My body still lets me do what I want

Recently, Fit, Feminist, and (almost) Fifty posted about a commentary about media’s reaction to Jennifer Lawrence fighting back against the diet and body image driven Hollywood values. For those not in the loop, Jennifer is not your typical Hollywood thin (read: very thin by normal standards) and refuses to be so. Instead, she promotes loving who you are and what you have. The commentary was criticising how the media has put her on a pedestal as a role model. Yes, she’s got a good attitude, but she’d still, by normal conventions, thin and coming from a thin/pretty privilege, which means that her body, which is healthy and “Hollywood plump,” is still unattainable by many people. As stated by Jennifer Trout, the author of an intriguing post, Jennifer Lawrence body shames you more than you might have realized:

It’s not empowering to anyone but women who look like Jennifer Lawrence. And it’s not a coincidence that she just happens to be the Coke-bottle standard we’re told men should prefer.

To be fair, she’s a much better role model than a lot of Hollywood, because she’s got a good attitude and seems to recognize the implications of being a role model. But, celebrities who don’t have that privilege would not be praised quite so easily for hating diets and exercise. Think about it: if Melissa McCarthy or Rebel Wilson – both funny, talented, beautiful women – were to say the exact same things as Jennifer Lawrence, would the media praise them or criticize them for being bad role models who promote unhealthy living?! People assume that fat = unhealthy. Back to Jennifer Trout:

Fat people are not people in our culture. They’re “fat people.”

That whole discussion is very interesting and one that we should all be thinking about, but what caught my eye was a comment about Adele [my emphasis]:

Adele, for example, has said that she isn’t preoccupied with her body. Her body, she says, isn’t stopping her from doing anything she wants to do. She recommends: “The first thing to do is be happy with yourself and appreciate your body– only then should you try to change things about yourself.”

I think this, or something like it, needs to be part of the measuring tool kit we use. Healthy is good, but healthy does not mean thin. Part of healthy is being able to do anything you want to do, regardless of size. If you don’t want to run a marathon, then you don’t need to be that level of fit. If you want to be able to take the dog for a walk without getting winded, then you need to work towards that. Your size has some impact on how easily you are able to do somethings (the heavier you are, the harder it is on you and your body to do things like running marathons), but it’s not necessarily a defining factor.

This is actually a big part of why I started my fitness journey (and why I’ve been re-evaluating parts of it, recently). I love being outdoors and I want to be able to do things like join or volunteer with outdoors or nature clubs. In order to be able to do all those types of things, I realized that it would be easier and I would be more likely to join if I had a basic level of fitness, so I decided that it was time I did something about it. Having my body do what I want it to do continues to be part of my motivation: I want to run a trail race, just to say I did it; I want to (eventually) go on hiking/camping trips; I want to be able to do a pull-up, because that sounds like something cool to brag about; etc. All of these things require me to get more fit (and most of them will be easier if I also lose a bit more weight).

But, it’s not just about fitness endeavours. Think about Adele: she sings, so she needs a good set of lungs and the stamina to stay on stage for an extended period of time. A lot of that is developed though a lifetime of singing, but still requires some basic health. I like to be able to stitch, quilt, and do other creative things. It’s easier to be able to do those things when I’m sleeping well, when I can get down on the ground to pin a quilt, etc. While I could probably find ways to work around any issues, I’d prefer to be fit enough to be able to do those things without having to take sleep-aid drugs or struggling every time I have to get up off the floor.

It’s not the whole picture, but it’s something to keep in mind. We do not have to be Hollywood or Jennifer Lawrence thin to be healthy, beautiful, worthy and to be able to do everything we want to do.

I’d like to close with a quote from Fit and Feminist’s post about the cult of the body from one of their recent posts [again, my emphasis]:

I’ve seen holy wars break out over Paleo/primal/vegan/fruitarian ways of eating. I’ve seen smugnoms tell people with cancer that they wouldn’t be in this situation had they just avoided meat and processed food.  I’ve seen people try to recast cruelty towards fat people as something intended to help them.  I’ve seen people who can barely articulate a coherent thought brag about spending three hours a day in the gym.  I’ve seen fitness and nutrition professionals basically use their platforms to inflict their disordered lifestyles on thousands of adoring followers. I’ve seen people wield their healthy lifestyles and their fit bodies as clubs with which they beat the heads of lesser mortals who may not have visible abs or who might have boxed food in their pantries.

The cult of the body struck me as the perfect way to describe the near-religious fervor with which so many fitness- and health-minded people approach their bodies.  Instead of looking fitness and health as pursuits that help us care for our bodies so we can do other things in the world, the cultivation of optimal health and physical perfection has become the ultimate goal in and of itself.

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