I read a lot of feminist websites and blogs, and as such my little corner of the internet is completely swamped with articles on body acceptance, HAES (Health at Every Size), fat positivity, loving the skin you’re in and so forth. It has also, more noticeably of recent, started to see a surge in a backlash against those schools of thoughts from people who don’t feel it represents them.*
It’s also just occurred to me that it’s nearly all women’s writing that I’ve read on this subject. Possibly I’m looking in the wrong places – but I really think this affects people generally, not just women.
On a personal level, it seems more relevant at the moment as summer has finally reached London in the form of a sudden heatwave and I’m experiencing my usual reaction to the heat, which is to feel too bulky, too wide, too much of everything. Hot weather always makes me feel that if I just took up less space, then perhaps I’d be more comfortable.
So this, combined with this means that, yeah, I’m having a few body issues, she says, scarfing down peanut M&Ms, and part of me feels like a bad feminist for not being able to shrug them off and take the ‘feck you’ stance. Then again, it took me until I was almost 30 to buy a bikini. I’ve never been gloriously, defiantly body confident. (Yes, I’ll model naked, but I couldn’t bring myself to bare my belly at a lido. I don’t completely understand it either.)
I am one of those people that consciously tries not to kick myself about my shape and weight and size. I get annoyed by photoshopping and the fake perfection and slenderness of models in magazines, and I tell myself that as long as I’m healthy I’m happy. It’s difficult, though, to be consistent about it. Cutting back on exercise for the past four months hasn’t helped, because I haven’t felt healthy, or toned, or any of the things I was used to feeling. But truly, even when I was training, still there would be more days than not where I wished more weight would come off, that maybe one day I might see some abs. I still cringed at race pictures. I also still crack and occasionally buy the magazines that I find so frustrating. (I’m only human. I grew up on Just Seventeen. I have cravings.) I didn’t really realise how much better I felt about myself until that feeling went away again.
It seems to me that the whole body acceptance movement works on a spectrum, ranging from the ‘Fuck you, I’ll eat what I want and move when I want and look how I want and I’m happy’ to ‘I want to be the healthiest I can be but recognise and accept that that won’t make me a super model’. The backlash comes from people who don’t see themselves represented on that spectrum – people who aren’t happy with the way they’re built or shaped, can see the possibility for change, and don’t believe they should therefore be expected to accept how they are now; folks who are sick of being preached at; and folks who match the ideal others have in their heads, and therefore feel treated like the enemy.
Whatever people’s position on the subject, though, and whether they find themselves represented or not, there is a defensiveness that is always there when this subject comes up. Even in people who are adamantly happy in themselves (not necessarily because they are defending themselves, but because they want to defend others). It’s very easy to rub people up the wrong way, even if you ostensibly agree with each other.
It’s a touchy subject, body acceptance. People feel vulnerable. Almost everyone has something about themselves that they dislike. Probably almost everyone has had conversations with the kind of arse who thinks it’s fun to comment on the way you look. Certainly almost everyone finds it grating when they mention what they dislike about themselves, only to be met with a chorus of ‘oh, but whhhy? You have a lovely nose!/You’re so slender!/But your boobs are just the right size!’ because, however well intentioned those comments might be, they feel false. But, equally, who wants to have a ‘problem’ area confirmed as being a problem by an outside party? That just hurts. It makes it real.
Even when the dissenting compliments are sincere, they can miss the point. One naturally slender friend of mine told me it’s frustrating because she feels unable to talk about her body issues. Any mention of feeling unfit or needing to do exercise is brushed away by well-meaning people exclaiming that she’s so thin! What could she possibly have to worry about!? Not everyone likes thin, she pointed out, and I’m naturally this shape. It doesn’t stop me feeling unhealthy or unhappy when I haven’t been exercising. It doesn’t hurt any less when someone ditches me for looking like an adolescent boy.
I do feel that what’s missing in many of the articles I’ve read is the recognition that, even if body acceptance starts at home, the uniting cause is not the struggle or need to accept one’s own body type (as nice as it is or would be to do that), but the need for folks to accept different body types on other people and look past that. Unfortunately, between the media and sheer human ideation and fantasy I don’t think that’s ever really going to happen.
As people, we each look for what we like in someone, and we aspire to be like what we like – and I think we will all, always, find the people that don’t match what we like somehow lacking. (I apologise; that sentence made a break for freedom.) I think people have a right to try and change themselves if they want without being judged, approvingly or unapprovingly, for wanting to change; equally, if they don’t want to change, it shouldn’t have to be such portrayed as a defiant , awe-inspiring move against society for them to sit back and say, ‘I am what I am’. We just don’t need to be so vocal about it if someone doesn’t match our expectations. Everyone suits somebody’s taste, regardless of size, gender or level of hairiness. There’s however many billions of people in the world – surely it’d be easier to find someone who matches your ideal than to complain about the people who don’t?
*I was going to link to specific articles, but honestly there’s too many to choose from. Just google ‘body acceptance’, or browse www.jezebel.com, www.xojane.co.uk or Fat Heffalump’s blog and follow the links from there. There’s a lot out there.