“I feel betrayed by my body.” I’ve read this a few times in the discussions on our Facebook group today, and in my work I hear this a lot. Our amazing bodies grow entire new humans, survive massive stress and illness, or just plain love cake, and they get bigger. Softer. Stretched. And we feel betrayed, because being big and soft and stretched is supposed to be a sign that we aren’t good enough. Don’t try hard enough. Don’t value ourselves enough to take care of ourselves.
A woman who takes care of herself is fit. Capable. Not sick. Has energy and tight skin and a smooth stomach. These are the prizes we get for good behaviour.
Now, you read that and you know that it’s not true, right? But when you look in the mirror, those are the standards you’re using to judge yourself. Maybe a lot, maybe only a little, but we all carry or have carried those beliefs because we were all raised with them.
When your body becomes softer, looser, and bigger, that’s not a sign of failure. It’s a natural consequence of life. And the only thing that makes a toned & tan body “better” than a just-gave-birth body is that the people around you, sold the same lies you were, will congratulate you for slimness and be, at best, silent about the kind of beautiful that comes after life has its way.
When we see before and after photos of people who have lost weight it’s easy to congratulate them, to feel envious, to think the person in those pictures has gotten the reward for good behaviour that we crave. But health is not measured by your dress size. Health is about eating food that nourishes your body and soul, moving your body in ways that makes it stronger, creating a life that fulfills you and doesn’t sicken you with stress.
Being thin is not life’s win condition, and it shouldn’t be yours. Strive for health and happiness, but make a conscious decision about what that looks like for you and why.
Am I saying no-one should ever try to lose weight? Well, kind of, yes. It’s not that weight loss is bad. It’s that I think we should all work towards being our best self, and as physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually balanced as we can be. In some or even many cases, weight loss will be a byproduct of those changes. But as long as weight loss is the only goal, you’re missing the chance to celebrate an enormous number of successes and you are prioritising a part of the process that (in my opinion) is one of the least important.
We’re not going to make it through life looking like 20yo bikini models. We’re going to stretch, sag, and, frankly, age. The only way to do that with grace and sanity is to start redefining beauty and stop equating that slim, fit, springy body with success and worthiness. We need to revel in our softness, forgive our curves and stretchmarks, hold our pendulous breasts in our hands and enjoy the weight and flow of them, watch with wonder as our smile deepens and our eyes crinkle with life.
So if you’re trying to lose that last 20 or 50 or 200 lbs, that’s fine. But I think you’ll be much happier if you add in some other markers for success and celebration too; trying a new activity, reaching a realistic fitness goal, calling your friends more, making art, saving a kitten or playing an instrument or making a neighbour’s day. The impact you make in the world has nothing to do with your weight.