I doubt I am alone in having a somewhat complicated relationship with my body.
Those who practice yoga will be familiar with the concept that in order to be the best version of ourselves, we should practice being thankful for our body’s abilities, listen to its messages, and forgive its flaws. Unfortunately this message is usually delivered by a young, athletic, perfectly toned tight-wearing yoga instructor. Easier said than done. And I can’t help thinking that I, too, would happily embrace my body if I had a six-pack and felt comfortable walking around in a sports bra and not much else.
Popular culture, meanwhile, is much more prescriptive in its agenda; the ‘ideal body’ is presented to us as both attainable and widespread. If we are to believe what we see on television, most people are affortlessly attractive, thin, fit and perfectly made up at all times of the day and night. This populist position is fundamentally flawed in three ways; firstly, it reinforces the idea that if we don’t have the ‘ideal body’ presented to us, we are somehow to blame, as if by not doing a detox juice cleansing diet we are ‘letting ourselves go’; it also makes us feel that we are the outliers, the statistical losers, when in fact those with ‘model-perfect’ bodies are the genetic exception, not the rule; and lastly, it creates the misleading presumption that the ‘ideal body’ takes a definitive, concrete form, when in fact not only is the bar constantly being raised, but the supposed ‘ideal’ itself is constantly changing.
Be thin and tall, we are told, but not too tall. Be curvy, but at the same time sculpted. Be willowy and flat chested, but embrace a big backside. Sport a glowy, natural complexion, but with perfectly brushed and sculpted eyebrows. So many contradictory messages, and none of them actually designed for the average woman, on an average day, without a filter applied to her photos.
In light of all this pressure, both the well-intentioned and the more malicious, commercial kind, is it any wonder so many of us feel we have body issues?
I suppose, at the end of the day, the best thing to do is to listen to our own bodies. I have learned to be grateful for what works (just being able to roll out of bed in the morning of my own violation is a blessing I never take for granted), and reconcile what doesn’t. I have learned to look after my body as best as I can, but keep it in perspective. And I have learned to be honest and as true to myself as I know how to be; to dress to please myself; to wear minimal makeup, but not feel bad about the fact that I like to wear makeup; to go to yoga, or out for a run, because it feels good and it makes me happy, not because it will make me thinner; to eat good food and never, ever diet; to say a nice thing to my body every time I realise I am thinking something negative. If you are your worst critic, also be the marching band.
Here is a letter I decided to write to my body, chronicling the positive and negative thoughts I sometimes have but which, like everyone, I tend to internalise. Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that to be human is to be both perfect and flawed, simultaneously. Consider what your own body thoughts would look like written down on paper. Would they be largely positive? Largely negative? A mixture? Are there little quips or jokes you make about different parts of your body? Are you subscribing to external pressure from social media? Or from the people around you? And what is the thing you most love about your body? What are you most grateful for?
Those who know me will recognise some of the points below as things I often say aloud. Others are usually only part of my internal monologue. All are true.
To my body,
If I were poetic, I would write an ode to the constellation of moles on the side of my face.
I love my nose. We have had our moments, for a while you felt bigger than the rest of me, but I have finally grown into you.
Hallelujah for my thigh gap; my one redeeming feature in the eyes of popular culture (sarcasm, cue eye roll).
I don’t even think about my feet, they are too far away from my head.
Every time I manage to grow my fingernails, I serendipitously go rock-climbing and break them off again.
I can run 20km and my legs aren’t even sore the next day.
Sometimes I think if I wore sunglasses I might be able to pass for one of the pretty girls on the street. The eyes give me away; too sorrowful and concerned, like I am holding the weight of the world on my shoulders.
I am told I have a resting bitch face. I don’t mean it.
I love my hands. I do.
I don’t miss my long hair. Hardly ever.
I don’t understand why my arms won’t hold me up anymore.
I can now tricep dip perfectly from a high plank. Conquer.
I am scared my feet and ankles are looking increasingly German.
Sometimes my eyes look more sleepy, and I don’t know why.
I have lovely wrists. And forearms.
My skin is happiest in Summer.
A shop assistant recently told me I am looking more and more like my mother. It was the biggest compliment she could have given me. It made me want to cry.
I have a big rib-cage.
People say that if you have warm hands, you have a warm heart. My hands are always cold. Not sure what that means.
Skin hunger is real, and hugs are under-rated.
I should brush my hair more.