This week I’m thinking a lot about bodies. Positive ones to be precise. Not least because of the fabulous feature section on Selfish Mother but also because of an amazing role model I’ve discovered online called Allison Kimmey. I read a post somewhere on something, I forget where now, about how she responded in such an amazing way when her daughter called her ‘fat’. Rather than admonishing her, she explained that people cannot ‘be’ fat, and that fat is something on every person everywhere, but people have different amounts. For those of you who have not heard of Allison, she is a Body Positive author, speaker and general all-round role model for not being ashamed of our bodies. She posts photos every day of herself, which could sound vain if you didn’t know much about her but actually she promotes to women that she is somebody who accepts her body, accepts herself, and encourages others to do the same. And the other bit – she’s not a size-nothing supermodel, she’s a beautiful woman with curves and wobbly bits, and she is not afraid to show them.
Generally, I’m halfway between being a cynic and a believer in life; I’m not usually drawn towards self-help books, but I love the idea of them. And I seldom follow ‘inspirational’ people who I don’t know, just because somebody, somewhere says that I should. But in this case I make an exception. I was really encouraged to read about Allison and I realised that it is the second time in only a few days that I’ve read about a fabulous woman (Jess Helicopter) being positive about her body and bucking the trend against stale media imagery and fashion trends that gently nudge people towards believing that thin is the only acceptable body type. It has been the core message for so long that I can’t remember a time in my life time when it wasn’t there, whispering in our ears that we weren’t enough if we weren’t thinner.
I was a thin child, a thin teenager, and thin going into my twenties. My body started to change as I got fully engrossed in my twenties and I went from taking it for granted that I could eat anything without consequence, to putting on weight with ease and not being able to shift it. I can’t even blame having the children for this, the weight creep began well before that, and I actually lost three stone before having my daughter because I was officially too big to qualify for IVF treatment. Since having my son, I’ve invited all of the weight back into my life and a bit more too. So now, I’m that person who, when they go to the doctors for anything at all, is asked about her weight. Always, even for a poorly finger/eye infection/dry skin. Always my weight.
I think in society in general we have a massive (excuse the pun) problem with weight. We are taught by the mainstream influencers that increased weight is to be judged harshly. We are taught that there is a body type and size that is the best and if we don’t fit it, we are found wanting. Over the years since I first cottoned on to the fact that I was quite a bit over my ideal weight area, I’ve danced with a few diet partners. Apart from one at the start, most failed. I don’t take well to having to count out my food rations for the day, having to weigh my meals, and feeling like I’ve failed if I eat something considered sinful. I’ve also dabbled in several exercisey things to help to lose the weight – running, aerobics, swimming. I even sometimes do (with the curtains drawn and everybody out of the house) a salsa keep fit dvd.
Ultimately though, it isn’t about a quick fix or even a fix. I’m not broken or damaged. And people with larger bodies shouldn’t be viewed as if they are. The whole dialogue in our society about weight, size and appearance is flawed. It focuses on how we appear physically to other people, how other people view us, and how attractive we are or are not based on our physical appearance. And the bit about health? That’s so far down the list when it should be at the top. And self-acceptance? I can’t even see it on the list. Why can’t we focus on those? And not size. People come in all different body shapes and sizes; our societal views should reflect this. And we should be teaching our children about body acceptance from an early age, not body judgement. We should teach them that bodies change as they grow into them, and in fact, they change again as they grow older in them. My body now is not the body I had when I was a svelte 21-year-old, nor should it be. We should teach them that people change and change is no bad thing; that, as grown-ups grow up, they will start to look different, sometimes very different, and we should not be thinking that people should focus on winding back the clock. The messages we give them whilst they are young will be part of their roadmap for life and we should help to make sure these messages are positive ones. So, I’m going to keep following the Body Positive authors, keep reading the positive blog posts from women who accept the way they look, and keep encouraging my children to accept people and to accept difference.