Last night I saw “Embrace”, a documentary by Taryn Brumfitt, the created of “The Body Image Movement”. In this documentary Taryn travels the world discussing body image. A lot of the issues women have with their bodies spring from the media; images of supermodels with unattainable bodies, so unattainable that the models themselves require chicken fillets, airbrushing, make up, photoshop, lighting and poses to look that way. Her documentary really focuses on the idea of being thin and I guess I would like to talk about that.
My weight is something that I have always battled with. A lot of the time, when I share my story, I’m interrupted and hushed. “Oh you look great” or “what do you really have to worry about?” The issues that I have faced get pushed to the side, as if they are not important as well, as if by doing so I’ll suddenly realise that I’m perfect. What a load of crock. I’m not perfect. I know this, but I am ok with that.
When I graduated high-school, I did so barley fitting into a size six Australian and weighing less than 40kgs, that’s less than 88pounds. Half the world called me beautiful, though I didn’t feel that way. I could see my bones, but this was normal for me. I was healthy, but the other half of the world thought I was a freak, that I had an eating disorder and it seemed quite acceptable for people to tell me this. Let’s just get this clear, it’s not. It is never acceptable to harass a stranger about their weight or size.
I moved to the US for six months. There I discovered weight training. I would run miles every day and I would spend hours in the gym pumping weights. I was the fittest I have ever been in my life, but, due to the very different food, I was also the fattest. I came back a size 12 and over 60kg, that’s over 132pounds. My friends told me that I had never looked healthier. I wasn’t healthy though and I didn’t feel comfortable. I felt heavy. I felt cumbersome. I felt sick.
Here I was, at both extremes and never once did I feel good about myself. I continued going to the gym when I returned home to Australia. I worked hard to get that ‘bikini body’. What a ridiculous notion. I honestly thought that I could look like a model in a magazine, I just needed to train, I needed to watch what I ate, I needed to wear padded bras and save to for breast surgery. Then I met my partner and he taught me about health and fitness. We have such a skewed knowledge of how our bodies work, and I was no different, despite being trained in the paramedical field. I could restart a heart, I could cannulate a person, I’d assisted in a birth and I’ve patched all kinds of injuries, but I didn’t understand that salad and sit ups were not going to give me the body I desired.
One thing I left the theatre shaking my head about was “diet”. When did diet become a dirty word? How can it mean both “the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats” and “a special course of food to which a person restricts themselves, either to lose weight or for medical reasons.” The English language is pretty amazing, but this is one of those words I wonder about. As I come from a medical background and have a partner in the fitness world, when we speak of ‘diet’ it is in the first sense of the word. I say this word in public and people admonish me, “you don’t need to lose weight, in fact you should probably eat more”. I eat quite a bit thank you. My diet is quite balanced. Protein, vegetables, fruit, carbs and the occasional sweet. My diet does not include soft drinks, alcohol or energy drinks. We need to get over the concept that ‘diet ‘ is bad thing. Our diet is what we eat. My diet is different to yours. If you want to lose weight for you, not for anyone else, not for some perceived perception of beauty but because your body is telling you that something is not right, then do it, but do it properly, safely. Fad diets fail because they are fads, because they are unrealistic and don’t fit into our lives. Change your diet and lifestyle to suit you, because you want to, not for anyone else. I’ve changed my diet quite a bit over the years because my body has told me too. If you live and do things for other people, if you change you for someone else, you’ll never be happy, you’ll always be searching, you’ll never be you. I hate it when people jump on body positive posts with things like, “men like more meat on the bones anyway” or “so many men prefer little boobs” or shit like that. What these people fail to recognise is that it doesn’t matter what they think. It’s not about them or what they like, it’s about you. What do you like?
That’s what we need to start doing, not looking at magazines, not comparing ourselves to edited images, but listening to our bodies, finding what we like about ourselves. What does your body say? My body tells me that it enjoys working out. It feels good to lift weights, it feels strong. I love the definition I have in my shoulders, I love the look of my long and strong back, I love that my legs can hold weight far exceeding my body mass, I love that look of shock I receive when little old waif of a thing me picks up a 30kh box as if it was a handbag. Now I am a size 8 with my shoulders and bum leaning towards a 10. I have no idea how much I weigh and who really cares anyway? It feels good and that is all that matters.
My body has nothing to do with yours. Sure, I can stand in front of a mirror and pick out my flaws, like my deepset eyes or the fact that one of my airolas is oval and the other is round, or that I have stretch marks on my inner thighs, but why focus on the negative? I’ve done that far too much before. I’ve been angry, I’ve been depressed, I’ve been anxious and suspicious and everything else that PTSD brings and for what? What end result other then being fucking miserable? Well I refuse. I refuse to compare my body to someone else. I refuse to conform to some unrealistic idea of the perfect female form, I refuse to be an object of sexuality controlled by someone else and I refuse to listen to the bad things anyone says about it. This is me. Take it or leave it, I don’t care. I don’t care what you look like. I don’t care how you choose to live your life and I will not judge you. I can squat forty kilos, a lot of my girlfriends cannot do that, but one can do the splits, one can climb a 2m high silk, one can touch her toes to the back of her head and another can hold her body parallel to the floor from a bar. These are amazing feats of human capabilities and signs that we are all fit. We all have different body types though. We all look completely different, not one of us has that ‘perfect’ body, and yet we’re all healthy.
Thin is not what we should aim for, but we shouldn’t attack people who are. I tell people that I struggle with my weight and people laugh at me, they tell me I look great. I do, but I didn’t. Don’t push away my story because my appearance doesn’t fit your mould. This, what I have now, is not natural in the sense of what I was born with or grew in to. My body is because of food and exercise, because I chose to make it this way, but I don’t do it for someone else, I don’t do it for some preconceived notion of beauty, I do it for me. Bikini modelling, as Taryn took part in in her documentary, is another example of the far end of the scale. To be a bikini model or to body-build is to meet a certain expectation. These men and women train every day, they push their bodies hard and they watch what they eat. They eat every couple of hours, they have high protein diets and a week before competition they cut out all carbs. The day before competition they stop drinking fluids so as to make their muscles pop. This is another unrealistic standard of beauty, but being fit and healthy doesn’t have to mean such sacrifices. Any hobby calls for sacrifices at a certain level, it’s up to you how heavy a sacrifice you make, but then…is something you enjoy actually a sacrifice? I train in the gym five to six days a week. I could say that I am sacrificing a sleep in to do so, but I feel great after a work-out. I have no intention of competing in any kind of competition, so if I want that piece of cheesecake, I’m going to have that piece of cheesecake and I’m not going to feel guilty about it. Why should I? You need to find what works for you. What makes you happy?
Yes, I encourage a healthy lifestyle. I believe a healthy mind is aided by a healthy body. I feel better about my body when I work with it, instead of against it. I eat when I’m hungry, I listen to the cravings I have that tell me that my body needs something to function, I take care of my body with good food, exercise and rest. I don’t know why the western world has such a negative relationship with food. It is literally the most important thing. Without food our bodies do not work, our minds are unable to concentrate. When we fail to perform any kind of exercise, be it a walk, a weights session, a pole dancing class, a swim of whatever it is you choose to do, the blood that pushes the good shit from our food doesn’t move quite so well. We become sedentary and we do harm to ourselves. I encourage exercise of any form. Make it fun. Make it part of your routine. Make it a part of you. I encourage eating healthy, but don’t feel bad if you ‘slip up’, have a piece of goddamn cake, eat a block of chocolate, the occasional is not going to kill you or destroy all your work.
Most importantly I encourage people to listen to their bodies. It’s talking to you. What is it saying? I suppose that’s what Fearless Inc is all about. Talking. Opening dialogue. Sharing stories. Getting people to talk about the things that embarrassed us, or we felt alone about, or just didn’t talk about for god knows why. We need to talk about these things. We need to stop comparing ourselves, demoralising ourselves. The next time you think of your body in a negative sense, stop, turn it around. Don’t say “oh those stretchmarks on my legs look awful”, no, say, “wow, look at how strong my legs are, look at the journey’s they have carried me on.” You’ll never fit media’s ideal of beauty, but you can fit yours. Your body is amazing. Embrace it.
Image by Izo Photography