A body journey
I’ve been on a bit of a body journey over the last 10 months or so. Last summer, I decided I wanted to try to lose a bit of weight, up my exercise and just generally feel / look a bit trimmer.
This decision was fraught with conflicting feelings for me — for someone doing a PhD investigating and challenging body ideals, weight loss / changing your nutrition and exercise can feel like you’re somehow ‘selling out’. How could I be working to challenge mainstream beauty and body standards, while also engaging in practices that would change my body to more closely resemble these very standards?
It’s one thing to try to be ‘body positive’, fully accepting and ‘positive’ about our bodies — plenty of alternative online campaigns, hashtags and body positive heroes tell us all the time that ‘we are beautiful just as we are’. But the day-to-day and moment-to-moment reality is often quite different — the truth is that as much as I want to resist beauty standards, there is not a day that I don’t still wish I was 10 pounds lighter, that I had a body that looked more like Blake Lively’s than my own.
The most comfortable (and feminist) place I have been able to find in addresses all these conflicting feelings is that challenging beauty imperatives while wanting to change our own bodies doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. I suppose it’s more about being mindful of why we engage in particular practices as we do. It’s about being aware of how our engagement with these practices stands up to or reinforces beauty standards (for ourselves, as much as for the community around us) — sometimes with both happening at the same time.
I think it’s also about finding other broader ways to negotiate our responses and/or engagement with beauty ideals, and the ideals themselves. How might we engage in a way that they become less of an imperative or ideal? And instead, figure more equally as another way of understanding and interacting with our own and others’ bodies, alongside all the other things that make us who we are.
As a quick summary, here’s what I’ve been doing: I’m following a flexible dieting approach, which involves following a set number of macronutrients (or macros) a day and keeping track of what I’m eating at each meal. I’ve also increased workouts at the gym with a focus on weight-lifting, and yoga (mostly Ashtanga).
I must make it clear that I am in no way trying to promote these methods. It will work for some people; and it absolutely won’t for others. And the process of finding what’s most healthful, nourishing and energising for each person is a very personal and individual one.
But for me, this particular combination of nutrition and fitness approaches has been the most helpful so far, following a life-long battle with crash-dieting, eating disorders and very extreme, compulsive relationships with both food and exercise. More importantly, it’s offered me the space and flexibility to really contemplate and work through my feelings around dieting, fitness, and body ideals. I’ve also found it complementary to my doctoral work — the mental and emotional thinking around these new changes has been just as significant to me as the physical changes.
A part of this new body journey has also led me to joining a few online fitness / nutrition groups on Facebook, which are great spaces for finding support for our own goals, and working out these many conflicting, contradictory attitudes we come up against in the fitness and nutrition world. It’s not without its problems — I find that a lot of the support and attempts to foster a more ‘body positive’ environment often goes hand-in-hand with furthering other kinds of body ideals or reinforcing certain unhelpful ways of thinking and talking about our bodies. All this is another article for another day, but for now, all of what I’ve just talked about comes down to this one thing, which also signals a little shift in the way I hope to run and write for a beauty full mind.
Common to everything I’ve talked about here is the importance of considering the ‘stories’, narratives and thoughts that run constantly in the beneath every interaction we have with our own and others’ bodies/body ideals. Time and time again, in many discussions and conversations we have around the body, we forget that we are more than our bodies — life experiences (good and bad), relationships, conversations, stories and daily social interactions shape our bodies and how we feel towards them just as much as what the media tells us, what we eat or how much we exercise.
I want for those stories to come alive, to take up as much space and weight as our common social preoccupation and obsessions with the physical body. I’ll start. I’ll be sharing my (body/beauty) stories, as I hope you will too.
This is not the best way or a perfect way; there will be limitations and problems with this too. But it might, I hope, open up the conversation around beauty so that it honours the rest of us as much we we have been worshipping the body alone.