Unlimited Access. Try it Today! Your First 10 Days Always $0.99

Op-Eds

News Opinion Op-Eds

Your body is not the enemy [Commentary]

It has taken me almost 50 years to realize a very basic concept: I should be grateful for my body and not despise it. Yet there are times like the beginning of summer and swimsuit season where I struggle for rationality.

My body has, after all, carried me around faithfully for almost half a century. It has fought off infections, borne me up through fatigue, stress and trials. It has brought four healthy boys into the world and nursed them with vital nutrition, and it has supported me as I faced the challenges of being a working mom.

Like most women, I understand that hating my body isn't right. This persistent tape plays over and over in my head, and it's hard to stop it. You're too fat. Your stomach looks like you're pregnant. Your fleshy arms are embarrassing. Is that a double chin?

As of May 17th, I'm officially stopping the tape. That was the day I read about a woman named Taryn Brumfitt. She is leading a "Body Image Movement" to get women to change how they see themselves. I watched a short video, and as I saw the women describing their bodies with such disgust and revulsion, I thought I'm not going to do that anymore. How sad that all these women, myself included, disparage their bodies.

After teen struggles with never being thin enough (weighing 72 pounds), I've decided to see my body as valuable and precious. It is a gift — even with an extra 15 pounds and age changing me more than I expected.

Recently, since this epiphany, I've thought more about being healthy versus weighing my dream weight. I've thought about exercising for stress reduction and a balanced life versus perfect body parts.

Another wake-up call came when I started having chest pains. I've always been fairly healthy, so it was disconcerting. I haven't gotten all the test results, but something really struck me when I was on the treadmill for the stress test. A small sign in front of me said one hour of exercise beats 24 hours underground. How can you argue with that?

When you face a health crisis, small (as mine is) or large, you don't think about whether you have a Hollywood body. You don't think about fitting into a bathing suit. You think about how incredibly important your organs and body systems are. All of a sudden, your body is not just a display case. It is a vital life-sustaining vessel that deserves to be revered, not despised.

Feeling my chest tighten and squeeze and the accompanying fear and discomfort put things into perspective. As the nurse said, "All anyone really needs is an hour of movement a day." I thought, I can do that! I don't have to be tiny. I don't have to look like a model. I can move my wondrous, miraculous body an hour a day.

And I got to put that into practice right away when the hotel I was staying at had an elevator that didn't work. Seven flights of stairs several times a day is a start.

For years, I've railed against Hollywood and Madison Avenue about the unbelievable, unhealthy women they portray as goddesses. I've applauded online campaigns and dutifully posted videos depicting the distorted and disturbing visions of female beauty.

But after years of these campaigns not stopping the madness, I think we have to take stronger actions. We have to take it to the streets. To every home, to every mirror. We have to make personal campaigns not to accept these lies, not to internalize the devastating messages.

If we are going to take back our bodies, take back our self-respect, it will require vigilance. It will require conscious effort. We will need to watch what we say to ourselves and others — that means refusing to join in when a female friend belittles her image.

From the moment a girl is born, she is bombarded with unrealistic images of what she should look like and how she should act. They are destructive, demeaning messages that cause her psychological and physical harm, and we shouldn't tolerate them.

Perhaps we can leave a better legacy to the next generation. We can teach them about health and movement. We can teach them to value their bodies. We can teach them about true beauty, which has nothing to do with size.

Em Powers Hunter is a writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, USA today and Christian Science Monitor. Her email is powershunter@gmail.com.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Building local capacity to fight epidemics
    Building local capacity to fight epidemics

    The arduous and painful lessons learned from the ongoing Ebola outbreak and other recent epidemics like SARS, MERS, Chikungunya, influenza and of course HIV/AIDS, demonstrate how vulnerable the global community is to viral infections and how rapidly a virus outbreak in one part of the world can...

  • Bridging the gap between hopelessness and hope
    Bridging the gap between hopelessness and hope

    It was 50 years ago this month that President Lyndon Johnson traveled to a one-room school house in Stonewall, Texas, where he attended classes, to sign the most expansive piece of federal education legislation ever enacted — the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. ESEA was a key part of the...

  • Taking the early presidential plunge
    Taking the early presidential plunge

    With Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio now in active competition for their parties' 2016 presidential nominations, it's guaranteed that voters will be subjected to one of the longest preludes to the actual election yet recorded.

  • Maryland agencies should bid their projects fairly
    Maryland agencies should bid their projects fairly

    This winter, Gov. Larry Hogan made a critical move toward improving how Maryland selects its contractors. Faced with several questionable contracts up for approval by the Board of Public Works, the governor joined with Comptroller Peter Franchot to reject proposals that seemed too expensive or...

  • Recipe for a good life (Note: It's hard and messy)
    Recipe for a good life (Note: It's hard and messy)

    It is a rare privilege, I think, to be privy to the thinking of people, great or small, while they are wrestling with their conscience.

  • Hungry kids can't learn
    Hungry kids can't learn

    If you know me, you know that cake is my life. But as much as I'd love to eat sweets for breakfast every morning, I know I need healthy food to fuel my day. Whether your day involves shaping a cake into a crazy scene from Jaws like mine, working at a bank or fighting fires, we all need breakfast....

Comments
Loading

61°