I got a letter in the mail from Stephen Elliott, one of my life's big crushes and favorite writers of all time. He talks a lot about how we're attracted to certain things and can't help it. How, it's possible that he finds women more interesting when they're thin and have a certain hip to waist ratio. He asked in the letter, "How are we not our bodies?"
Well, we ARE our bodies and they are important. They're just not important in determining our worth. There are plenty of amazing, beautiful people who have bodies that don't function normally or who don't look average.
Our bodies are important just like where we live and what we can afford, is important. Some of us were born into wealthy families and have a leg up, in life. That doesn't make them better. Some people might argue that it makes them lucky, but I don't know. Being born privileged (or naturally thin and pretty) just makes your experience different. People treat you differently, give you different things. You don't have to work for certain things, you feel pressured to work for other things. Your concept of "problems" and what they mean is different from somebody who is born in a trailer park.
So, what if you were born into a poor or average family? Don't you have the same chance to work hard, get good grades in school, go to college, become aware of your talents and abilities and make something of yourself that everybody else does? This is America, right? Despite the fact that we know that children from poor families in economically depressed areas come into their fifth year with a HUGE gap in learning and language that they may never recover from... THIS IS AMERICA. If you're poor, it's because you didn't do what you needed to do to get rich and that makes you stupid.
What if you just never decided that being rich was more important than being other things? What if you pursued something other than money?
Likewise, if you're fat, it's your fault, so you're less worthy than thin people, right? If you're fat, you should have known better, growing up. You should have studied society, as a young person, and learned how to mold your body into a more successful shape. You should have just worked harder and smarter so that you could be thin and then everybody would like you. This is America, isn't it? Everybody has the right, and the means to be thin.
Bodies mean a lot, just like what you can afford means a lot.
Do you want disclosure about me and my body?
I was born in a trailer park and I grew up very poor in a rural, coal mining town in Western Pennsylvania. I was raised on a diet of processed meat, sugar, white flour, high fructose corn syrup, saturated and trans fat and canned vegetables. Although I slimmed down as a teen and twenty-something because of a horrible, crippling sense of insecurity and with the aid of a diet that consisted of like... one slice of bread, toasted and topped with nothing and a bunch of diet soda, I have always, since childhood, been chubbier than average.
Now that I am a grown up and I make my own choices and am responsible for the choices of my children,, I am a vegetarian with heavy vegan leanings. I eat organic or local or homegrown produce, and lots of it. Every day. I juice. I make green smoothies. I cook and bake everything from scratch, even our bread. I absolutely NEVER consume anything hydrogenated. I don't eat processed food. I don't eat MSG or chemically produced food substances. I use real maple syrup and buy cage free, anti-biotic free eggs from chickens with a vegetarian diet. I don't go down the middle aisles at the grocery store. I don't even shop at the regular grocery store. I don't consume artificial sweeteners. I haven't had a soda in years. I haven't eaten something from a fast food restaurant in probably about ten years, or longer. I'm one of those people.
I also exercise 5-7 times per week. My exercise is moderate. Between my pregnancies, my exercise was strenuous and I tore a tendon in my foot and now I have a chronic problem with it. I walk or lightly jog, ride my bike, the recumbent bike or the elliptical for 30 minutes pretty much every day. I also (try to stick with) weight bearing exercise like free weights, planks, pushups, squats and lunges.
I do not have any dangerous metabolic disorders. Even when I was OH MY GOD A FAT PREGNANT LADY, my blood pressure and blood sugar were stable and normal.
The thing is, if I was thin, you would admire me for all the hard work I do to stay healthy. Since I'm fat, you're a little iffy about whether I'm healthy at all. Since I'm fat, you're thinking that maybe a local, organic, vegetarian diet heavy in fresh produce isn't healthy at all. Maybe diet soda and prepackaged frozen Lean Cuisine meals are the better thing to do. They have less calories. We're trying to be HEALTHY, right? HEALTH is all that matters, right, and how many times have we been told the FAT equals UNHEALTHY? We don't want to go against the word of like... The Biggest Loser and Dr. Oz, do we? THIS IS AMERICA, ISN'T IT?
The fact is that big companies, including the government, make money off of our fear of fat. They make money by saying to us over and over again, "Aren't fat people stupid and lazy? Shouldn't they just work harder? Let's all make fun of them and devalue them as people. They probably eat BUTTER for Christ's sake. You wouldn't eat butter, would you? You're a good person. You drink Diet Coke. You bought the Insanity Workout DVD and get up at 6am every day to do it. You're happy because you're superior."
You are happy, right?
Another fact is that we ARE our bodies. We all ingest and digest and bleed and breathe and we feel pain and make love and carry babies and birth them. We walk and run and hike and swim and experience the world with our wonderful bodies. They are a part of who we are, because they have a lot to do with all of the wonderful things we do and experience, in the world. They inform our life experiences by bringing with them certain privileges and challenges.We are happier when we listen to them, pay attention to their signals and treat them with love and respect. We are happier when we take care of ourselves, our bodies included.
It doesn't make me happy to like... drill myself every morning with flash cards to try to get better at math. It doesn't make me happy to berate myself every time I get stressed out and snap at my husband, even though I know that being a mild, kind person is better than being an intense, explosive person. It doesn't make me happy to give up all the things I love like passion and language and nature and gardening so that I can spend more time drinking wine with my girlfriends and shoe shopping, even though I know I'd be better received if I just had interests that were more expected. Those things are all a part of me, my interests and leanings and abilities.
I could have worked harder in math class and become a mathematician, but it wasn't my thing, and that makes sense, right? Nobody cares that I never was good at Calculus. We are who we are. We all have different passions and interests and abilities. We all have different personalities and problems. We all have things we excel at, and things we never got good at, for our own, varied and valid reasons. We all have different bodies. Inside of those different bodies of all different sizes, we all have varying levels of health and happiness. We're also all confused about what it means to be a singular person who doesn't always fit in, maybe. Who isn't always popular, well received or understood.
Trying to mold yourself into a popular, well received thing isn't how we find happiness. It isn't how we live a good life. It isn't how we teach our children to love themselves. It simply isn't how we love ourselves. It isn't how we become a good person.
We should work hard at everything we want to be, in life. I want to be a good mom, a writer, a healthy person, a good partner, knowledgeable, fun, interesting, vibrant, experienced and a lot of other things. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to be thin, but I don't really care that much. In the list of all the things I want to be, happy trumps thin. Healthy trumps thin. Centered, good, fair, interesting, passionate and alive all trump thin. I don't have anything against thin, just like I don't have anything against mathematicians.
I make no concessions that we are not our bodies. Our bodies are just as integral a part of us as our personalities. If you love me, I expect you to love my personality, just as it is, because it's who I am. The same goes for my body, too.
We are our bodies, because they move us through the world and help us to experience our lives. And being our bodies is not the same thing as being the way we look.