Today it’s not unusual for a brand to dip their toes into the world of so-called real bodies by featuring non-models (the supposedly real people of the world) in their advertising campaigns. It’s become a common trope that garners more attention than the same old skinny minnies we’re used to, while also seeming warm, fuzzy, and uber-positive on the service. “We love your body, just the way it is,” these advertisements proclaim, “and, thus, you should too.” Usually once these characters (who are generally female, but that’s a whole other issue, for another post) magically discover how to see their unique bodies as beautiful, they appear ebullient with joy. They’ve tapped into an eternal spring of love thyself-ing, and as a result, the selfies abound.
While I appreciate the motives behind these changes, most of which seem to be done with the best of intentions, I believe they ignore a more pressing issue at hand in our society—which is how our deeply ingrained insecurities are often projected purely onto our anatomy, without their real roots being fully explored. On top of that, these ads presume that our bodies are (and should be) everyone’s number one entry-point to the good life, and that the acceptance of these vessels, with all of their squishy parts, will lead to immediate happiness—or at the least, a much sought-after contentment.
I haven’t found this to be true in my own life on any level. What I’ve learned, instead, from my anorexia and my recovery, and my current state (which can only be described as something like: in the safe zone, but always teetering on the edge) is that body-centric thinking is always degrading and dysfunctional. This is true regardless of how much you weigh—whether your body falls in line with society’s standard of “perfection” or not. Sometimes weight isn’t even the prime concern, but instead you’re losing sleep over newfound wrinkles or your lack of body-builder-worthy strength. I’m not arguing that being in shape (which is not to say being thin) and privileging a healthy lifestyle is bad or unimportant, quite the contrary—I think those matters are crucial to everyone’s wellbeing. But those values can and should be separated from the thinking that your body is the ultimate entree to self-acceptance. Self-acceptance (which, to be sure, you will probably never permanently achieve—this is life, after all) starts, instead, with a dismantling of emotions, with reflecting on your past and how it’s affected your present. I didn’t realize this before—I believed, like so many people, that once I was drastically thin, my life would be fantastic. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.
There’s a reason we constantly read stories about people who were once obese, then lost tons of weight, only to find that they still feel deeply insecure and unhappy. That reason is simple: the things that are eating at you aren’t spawned simply from some arbitrary numbers on a scale. They’re about your childhood, your experiences growing up, your failed friendships and relationships, etc. They stem from something rotten on the inside, not the fact that you don’t have a six-pack or thighs like spaghetti. But it’s so easy to believe this body-as-sole-burden myth that companies are constantly selling to us, because as difficult as tackling our figures might seem, it’s an act that seems much easier than unearthing the mess that has been building up inside of us over time.
Most of us believe that exterior changes are much easier to achieve than attempting to rebuild the interior (it’s part of that self-fulfilling “people never change” prophecy). Sure, these outward transformations might be easier to see at first, but in actuality, digging up your personal dirt and working through it is fairly similar to turning yourself into that person who runs or rides a bike regularly. Both moves are about sitting with discomfort, changing ingrained habits, building new muscle—but in the case of the former, the “muscles” are really just reflexes and modes of thought that need to be replaced or reevaluated.
I think that most people realize this truth, when they give it some thought, but they rarely do. After all, we’re well aware that ignorance is bliss. I find most of these body-positive ads to be pure pipe dreams, and it irritates me that, like much of the other bullshit corporations sell to us, people constantly buy into these messages. Don’t get me wrong, it would be great if you could learn to accept your body as is, but if you’re not going to evaluate the emotions and the history behind whatever discomfort you’re feeling, that discomfort is not really going to go away. You can’t fight self-loathing, anger, feelings of betrayal, or a sordid past with a diminishing BMI. Tricking time and escaping wrinkles won’t rid you of your fears re: old age and inevitable death. None of these actions are criminal, in fact, they’re totally understandable—we are all superficial to a point. But try to keep in mind that they’re not the be all and end all—that perfecting your body won’t alter your brain, so it’s best to work on the “bloat” in your noggin before you vigorously target your backside.