Kickin’ it with Kyle: rethinking body image

kicking it with kyle

My friends are always ragging on my feminism. That’s just something I’ve taught myself how to forgive and overlook. Even though I think most people I’ve had the pleasure of befriending are feminists without ever toting the explicit self-labeling, I’ve received a bit of backlash from some people (presumably in jest…) over declaring my Sexuality, Women, and Gender Studies minor last fall.

Feminism advocates on behalf of the social, political, and economic equality between all men and all women. Why so many of my friends wouldn’t want to admit that they are full heartedly on board with such a notion is beyond me. But the popularity, or lack there of, of fourth wave feminism within my immediate friend circle is not the bigger point I strive to make today.

I believe that men and women are, of course, created equally. But as the feminist movement naturally shifts with time, we’ve sought to do much more than simply combat the way our in which our patriarchal society predisposes women to their oppressive circumstances. In the last two and a half decades we’ve been redefining gender, expelling the concept of “normative” sexuality, and rewriting the limited beauty standards. These are three vital growths our contemporary society has slowly moved in the direction of thoroughly endorsing, which have personally and substantially benefited my own mental health.

My original allure to women’s studies, as the minor was still called here when I was a sophomore two years ago, was undoubtedly the inclusion of queer and gender theories. I remember sensational comfort – peace of mind even – after a professor recommended Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble as research material for the paper I was writing for her class. Most people would probably say that mental health is inarguably intertwined with our physical health. I believe, and would say I even know, that they are almost entirely contingent upon one and other. I say that because that is the most polarized opinion I seek to stress while addressing my thoughts on the increasingly popular body positivity movement in the speculations hereafter.

I love the body positivity movement. I think it has liberated many women, and I wish more men, from crippling inner hate while teaching and promoting self-love. But I hadn’t heard a second name for the same movement until this past summer. A friend studying nutrition outside of Rollins sent me two articles: “6 Things I Don’t Understand About The Fat Acceptance Movement” by Carolyn Hall on thoughtcatalog.com, and “8 Things I Learned From Writing An Article Critical of Fat Acceptance” by the same author in the same publication. As implied by its title, the second article was this writer’s response to an angry mal reception of her original approach. Although my friend told me to read Hall’s thoughts as her agreed upon refutation of the opinions about body love I’d previously shared with her, I was glad she’d decided to send them to me.

Before I say anything else, I’m going to reiterate how significantly irrefutable I understand the bond between mental and physical healthy to truly be and that I think such a relationship is applicable to body love controversy. I’m repeating myself because there’s always a chance of upsetting people when you challenge an idea. That chance is a big one given what I just mentioned about the critical reception Hall received upon commenting on a topic she termed “fat acceptance” instead of “body positivity”. I don’t want to summarize what another person’s opinions were. Instead, I would like to use them to jump of and into my own.

I appreciated the articles for how factually and statistically driven they were regarding physical health, child obesity, economic impact, and specifically in the United States as comparative to the rest of the world. The ongoing and increasing magnitude of our American health crisis now lends much more heavily to my demanding mental battles. Heart disease? Child obesity? The essentially toxic average American diet of consistently processed foods?

The body positivity movement resonates with me because I was once very self-conscious of my little boobs and lack of curves. A hetero normative society says that women with full breasts and booties are who’s sexy, and I hardly have any of either of those things. For that reason, I thought I didn’t love my body.
Body love is crucial. Your body is where you live and can’t escape from…it’s with you every day, and it’s what every new pair of eyes will use to first judge you on. That’s so overwhelming – for all of us. It’s also why I keep going back to the importance of what we think about ourselves, the opinions we internalize.
I did decide one day that I like the body I was born with. And I’m fortunate that my boobs are small because it’s easier to run. (Ha!)

I think I look like a direct mix of both my parents, partly feminine but similarly as masculine. My body, in additional to the way I choose to dress or style it, is a self-love embracing portrayal of that. It’s an inwardly felt, body loving mentality that has allowed me to reevaluate how I treat this body of mine. I smoke a ton of cigarettes and, during periods of particular stress or sadness, I’ve inadvertently under fed it in an unhealthy way before. Sometimes people over eat from their anxieties, and other people conversely lose their appetites.

The great take away from Hall’s article exists for me to see almost entirely because she decided to use a term like “fat acceptance”. It’s the second word I want to talk about. Acceptance I’ve always known to be rather similar to indifference. If you accept gays, you aren’t particularly happy or sad that homosexuality exists…you’re usually just indifferent. That is an easy example of a positive way in which an apathetic approach promotes beneficial results.

But in an acutely body critical American culture, dissolving hate with acceptance overlooks an equally as disturbing categorically American issue: deteriorating physical health. I’ve only grown so ambivalent over preaching full on acceptance as I took a closer, scarier look at my own physical health. First of all, I have acquired chronic bronchitis from smoking. That is not body love. Second of all, I was an athlete in high school who was in relatively good shape. I let any type of tone or muscle definition disappear as a freshman in college who did not make the effort to exercise. That is not body love. Under feeding yourself can never be body love either.

Really think about the words “body” and “love” as the conjoined term “body love” (which is what I am still in full endorsement of). Body – physical. Love – mental and emotional. No one should settle for “acceptance” toward their bodies…they should love their bodies. Loving your body is recognizing that nobody is perfect, society’s standards are too unrealistically falsified to matter, and the overwhelming majority of us have areas of our lives where we need to consciously improve upon the effort we put into physical health maintenance. Eating disorders come in all shapes, sizes, and practices – but poorly patterned eating is the physical response to a debilitating mental issue…also known as hate. Exercise and nutritional awareness are pertinent aspects of retaining a positive mental homeostasis. Taking care of the body is what body love is.

Acceptance negates improvement, each individual’s room for self-growth. It isn’t an improvement any one body needs to make so as to gain the world’s renowned approval. We will never win the world’s approval, and I mean no one will. It’s something you teach yourself for your own happiness and true self-love to develop. I consciously eat a healthy diet because it makes me feel better than eating unhealthy food does. I exercise because it releases endorphins in my brain. I eat three meals because my body needs to be fueled three times a day, or my moods and energy levels have been proven unpredictable.
I hope I stop smoking soon. Because I love the body I live in as a home, and accepting such a terrible habit will slowly destruct it. Loving your body is about preserving it and treating it kind, which takes a lot of effort. But it takes strength for us to love anyone at all. Naturally it would take strength for you to love you too.

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