Today is Love Your Body Day, and so I figured I ought to write something about it, especially considering that I was in a bit of a funk when the International Day of the Girl passed and I missed my chance to write something about that.
My relationship to the whole idea of “loving your body” is kind of complicated. (But then, whose isn’t?) I’ve written in the past – in fact, maybe it was last Love Your Body Day! – that a good way to love your body was to learn to respect it first. That means doing your best to take care of it and appreciate it as the one thing you will have with you throughout this entire life, instead of behaving as though your body is just a sack of blood and bones you have to lug around until you die. Sometimes I feel like we’d be doing really well if we could get more people to recognize their bodies – and themselves – as the irreplaceable treasures they are, and then we can get to working on loving our bodies after that.
My perspective has altered slightly in the past several months, though. I still believe in respecting our bodies, but I also have come to realize how tremendously powerful and radical it is when people who are marginalized within our society resist by refusing to hate themselves. Humanity has a long, wretched history of deeming the less powerful among us as “ugly” while assigning beauty to those of us who stand at the top of the pile. Those definitions of ugliness are reinforced through so many channels – art, science, medicine, media, religion, commerce – that it takes incredible strength to fight back and reclaim the beauty that is ours by simple virtue of the fact that we are alive and we are part of this universe.
I mean, after all, as Carl Sagan said, “We are star stuff.” Every molecule in our bodies was born in a star. When you look at it like this, how can any of us ever truly be ugly?
All this said, when I think about loving my body, I don’t really do so in the context of what I look like. I suppose this is a function of what Autumn at The Beheld terms “beauty privilege,” and how people who have privilege are often oblivious to that privilege. It’s true; I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the way I look. (And it shows, with my hair always in a messy topknot and my mascara having a tendency to make its way down my cheeks well before lunch time. I’m not very good at this stuff.)
Instead, most of the time I spend considering the things I love about my body is in the context of doing. The other day – actually, it was my 33rd birthday – I made a series of mental lists, just as a way of giving myself some perspective lest I find myself sliding into the “omg I’m wasting my life!” pit. (I know you know what I’m talking about.)
I made a list of adventures I’ve had in my short life: scuba diving in Belize and thinking I was never going to get closer to being in space than this, seeing a shark while snorkeling off Key Largo, running a marathon on the Pacific Coast Highway, driving a rental car to the top of Mauna Kea and crying when I saw the Southern Cross through a gigantic telescope, climbing a mountain with my mom and having a picnic on the shores of a lake we found at the top, tubing down the Rainbow River, camping on the beach near Carpenteria, white-water rafting on the Green River when I was twelve…
Then I made another list, this time of the things I’ve done in the past year: became a duathlete, then a triathlete, learned to swim in open water, became comfortable riding a bike on city streets, ran 22 miles without stopping to walk once, taught myself to do full push-ups, became a faster runner…
I made even more lists: experiences I want to have, goals I want to achieve, places I would like to see. When I finished, I thought about all of these things and I was so happy. I have all of these experiences and my memories, and they are part of the whole conglomeration of things that combined to make me who I am. And I’d have none of these experiences and memories if it weren’t for my body. After all, this sack of blood and bones is what gets me everywhere. It’s what houses my brain and lets me have all of those sensations and those memories. How could I possibly ever hate the very thing that has made so many wonderful things possible?
I wrote this post as part of NOW’s Love Your Body Day. The day was organized fifteen years ago as part of a campaign to push back against unrealistic media images of women and girls