The battle for the body

One would think that as much as we talk about body image in our American society, people would stop ridiculing others for the way they look. One would think wrong.

Last week, women from opposite ends of the weight/body shape spectrum (then again, aren’t we all on opposite ends to some degree?) took some punches from others communicating to these women that their bodies weren’t good enough.

Daisy Ridley, the 23-year-old who has received praise across the world for portraying a strong female character as Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, dealt with an Instagram user calling her too thin and accusing her of setting unrealistic expectations for young girls. I haven’t seen Star Wars or anything else Ridley is in, but I think I like her already. She responded to the Instagram user with a post stating that she’s a “‘real woman’ like every other woman in this world,” which she later took down after people started piling hate on the body critic. Ridley followed up with a longer post about “striving to be [her] best self, even if [she] stumble[s] along the way” and asked that people stop saying mean things to her critic. So not only did she defend herself, she made a conscious effort to stop the hate toward the very person who was hateful to her in the first place. Good for Ridley for seeing the bigger picture and being an awesome person.

Furthermore, we have no idea what daily life is like for Ridley. Maybe she’s got a crazy metabolism. Maybe she exercises a lot because she enjoys it. Maybe she’s on a diet of Girl Scout cookies, and it works for her. Maybe she struggles or has struggled with anorexia. Who knows? She’s just 23; not any longer a kid, but barely an adult (believe me, I understand that). I’ve been fortunate enough to have avoided crossing paths with body shamers in my late childhood and early adulthood, so I can’t imagine what that feels like to constantly be in the spotlight, just waiting for someone (or lots of someones) anywhere in the world to assault my self-worth.

Also last week, Lane Bryant struggled with getting its new commercial aired on television. NBC doesn’t want it. ABC doesn’t want it. If you watch the commercial below, you’ll see women in various stages of undress…and dress. But that’s nothing new, right? We’ve seen Paris Hilton try to sell us hamburgers while draped across the hood of a soapy car in a bathing suit. We’ve seen Dolce & Gabbana put out double-page magazine ads that strongly imply gang rape. So it’s nothing new to see half-naked or mostly-naked women, right?

Wrong, apparently. With closeups of fat rolls – which most men and women have – and a breastfeeding mother, this commercial pushes the boundaries of conventionality in advertising. (And it’s got our lady Ashley Graham in it!) When you watch it, even if you’re a body image cheerleader, you may find yourself feeling uncomfortable. My theory is that’s because we haven’t been conditioned to feel that it’s okay to see regular women in a natural state on television. We’re not used to it; not on our TV screens. Additionally, it almost feels like we’re doing something wrong by watching it. Like it’s a secret. Like They shouldn’t know we’re accepting women -and men – just as they are.

So if you’re too thin, that’s not good enough. If you’re too fat, that’s not good enough. What the actual heck, people?!

I’ll admit, it’s easier for me to relate to the ladies of Lane Bryant than to Ridley because I have never been naturally thin, and I doubt I ever will be. I hit the gym, on average, five or six times a week for at least an hour, and monitor my sugar, protein, carbohydrate and fiber intake daily. Even after all that, I’m not a size 2 (and I realize there will be times throughout my life when that workout schedule isn’t possible). All that work I do is simply to maintain my weight and stay healthy (I know myself, and I know I like Nutella and chocolate-covered almonds, so I’ve got to make up the deficit somewhere). Conversely, I know girls who are a size 2 and abhor exercise and eat cheeseburgers and pizza like they’re their own food groups.

But you know,  I am not jealous of those size-2 girls, or anyone else. Any frustration with my body comes from my mental image, assembled Frankenstein-style from the usual suspects of movies and magazines, of the “ideal” arms, “ideal” abs, “ideal” legs, etc. I have come to understand that we’re all different. In elementary school, they tell you, “Oh, you’re all different. Some of you have brown hair. Some of you have blond hair. See? Everyone is special!” I only had one teacher that I can remember who told us at the beginning of the school year that we would probably notice her gain and lose weight throughout the year, but that it was okay because that’s just what happens to our bodies sometimes. That has stuck with me ever since.

For some reason, as last week’s debacles proved, there’s still a magical weight and body type that we’re supposed to aspire to, some appearance that, when we attain it and look at ourselves in the mirror, we will know we’ve finally arrived, that we’re finally perfect for society.

I don’t personally know all of you who may read this post, but I hope, if you’re struggling with your own self-worth, that you’ll see this as another encouragement that you are a beautiful and intricate individual. Your body is an awesome machine that can do all kinds of crazy things. It can swing an axe. It can have children. It can react in time to avoid a car wreck. It can dance. It can heal itself of little cuts and scrapes. It can give you hilarious dreams while you sleep.

With a body that can do all these things and more, why limit it based on someone else’s opinion of the window dressing?

“I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:14

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