You Are. Now Eat.

This morning I crawled out from under my rock and learned about thinspo. Sometimes there is absolutely no fun involved in a loss of innocence. This was one of those times.

I first heard the term “thinspo” last week on a podcast. Yes, really. Just last week. I googled the term today and glimpsed an Internet subculture that shocked and saddened me. There really are women who publicly, matter-of-factly, and completely reject their fully-functional, highly complex human bodies, because they are “fat.” There appears to be no self-pity in this, no seeking of a “there-there, I love you just the way you are” virtual hug from anyone.

The images and pep-phrases of thinspo (“thinspiration” – think “successories” for weight-loss fanatics) strike me as stoic rally cries for soldiers going to battle. The war is for acceptance in a cruel world that has no place for cellulite. These soldiers seem to be past making value judgments, as any effective soldiers are. They purse their lips and accept hard reality, willing to fight to the death for a place in this wretched culture rather than live oppressed and kicked around any longer.

Just over a year ago, I stepped on a scale and faced a new tens digit – one I had only seen between my feet before when I was pregnant. I looked up my height, weight and frame size on a BMI chart and discovered I was overweight. So I decided to change direction. Over the last year I lost twenty pounds and gained new strength as I began running regularly and started eating mostly whole, plant-based foods.

Blah-blah-blah. If keeping my mouth shut about my success would in any way encourage a thinspo soldier to open hers and eat something substantial, I’d do it.

But maybe the best thing is to talk honestly about it. Yes, I moved the needle on the scale. Yes, I dropped a couple jeans sizes. Heck, I even have some defined abs to show for my regular core-muscle workouts.

But the only way an image of my body would make it into thinspo would be as reverse-thinspo, images of not-thin-enough bodies to inspire the thinspo soldier to keep that mouth firmly clamped except for the occasional diet soda and iceberg lettuce.

The thinspo ideal is not the human body at its best. It is a matter-denouncing self-loathing shroud.

I met my weight-loss goal, and I did it because I wanted to, when and how – and if – I wanted to. Now I run and eat well because it’s my habit, my lifestyle, and one of my life’s pure joys. Not my means to salvation from a hateful body-self.

A thinspo soldier doesn’t know or care what she wants. She can’t do her soul-crushing job with any effectiveness unless she shuts her mouth – not only to food but also to her own voice.

My body is amazing, and so is yours. I’ve routinely listened to negative self-talk that tells me otherwise – in my case, that my breasts are too small and my thighs are too large. But what does that even mean? What is “too small” and what is “too large?” My breasts functioned flawlessly in feeding both my babies. My thighs have never failed to support my body and move it from place to place.

That’s not to exclude those with dysfunctional breasts or thighs from the statement that your body is amazing. The fact that you are here at all, breathing air, thinking thoughts (or not), pumping blood through miles of tubing, experiencing life as only you – only you of anyone else who has ever lived – can experience it: that is amazing.

Whatever else we are, you and I are embodied beings. Enfleshed. Incarnate. We must learn to live in peace with and within our bodies. Yoda had it so right and a little bit wrong when he said,

Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. . . . Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.

I beg to differ, honorable Green One. Luminous beings are we, alive through this amazing matter.

I’m including no links to thinspo material in this post. That’s because I know that images and catch-phrases are powerful, and our culture already screams at women, all day long, that they are not thin enough, small enough, weak and insubstantial enough. So if you choose to “go there,” view thinspo’s brutal additions to the daily stream of attacks at your own risk.

And let’s all think twice about how and why we pursue health and beauty, and how we talk about that with each other. There are too many young women of inestimable worth on the brink of enlisting in thinspo’s ranks, and our careless words can give voice to the lies that recruit them.

Who’s Repressed?

Epiphany passed me by recently, dressed like a Somali woman. It occurred to me that with her cultural requirement to wear a head covering in public, she is free from stressing about hairstyles. And with her long and shapeless body covering, she is immune from fashion police and probably never wonders if she missed a spot when shaving her legs. For the first time I saw comfort and freedom in her clothing rather than only repression.

Growing up fundamentalist, my textile signs of repression included long skirts, culottes, and nylon stockings. To prove I was free from this bondage, I spent many of my early adult years wearing blue jeans or shorts just about everywhere. I avoided nylon stockings and knee-length skirts, sure that would be the same as wearing a sandwich sign entreating, “Blow me a kiss, I’m a fundamentalist.”

Then came the hippie feminist years, when makeup and shaving were the symbols of my captivity to The Man. To declare my independence, I dumped the mascara and left alone the leg hair, though I was still chained to the need for smooth armpits.

Somewhere along the way life normalized and my statements and declarations morphed into nothing more than habits, some of which I continued and some of which I changed, without attaching much of a larger meaning to them.

photo courtesy djcodrin,

It goes without saying, in my estimation, that women just about everywhere and throughout all time are repressed. My Somali neighbor must dress as she does to be accepted in her community. In mainstream western culture, where women have been liberated from stringent dress codes, they have been subjected to ever more ruthless standards of slender bodies, large breasts, firm smooth ageless skin, perfect hair, etc.

I’m not done thinking about it, speaking out against it, trying to pass on to my daughter – and my son – some sense of healthy female body image and gender equality. But I marvel regularly at the resilience of the human spirit that is alive and well in women everywhere, who play by the patriarchal rules, or don’t, but still manage to do what needs to be done, day in and day out, and add their own strength and spark to this shattered, shining world.