I always feel too big or too small. I know that neither is ultimately true, and I have a better handle on things than I used to. But it takes a degree of dedication and patience to shift my perspective, because what I actually do have is a life-long habit of feeling like my body is the wrong shape in some regard. After a while, and somewhat fortunately, I realised the problem was not with my body, but with my perception of my body. And to dig a little deeper, the issue is not how I perceive my body in a specific sense, but how I – and we – are taught to perceive bodies in our culture.
If you read my blog regularly, you’ll know that this is nothing new. And maybe now I’m not bringing anything new to the table, only a reminder that it takes a lot of work if you’ve decided you want to single-handedly combat all the body prejudices of our modern fat-hating society. So the answer is, I think – don’t do it single-handedly.
Back when I actually had a private presence on facebook, I liked a page called Daily Venus Diva. I am not at all up-to-date with them, but suddenly – as much as it was all about glamour – my news feed was filled with bodies I could identify with, more than thin bodies I was supposed to aspire to be like.
I followed Linda Bacon, The Fat Nutritionist and Ragen Chastain. Body Positive Health & Fitness, A Healthy Paradigm, The Better Fitness Initiative and HAES Health. Fitness 4 Dads, Body Positive Australia, The Militant Baker. Strong Like James and Sarah Robles.
I joined a group that was dedicated to promoting size diversity, and whose members openly discussed the reality of eating disorders and body-image disorders.
Any fitness blog will tell you it takes hard work and dedication to change the shape of your body. It also takes hard work and dedication to change the way you perceive your body, and the way you perceive all bodies, but the latter option contains a greater chance for happiness and satisfaction. It is less tenuous.
If you want to change anything, it’s great if you can offer yourself the right kind of support. And it can be hard to be honest – I feel a rift inside me sometimes – I perceive it in this way: there’s the demands of my ego on the one hand, and then there’s a quieter, wiser voice and this is the one that seems to tell me the truth.
My ego may want me to work towards abs and biceps, it may also speak in the language of fear which sounds like truth but is not, and our modern fitness culture exploits the desires of my ego; our culture promises much but delivers little. Meanwhile the quieter voice reminds me that what is of substance is something quite different. And the more I listen to it, the more I have followed this voice, the more beauty I see in the world, and in myself, and of course my health seems all the more improved for it. My training experiences have become more focused, less random and more satisfying, and my training program may be less demanding, but it is more useful and beneficial.
I am more enabled to practice the things that are helpful, rather than to indulge in fantasies. And my clients seem to value my expertise more, because I have been forced to think about training in more diverse ways.
I realised only the other day – when I went to University, I majored in Literary and Cultural Studies, so of course I perceive my industry and reality through a certain window. I perceive the world of fitness through the window of one who has studied culture. For the longest time though, I did not see how the intersection of my University and fitness educations have shaped my perception.
Too often I hear people say if you’re fat, or if you’re unhappy with your body, you should work to change the shape of your body. But this feeds the insecurity, and to me, though it may be effective in a certain context and it may feel satisfying and positive, it also seems short-sighted and narrow somehow. I’m a Cultural Studies major. If you feel you’re too fat, and you’re unhappy with your body, the real problem lies in culture, and changing your body does nothing to improve or challenge a prejudiced culture. Because anyone at any size may feel too fat, that feeling – that I’m too fat, it’s problematic. It seems unique to us, to our time, and it does not appear to be helpful. It’s the same as feeling too old. My brother once observed: it’s not the feeling of being too old, it’s the feeling that time is slipping away from you. That can happen at any age.
Work to change the culture, to eradicate the fear and hatred of fat, and we will all be free, more enabled to work on what’s useful without fear or prejudice. The end of prejudice is what frees us. And then, if you want to work on your health, you can work on what you want with a clear mind and a positive perspective. It is always better if your motivation comes from love and acceptance, than from fear and persecution. If you are motivated by fear and insecurity, how can you be sure you’re doing the right thing?
People don’t actually hate to look after themselves. They hate being told to hate themselves, they hate being exploited, and we automatically resist and are mistrustful of people who will exploit our fears in the name of personal profit. But generally, we do want things to be better for ourselves, whether we feel empowered or no. And when fear and prejudice are overcome, or when they are abandoned, much appears possible that once was not.
And if you like to play the Buddhist card, then this: one cannot carpet the whole world, so what is the same? Wear carpet slippers. You cannot eradicate all hatred in the world, so what has the same effect? Eradicate hatred in yourself.