad news- you can’t diet your way to happiness, and being thin changes nothing but numbers. In some ways I wish I could say it worked that way- go out and lose ten pounds, and suddenly your life will be simple. I tried that, and the more I made my body fit whatever Teen Vogue image I was aspiring to, the more I disconnected from the people and issues that I truly cared about. I had internalized everything I had heard about my body, and in the end it gave me nothing.
I’m not going to advocate some kind of overnight body positivity miracle cure. Yes, body positivity has changed my life, but if you’re coming from the same place I was, it’s going to be hard, and it’s going to be work. I’ve been in recovery for a little over two years now, and I still slip up. I still find myself tempted to skip meals, I still exercise out of guilt occasionally, and I still find myself comparing my body to those in magazines. Unpacking the weight of decades of rhetoric surrounding the female body isn’t something that can be done in one afternoon, armed with nothing more than a pinterest board of inspiring quotes and some pictures of beautiful curvy models.
What it finally took for me was body positivity combined with what I’ll call body indifference. When I was feeling okay, I could look in a mirror and tell myself that I loved my curves, that my body was beautiful, that I loved it no matter what. But when I began to slide backwards, those words felt like a lie. In those times, I practiced body indifference. Yes, I have a corporeal existence. It moves me from place to place, it holds my brain in and protects it, it allows me to enjoy music and paintings and books. And really, that’s it. My body doesn’t need to hold social currency, doesn’t need to be beautiful, doesn’t need to look or be a certain way. At its core, it serves a function. And when all else fails, when you can’t love your body for the way it looks, try just appreciating that it’s doing its job. It’s holding you. It has held you since birth, grown with you, witnessed every momentous occasion and drunken mistake, had been there through it all. And for that, our bodies deserve a little appreciation, and, when we get there, a little love.