When a lot of us think about January and the New Year, immediately New Year’s resolutions come to mind; the most popular and cliche of which involve some form of the elusive and nebulous goal of “getting healthy.” So many of my goals and resolutions in the past were the direct result of the media’s opinion of what women should look like. I felt as if my options were restricted by every quality I possessed that did not conform to popular definitions of beauty. I felt like I had to make resolutions to lose weight or be more beautiful in order to be free and have more choices in the world. Every year since I can remember, I’ve participated in the yearly “I will lose xx lbs,” or the more subtle “I will run 3 times a week, finish a half marathon, never eat sugar, drink more water, etc.” in attempt to sidestep the weight loss conversation, even though that’s what I intended. I’ve struggled a lot with body image and various forms of disordered eating and I’m doing so much better. Still, even today, diet talk can hurt. The body positivity movement has given me a lot of hope and helped me on the path to loving myself, but it’s still a very real fight daily for me and many others.
I’ve spent a lot of time in body positive spaces on the past few years, and I’ve noticed that one of the most popular trends in the body love movement places value on really narrow definitions of health instead of looks. This movement rejects valuing bodies solely by appearance, instead valuing bodies by their functions. I’ve seen quite a few posts with people talking about how they love their legs because of how many mountains they’ve climbed, or their arms because of all the children they’ve held, etc., etc. I don’t think it is a bad thing to find joy in the way our bodies can move or in the things we can accomplish. I am incredibly grateful for the experiences I’ve had and the person I am today because of the way my body functions.
However, let’s make it clear that this new trend does not end body shaming, and is not all-inclusive. In this new paradigm, the most highly valued function of a body tends to be exercise/functionality. It is simply changing the goal of conventional beauty from the end to the means (exercise/eating well/etc.), and excluding people whose bodies cannot or do not perform certain functions. For example, it’s okay for a woman to have thick legs, but only if she is winning weightlifting championships. It is okay for her to have stretch marks but only because she’s given birth to multiple children. People who have other priorities from either necessity or preference, who can’t afford certain functionalities, or who can’t physically participate in such activities are excluded from this type of body love.
Can we value bodies even if they haven’t or couldn’t run a half marathon? Can a woman who has never given birth or cared for a child still value her body? Can we value/love bodies that can’t get out of bed in the morning because of depression? What about bodies that will never climb a mountain? Can bodies be valued if they don’t dress the way society tells them to?
Just because a body functions differently than my own does not mean it is worth less than my own. Just because your body functions differently than that of a person who is conventionally attractive does not mean your body is worth less. Despite what much of the world says, you deserve good, wonderful love even if you don’t feel comfortable in a swimsuit. You are so valuable even if you can’t walk. You have so much potential even if you can’t get out of bed some mornings because of mental illness. You deserve happiness even if you watch Netflix when you could be at the gym. You are a human being, your thoughts and feelings matter and you have great worth—regardless of how society judges your body’s ability to function.
We must send out messages that value all people and all bodies. The world of body positivity is growing and people are becoming more open to the thought that more than just able, thin, cisgender, heterosexual, white bodies have value. People are beginning to attack the idea that they will only be happy or loved if they lose weight, look better, and wear nicer clothes. We are making progress, but it isn’t enough. I hope that one day, we will be able to say “I love my body” without the reasoning, “because my legs can do xxx and my arms can do xxx.” This year, I want to love my body without justification or explanation, without a need for functional/aesthetic reasons or validation from others, and I want to create space for others to do the same.