Friday 26 September 2014

All About That Body Positivity

Well, I finally watched the "All About That Bass" video I've noticed  being passed around facebook and whatnot, and I thought, "Huh.  This is kind of super cute in a totally uncomfortable way."

Cute, as in super cute girls in cute dresses on a cute set singing a cute song.  I love seeing *non-skinny people glamourized in media.  Watching these cute non-skinny girls (and guy) look beautiful dancing makes me feel better about my non-skinny self.  Really.  More of that please!

Uncomfortable, as in the words "skinny bitch" make me cringe.  "Stick figure silicone Barbie doll" doesn't sound like something a person promoting body positivity should say.  It sounds like something a deeply insecure person would say.

There are also potential racial issues with the song and video.  Pop music has a history of cultural appropriation that is problematic.  If you want a good break down of the problems with this song, Jenny Trout's post I Am Not All About That Bass is a pretty good read.

*I prefer to use the word "non-skinny" instead of "fat" or "normal" here because 1) are the women in this video fat?  I kind of think not.  But do I call them "normal" because 2) what actually is a "normal" body anyway?  "Non-skinny" just seems like a more accurate and inclusive term.

As someone who has struggled with eating disorders in the past, I am no stranger to a negative self-image.  I find it ironic (but also great!) that I love my body way more now, even though I am heavier, than I did when I was 23 and super-skinny.  I don't love my body the way it deserves all the time.  Of course I have days when I feel fat and unattractive.  But for the most part I feel much more content with my body and comfortable in my skin than I ever have before.

This isn't something that came with age or wisdom.  This is something I work on.  I don't live in a bubble, and I am as much affected by Photoshop and the glorification of skinny bodies in the media as the next girl.  But these are things that I do that really help me.

1) Put down the magazines.

Photoshop is a very real problem in our culture.  But why?  We are usually told because Photoshop helps sell stuff: clothes, makeup, magazines.  Photoshop is going to be around for a long time, but the way it is used could be changed if altering women's bodies stopped selling.  That's not going to realistically happen when I wake up tomorrow.  So while I'm waiting for a new feminist utopia to emerge, I find that not looking at Photoshopped women has had the immediate benefit of making me feel better about myself.

2)  In fact, take a break from media in general.

It also really helps to just stop watching TV or movies for a while.  It really sucks that non-skinny people are so under-represented, and unattainable skinny ideals are so glorified, that in order to clean my headspace I need to opt out.  But here we are.   All I can say is that when I take a week or so off from sitcoms, soap operas, and the commercials that go with them (advertising is the devil) I just feel a lot better about myself.  Because then all I get to see are regular people.  When I come back it's a lot easier to see those bodies as not reflecting what people in the real world actually look like.

3)  Be a conscious consumer.

Not all media is bad.  There is some great stuff out there, you just have to seek it out.  Some of my favourite shows include Orange is the New Black, Inside Amy Schumer, The Mindy Project, Bob's Burgers, The Daily Show, Drunk History, and lately the ladies of Saturday Night Live have been killing.  For my part, I have found these shows to be much easier on my psyche, and more reflective of my experience as a woman in general.  Also, all of these shows are funny (Yes, even OITNB) and, as everyone knows, laughter is the best medicine.

And hey, even "bad" media has it merits.  When I'm not filtering my media it's an opportunity for me to recognize where and how it is missing the mark when it comes to representing women (eg. Meghan Trainor).  It's an opportunity to articulate what is wrong with our representation and to ask for - no, demand - better.

4)  Wear clothes that fit.

A couple of years ago I put on an extra ten pounds.  It seemed like nothing I could do would help me shake that weight.  And you know what?  I'm not all that worried about it.  Now.  But at the time I was very uncomfortable because my clothes didn't fit anymore.  They were too tight, no longer flattering and made me feel self-conscious.  At first I resisted buying new clothes because I thought I could lose the weight.

After about six months of trying I realized that I was just going to have to break down and buy larger clothes.  It made a huge difference!  I felt better and more confident.  People thought I had actually lost weight but really I was just wearing clothes that flattered my figure better.

5)  Exercise.

Every day I take at least fifteen minutes of exercise.  Any exercise.  It really doesn't matter.  The thing that matters to me is my intent.  I try to center my fitness goals around things that go deeper than how I look.  I tell myself that I want to be stronger.  Or I want to be more flexible.  Or I want better endurance.  These fitness goals are healthier than simple weight loss (which isn't the best indicator of health, anyway) and the results are more immediate.  I didn't lose any weight last week but I can do more push-ups than I ever have before.  And I can run all the way to my kid's school without having to stop and catch my breath.  That makes me feel awesome!

I now look at weight loss as a potential side effect to regular exercise instead of seeing it as an ultimate goal. It's not like I wouldn't be happy to experience that side effect, but I'm not going to get hung up on it because maybe I'd like stronger muscles instead.  And I'm super jazzed that becoming more flexible means less arthritis pain for me.  Also, people who exercise even moderately are happier and benefit from better self-image.  Science says so!

6) Stop dieting.

Life is too short for restrictive diets.  I swear I would much rather be a little heavier and eat wonderful food than have a perfect body while watching everyone else eat cheese and chocolate.  Victoria Beckham doesn't even let herself eat a piece of cake on her birthday.  No wonder she looks so miserable all the time!

But I notice that I feel really good when I am nourishing my body with good wholesome food instead of punishing it with denial.  I am discovering the joys of trying new fruits and vegetables.  I've been trying to re-examine vegetables I used to hate as a child.  Right now I'm learning to love mushrooms and brussels sprouts.  I like thinking about all the good things this food does for my body when I'm eating it.  Mmmmm, Greek yogurt....healthy gut bacteria.  Mmmmm tomatoes....lycopene.  Avocadoes...aghaghagagh.

Sorry.  I got a little distracted there. is so fucking awesome!  Why make yourself eat like you're in prison?

Crack almonds.  I want me some of those crack almonds.

And every once in a while, what the hell, have a cookie.  Have two.  Because cookies are awesome.

7)  Changing perspective.

I've stopped looking at other women's bodies with envy.  Because I finally realized a fundamental truth: there is always going to be someone, somewhere, who envies my body, no matter how shitty I feel about it.  Some may envy that I weigh less than they do and some may envy that I weigh more.  They might envy my breast size, butt shape, waist to hip ratio, or my height.  They might envy my relative health or youth.  They might envy something as simple as my ability to walk.  I'm not happy that there might exist people who envy me.  But realizing that there might exist people out there who would be grateful to have the body I'm hating on right now, made me feel like kind of an asshole.

So instead I'm learning to marvel at all the cool things my body can do.  I dance with my kids and, when I can, I run because it's fun.  I go outside as much as possible because I am healthy enough to leave my bed.  I enjoy the feel of grass under my feet and the sun and wind on my skin.  Because someday I'll be too old to do what I take for granted now.  Some tomorrow I may long for the body I despised today.  I'll wish I had loved it when I had the chance.

If I love my body right it might keep doing amazing things for longer than I thought possible.  If I love it right it will give me an improved quality of life in my old age.  And who the hell is going to care what my body looks like when I'm a shriveled old lady?  Not me, that's for sure.  I'll be grateful to get out of bed without breaking my hip.

But right now I'm going out to my living room to dance to this song because it is cute and it has a good beat and if there's one thing it got right it's this:

"Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top."

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