July = Body Image and Self-Perception Month

Once Upon a Bookcase has declared July Body Image and Self-Perception Month. Some of the participating bloggers are listed here. I’m looking forward to reading their posts, now that I’m not on deadline.

I cheered when I saw the list, because I think this is one of those issues we need to talk about, and keep talking about, until women and especially girls finally come to actually believe that there is no one standard of beauty; and that it’s okay to enjoy and love the body you’re living in, rather than focus all your energy on the body you think you ought to have; and that regardless our bodies are one part of the larger who-we-are; and that while it’s worth putting some energy into keeping those bodies functioning healthily and well, the doing of this should both be realistic and should not take over our larger lives–because there’s so much we could be spending our energy on, and because it makes me angry and sad when I see women denying themselves the very right to enjoy life because they think looking a certain way is more important than any of the many other things they could be–that some of them are–doing in the world.

So I was thinking about that when I heard these two young women talking at the gym a couple weeks ago, just out of sight. It was a heated, passionate discussion, and, being a writer, of course I listened closer. I found out all that heat and passion was going into … comparing the shapes of their respective butts.

When I glanced around the corner they were indeed looking at each others’ butts, critiquing them with great energy, and talking about other butts they were jealous of. One of them had a sister, apparently, with a “perfect bubble butt” that both women were jealous of and hated her a little before.

So much energy. Going into worrying over whether one particular part of their bodies was perfect enough. It sort of blew me away. And it made me sad all over again, that so many women put so much of who they are into this; and angry, too, that as someone living in this society, not putting my energy into such things has to be a conscious decision that I regularly recommit to, and not a passive one that can just be taken for granted.

I worry, too. Because it seems to me that every bit of energy we spend worrying about and hating and trying to change our imperfect bodies is a bit of energy that could go instead to doing something meaningful in the world. How much, collectively, are women not doing because they’re putting their focus and their power into fretting over the shape of their butts or the size of their stomachs, or else devising new creative ways of denying themselves sustenance that leave them physically weaker, or else fearing to show themselves in–to act in, to take up space in–the wide world because they don’t feel they have a right to do so until they’re totally, utterly, impossibly perfect?

And I found myself thinking, you know what would be awesome? If instead of wasting so much energy examining every last aspect of their imperfect rears, these women I overheard in the gym had had a discussion that went something like this:

– Woman One says, hey, I’ve been working hard on this amazing plan to make the world a little bit better. Want to help?

– And Woman Two says, I’d love to, but first, I’m working on this amazing piece of art I just feel so passionate about right now, but once I finish I totally want to join you.

– And then maybe they both stop to talk about Two’s sister, who’s also creating amazing art in some other medium, and whose mind-blowing work they are, yes, a little bit jealous of.

And then they would both leave the gym, taking all the strength and energy the physical activity of their workout has given them, and use it to bring healing and beauty and awesomeness to their world and ours.

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