In honor of LYBD, I’m reflecting on how lucky I am to truly love my body. I was never one to stare at myself naked in the mirror and pick apart my flaws. But I’ve stood next to friends countless times who have done that. They grab on to a fold of skin or point to a blemish and then they say something about its ugliness. These same friends brag about squeezing into their size X jeans again or waking up before dawn to torture themselves in a boot camp.
To be honest, I don’t know why I’ve never been overly concerned about my body. I think it must come, in part, from the unconditional acceptance I received from my parents. After a dance concert in sixth grade, I overheard my friend’s mom ask her why her stomach wasn’t flat like X’s. At the time I remember feeling mortified for her, but also knowing that I would never hear such criticism from my own mom. As an adult, my mom told me that she was always very conscious of what she said to me with regard to my appearance, knowing that any one comment could stick with me for years.
My comfort in my body must also come from being taught to be a critical consumer of media. For as long as I can remember I have known that the images I see in magazines or advertisements weren’t what women actually looked like. I can’t remember looking at my Barbies or teen magazines and wishing I looked like someone else. My mom explained to me at a young age that trends changed frequently so that people would go out and spend money. I never felt much desire to keep up with the latest fashion and instead looked for clothes that I felt comfortable in.
I attribute my appreciation for my body in great part to playing sports. I have always participated in team sports. As an only child, being part of a team taught me the ups and downs of relying on others and required me to spend a lot of time with other girls my age. Playing sports taught me the frustration of losing, and they helped me learn to cope with unfairness and team politics. They also taught me confidence in my abilities and awe in what my body could do. When I was 12 or 13, I came within one pitch of pitching a no-hitter. I was a leader on the field and my body performed when I needed it to. Research shows that sports can be a mixed bag for girls when it comes to body image. The Girl Scout Research Institute finds “The more physically active girls are, the greater their self-esteem and the more satisfied they are with their weight, regardless of how much they weigh. Eighty-three percent of very active girls say that physical activity makes them feel good about themselves.” On the other hand, many girls refuse to participate in sports because “they do not feel skilled or competent (40%) or because they do not think their bodies look good (23%)”. I am fortunate that neither of those last two reasons prevented me from playing sports.
And finally, my body acceptance obviously comes from a place of great privilege. I am able-bodied and of more-or-less average size. I grew up seeing people that looked like me (fair skinned, blonde hair) in the media, so I was not made to feel that the way I looked was undesirable. My parents could afford league fees for recreational softball teams, and when I was older, travel teams that played year-round. I have decent health care that allows me to care for my body when it is sick and practice preventative care when it’s not.
I am deeply thankful that I can look at my body non-judgmentally. I am thankful that my body gets me where I want to go. It tells me when it needs something. I strive to listen to my body. I feel strong. I am grateful.
In honor of LYBD, I want to share ‘Phenomenal Woman‘ by Maya Angelou.