Wow. You’re so beautiful. Look at those curves, those planes and angles, those intricate patterns of stretch marks, scars, hairs, dimples, and folds. I’ve never seen anyone just like you before and I’m so grateful that you exist and that you look exactly as you do.
If you happen to have a belly that pokes out a bit in front like I do, maybe sometimes hanging over your pants, I really can’t thank you enough. Despite my best efforts, I still struggle with body image, and every time I see you looking so cute I breathe a sigh of relief and know that me and my belly can be cute and lovable too.
(If you are thin, by the way, I still think you’re beautiful, and I know that you can still feel all kinds of body insecurity and that you can certainly be struggling with your health. So don’t worry, this article is for you, too.)
How did we get here? Why is it so hard for us to see our own beauty? And even when we can see it clearly, why do we have to wonder if our fat is a sign of ill health? Said another way, why do we equate thinness with health? Is there any truth to that idea?
As usual, we should look to the power of words. The medical industry has determined a “healthy range” for body mass index (BMI), a ratio of height to weight that supposedly gagues how much fat a person has, as compared with other types of tissue. This index is heavily relied upon by the insurance-driven assembly-line medical system and often leaves people whose bodies are judged to be “overweight” or “obese” feeling guilty about their health problems, without offering any helpful solutions.
And it doesn’t start or end in the doctor’s office. Messages in television, movies, commercials, and other media tell us that the thinnest people are the healthiest, that fat is shameful, and that if we don’t fit the mould we aren’t trying hard enough.
Of course, those of us still willing to trust our own eyes can see that many healthy happy vibrant people have layers of cushion on various parts of ourselves. We can also see that many thin people are far from the picture of health, that in fact those who stay very thin through middle age have more health problems on average than those who expand into their roles as elders.
However, as with so many things these days, the backlash has almost as much sting as the original insult. I consider myself an active member of the Body Positivity movement, but I am disturbed by certain trends I see within our ranks. It seems that in some circles all attempts at healthy eating are deemed to be part of “diet culture” and as such shunned. Some advocates of “pleasure activism”—a good idea in and of itself—seem to be unwilling to allow people to consider whether they wish to pursue immediate pleasures or the deep pleasure of long-term good health.
We got an amazing array of homebaked cookies from neighbors and friends this year and they were, without exception, delicious. But by day four of several cookies a day everyone in my family had short tempers, slight coughs, achy backs,and/or trouble sleeping. For a few days out of the year I really feel that is part of living a full healthy life. But we were all happy to see the cookies finished and the herbal tea and vegetable drawers still well stocked.
This is my recipe for good health—intake lots of water, herbal teas and infusions and fresh, real foods with their fats, proteins and carbohydrates intact, all the time, get fresh air, exercise and fun in large doses, and have as many cookies, cocktails or other treats as you feel like eating, up to the point where you see consequences for your health and happiness.
- Are my physical and emotional and mental state commensurate with my surroundings and experience? (If you live in a bleak postindustrial cybernetic hell you may be miserable. This would be a healthy response to your surroundings.)
- Do I feel hungry a few times a day and comfortable after eating?
- Do I generally eat fresh nourishing foods when I’m hungry?
- Do I avoid eating when I’m not hungry — out of boredom, anxiety, or loneliness?
- Do I get some exercise every day (this can include retrieving forgotten items from upstairs, vigorous cleaning, exhuberant gardening, any old parenting, walking, etc.)?
- Do I get my heart rate up a few times a week?
- Do I have coping strategies for my emotional issues that do not involve excessive use—or denial—of food or alcohol?
- Do I poop regularly and smoothly, without constipation or diherrhea?
- Do I drink at least 40 ounces, ideally 80+ ounces of water every day?
- Do I rest my body for a significant portion of each day, and sleep for enough of that time to feel good the next day? (Different bodies require different amounts of sleep, but that’s a subject for another article.)
- Do I eat mostly fresh whole real foods as opposed to packaged processed foods or restaurant meals?
- Can I move freely without much stiffness or pain?