It was a hard September.
But I just got back from fall break at the beach and I feel much better now, and fortunately all the HELLA BUSY WORK I did in September has left me with an overflowing pond of blog material.
The first example of that is the “Family Tree to Love Nest” talk I did, which I followed up with a survey, asking people what they learned and what they were hoping to learn. That “hoping to learn” item is handy because I can teach it over the blog! Hurray. So there will be about a half dozen relationship skills type posts in response to that.
There will be another half dozen posts about body image, following up the same survey question from the “She’s Eating That?!” workshop I led, which was about media literacy and fat talk. (PS: Next week is FAT TALK FREE WEEK!
But in the meantime, I’d like to say these two things:
1. There were students in that workshop about body image who did not realize that the images they see in magazines are Photoshopped to make the models look (even) thinner. I thought I was being hideously redundant and boring to talk about the manipulations of images by mainstream media, but no, it turns out there are still intelligent, well educated, highly literate young women who believe that that’s what those women’s bodies actually look like.
There are two things you can do with this fact: first, just know it. Know that the PICTURES you see of women’s bodies don’t have any particular relationship with ACTUAL women’s bodies. A room full of women, with their various bodies is what women actually look like. Mainstream media’s images of women’s bodies are fictional and rhetorical, designed by advertisers to make you feel shitty so that you’ll buy more shit. Looking at those images makes you feel bad. Looking at real women’s bodies should, capitalism’s manipulation aside, make you feel good, calm, happy, celebratory. Don’t confuse the two. And second, don’t stop talking about it. Say it out loud any time you encounter an image of women that is bad for women. You never know who might be learning it for the first time.
2. People apparently have no idea how to separate “being healthy” from “being thin.” Women’s bodies (and men’s bodies, but women’s bodies especially) VARY from each other in a vast number of ways. One of them is their natural, healthy weight, body composition, and shape. Boobs, bellies, and butts all vary in shape and size from woman to woman, and that variation has no particular relationship with health. (Minor caveat: storing fat around the middle of your body is generally correlated with cardiovascular health problems and insulin resistance, but since this will show up in actual measures of health, like blood lipids and blood sugar, you don’t need to worry about the fat if your actual HEALTH is fine.)
Health simply can NOT be predicted from body shape or size, up to about 75 pounds over the medically defined “healthy” weight. “Thin” doesn’t mean “healthy” any more than “Christian” means “kind.” Sometimes there’s overlap, sure, but one does NOT predict the other, no matter how much the culture says it does. (Please ignore any morality crap that might appear to be embedded in that analogy; there isn’t any.)
So how can you tell if you’re healthy, and therefore forget about your fat as a measure of health? Resting heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood lipids, aerobic pace or VO2 max, and of course various lifestyle measures: are you getting physical activity? are you eating something green and leafy every day, and plenty of protein? are most of the carbs you eat whole grain rather than refined? Then whatever body you have is what health looks like.
But wait, why am I writing about fat, health, and body image on a sex blog?
Oh my god.
Both the physical health and the psychological health implications of body image impact women’s sexual functioning. Physical health: shit, having low energy, not to mention poor muscle tone, limited flexbility and strength, and inadequate cardiovascular fitness can all prevent you from having the ebullient sex life that people who are physically healthy can have. Psychological health: in my experience, negative body image is the single most common source of sexual problems among young women. Not liking your body, not valuing it for what it does, rather than degrading it for what it (doesn’t) look like, will impede your sexual pleasure like nothing else, and all for no medical reason.
Confidence, my darlings. And joy. It is – or ought to be – a pleasure simply to live inside a body. If you find yourself hating living in a body that is functional and healthy, it’s time for a mental tune up.
Love your body; treat it with respect and kindness and compassion. And it will give you boundless pleasure in return.