Our bodies are one of the most precious gifts God has given us, he has asked us to take care of them, but unfortunately the world’s standards for taking care of our bodies has gone in the wrong direction.
Weight loss is expected to be congratulated. No wonder it seems like everyone is on a constant pursuit of thinness. As a girl scrolls through instagram it’s likely she will see several ads promoting weight loss along with the pictures she sees of girls, some she knows, most she has never met in person, who are trying as hard as she is to be viewed as beautiful. They all are posting shots from the best angles, edited with the best filters. Just adding more photos to the unrealistic expectations collection on the internet.
Underweight models also contributed to the standard of beauty society set as we grew up. We would shop for clothes that were displayed on models and mannequins whose bodies were far thinner than most of the girls wanting to buy the clothes.
More recently, as people are understanding that being skinny does not automatically make you healthy, diet culture started to sell a different look. The fit, toned look has become the new standard. This is a step to help women feel more empowered, but it was a step to the side, not forward.
Convincing women that they should look “skinny buff” instead of thin is still convincing them that they need to mold their bodies to an unrealistic standard to be healthy.
It wasn’t until after high school that I started to recognize the negative impact diet culture has had on myself and the girls I interact with.
Life after high school graduation is a blast. In college I have enjoyed living in an apartment with a bunch of girls who I can chat and hang out with 24/7.
I had similar experiences while serving as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I constantly had a companion with me during that time. It felt like having someone assigned to be my best friend and I loved it.
Living with your friends allows you to get to know them in more ways than you do in a typical friendship. I started to notice that these girls have a lot of the same insecurities I do. I noticed a lot of comments like:
“I should not eat this I’m already getting chubby!”
“She’s so tiny I wish I was her.”
And even more shocking comments like:
“I feel like I should be skinnier before I can date him.”
For a while, being surrounded by this mentality made me express many similar comments. It wasn’t until the end of my mission that my mom and sister started to help me recognize the problem I had.
When I returned from my mission, my mom suggested a book she thought could help correct my bad relationship with food and my body.
I started listening to the audio book Intuitive Eating by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole. There’s a point at the beginning of the book where the authors state that in order to heal your relationship with food and your body, you must give up your desire to lose weight.
This was a lot harder for me than I like to admit. I had a wrestle with my own thoughts for hours. I, like so many other people, was so convinced that I could not be healthy if I didn’t lose a few pounds. The book said that weight loss can be a side effect of a healthier life, but intentional weight loss was just pursuing a certain look and would not help heal my corrupt mindset. It would do the opposite.
I finally was able to stop striving for weight loss. I was able to remove food rules like, don’t eat after eight, only have one treat a week, or only eat x amount of calories a day.
I stopped making myself exercise to tone my body and started letting myself just enjoy my workouts.
After allowing myself to get rid of food rules, and disregarding my requirement to exercise, I was able to realize what I really want for my body.
I want to be fit, but my desire to be fit now has nothing to do with how my body will look.
I want to be able to run a fast mile because it’s an achievement I can be proud of and it helps me gain endurance when playing sports with my friends.
I like lifting weights because it’s an enjoyable challenge and gives me strength I can use for activities like rock climbing or helping my adult special-needs sister stand up.
I want to eat whole foods because it makes me feel good, not because I think it will keep me from gaining weight.
I also enjoy going on soda runs or making cookies with my friends because those are fun parts of life I do not want to miss out on.
I have come to love the trending mantra “your body is the least interesting thing about you” because it’s true. What a person looks like tells me nothing about their unique walk in life and the beautiful experiences they’ve had.
Love the body that takes you through your life. Condition it to carry you through whatever challenges and adventures you want to conquer and experience. We should learn to love our body no matter what it looks like. But what is most important to love is the life we get to live in our body. Take care of your body so it can take you to whatever opportunities life gives you. Love the person your body allows you to become.
God does not want us to take care of our bodies so they look better, but so they can carry us through the life.
I have spent countless hours learning how to heal my relationship with food and my body. The process has been emotional and frustrating, as I see that not everyone has gotten to learn what I have been learning. I am hopeful that my children will not have to grow up with the same toxic ideas surrounding health and body image that society taught me, my parents and my grandparents to believe while growing up.