After tweaking my knee recently while teaching a fitness class, my first thought was—to quote a text I sent to my best friend about two hours after the incident—I am a fucking idiot. The idiocy, as far as I was concerned, was my refusal to stop pushing myself despite the signals my body was giving me over the last few weeks. Signals in the form of pain. Some context—I’ve had five orthopedic surgeries on my right leg since 2005. Most recently in December 2012, I needed a second ankle ligament reconstruction after rupturing the first, plus a knee surgery to fix a torn meniscus and pop a few cysts.
The reason I dropped the F bomb on myself was because I felt so angry and frustrated for not learning the lesson of self care. I was injured and then beating myself up further for not stopping. You don’t need to be a Buddhist to know this is not exactly compassionate, loving-kindness. Even after years of working on my inner monologue and teaching others to do the same, I still found myself failing the “Would you treat a friend that way?” test (note: I treat my friends very well.).
I can’t overstate the importance and high stakes of reigning in self-hate, blame and shame in favor of a gentle attitude towards the self. I share that story because even at 36, I am very much a work in progress. The initial idea for this article was to write about the bulimia I developed a when I was 18 and when I found myself more drawn to write on the subject of injuries and self care, I fast realized they are closely related. I grew up with a “No pain, no gain!” and “Walk it off!” mentality. The perfectionism I internalized became a way to measure myself against goals that were simply unattainable. The eating disorder I developed and then the string of body breakdowns share similar roots and my healing from both is the tree of self love.
I spend an unnatural amount of time concerned with the shape and size of my body...
....I study, inspect, and scrutinize it constantly. How does it look in certain clothes? How does it feel in them? Do my thighs or hips feel tight in my trousers? Is my body taking up more room in my clothes than it did yesterday? No, I'm not conceited or vain about the way I look. If anything, I'm self-deprecating. I'm better than I once was though. Well, maybe just a bit. There was a time when I would cancel on friends because I 'felt' fat. I would also discreetly sneak a peak at my body in just about every reflective surface as a way to visually reassure myself. When that got to be too much I would avoid looking all together because I knew that I would only have unkind words for myself and I just couldn't bear it.
Thursday, April 25th, 2013 was the inaugural public meeting for Endangered Bodies, NYC. I arrived a little late to find a room already full of women. I took a seat at the back as I typically do. Not because I'm particularly shy either. A number of people shared their thoughts, ideas, desires, and hopes for the group. I was impressed with the creativity of some of the ideas and the enthusiasm and energy with which they were delivered. We began setting out goals and objectives that correspond to our mission. One such objective, and a critical one at that, is to establish Endangered Bodies, NYC as representative of many voices: women and girls of course, but also men, boys, people of color, socially disadvantaged, and disabled people. We all live in this world and are exposed to the same social and cultural references to body and appearance ideals.
I can honestly say I’m sick of hearing about, talking about and thinking about fat. And yet it’s everywhere – whether it’s the fear-mongering headlines that claim our country has been consumed by an obesity epidemic or if it’s the innumerable magazine articles written on the newest get-thin-quick scheme, it’s undeniable that over the years, our society has become obsessed with fat. But despite the often one-sided, overwhelmingly negative attitude our country has towards fat, the question remains: what is the true nature of fat as an issue of health?
The current Dove video that is going around the Internet today speaks volumes. It is a creative project with a heart. It illustrates the commitment of a group of people at Dove/Unilever to address the misperceptions and poor self-images that so many women have of themselves. It is poignant. Anyone watching this video feels the heartache as each woman looks at the discrepancy between her own self-image and the more positive image of how others see her.
I’m a walking contradiction. I’m a professional makeup artist who relies on women to seek out and pay for what society says they should “fix.” I walk a very fine line between two truths; women really don’t need the majority of what big, conglomerate, multi-billion dollar companies say they need and that they need my expertise as a makeup artist to help them understand how to choose and apply what these companies want to sell to them.
Why do girls compete with each other about who is the prettiest?
The question of competition and appearance reminded me of an essay by Julie Yoo, a Korean-American writer who has spent time documenting the beauty phenomena in South Korean, an area that is heavily influenced by American popular culture. According to her, South Koreans idealize big eyes, a pale clean complexion, a tall slim stature, and petite facial features (2006). It probably doesn't come as a surprise that this disproportionately impacts Korean women.
South Korean men and women are not only forthright about the fact that beauty matters, they're forthright about why it matters. It's widely believed among men and women that good looks increase the odds of landing a better-looking partner and subsequently having better-looking children (Yoo, 2006). Good looks are also believed to result in a more fulfilling lifestyle and more financially gratifying and powerful jobs like those in business and banking sectors (Yoo, 2006).
What is it like to be in a room of women full of power, vulnerability and honesty? I experienced this at the Indwelling Event last Saturday.
The event was honoring Julie Zeilinger, a feminist media activist and founder of FBomb and featured amazing performances by several performance artists including Caroline Rothstein, a spoken work poet, who performed her amazing poem "Fat. "
Women are not the only group faced with pressure to meet rigid and unrealistic standards of appearance. The masculine ideal is fast becoming just as socially and culturally ubiquitous as its feminine counterpart. Like women, men are encouraged to invest in their bodies and appearance as a pathway to confidence, individuality, and above all, success. However, conventional stereotypes discouraging participation in behaviors and practices associated with feminine norms persist. The body after all . . . . . . .