I remember “Love Your Body Day” celebrations in college. They were usually rather half-assed affairs: a couple of generic, New Age-y slogans written in girly pink and a vendor selling vegan soaps.
I left these celebrations feeling vaguely angry. I wanted something more. There’s a certain glibness inherent to declaring a day “National Love Your Body Day,” but if you really think about it, loving your body is probably the most radical, counter-cultural, transformational, life-altering idea in existence.
I used to think I didn’t need “Love Your Body Day.” If you asked me, “do you love your body?” I’d have said, “yes, of course,” without really thinking about it, the way when someone asks “how are you?” I automatically reply, “fine.”
What I meant when I said, “of course I love my body,” was that I didn’t have any obvious problems with my body: I’ve never been anorexic or had any physical addictions, my weight is healthy, I don’t harm myself, etc.. But not doing your body harm is different than actually loving it. Love is still a radical idea.
We exist in a culture where feeling negatively about one’s body is considered completely normal and socially acceptable, a “good” thing, even. We justify shame and self loathing about our body size /weight under the guise of “wanting to be healthier.” But while obesity is a health risk for some, studies show that many chubby people are just as healthy and live just as long as those that are trim:
To prove that our societal obsession with weight has nothing to do with health or longevity, consider this: two out of five women and one out of five men would give up five years of their life, if it would make them their ideal weight.
Our society views fat the way earlier societies viewed sin. We demonize both “fat” foods – like eggs and butter, which, it turns out, are actually good and necessary for health ( www.nourishingourchildren.org)and “fat” people – making judgments about someone’s moral character because of their size.
I think it has to do with the illusion of what’s within our control. In our type-A society, we’re supposed to always be working on our bodies and ourselves (especially in New York!): gym memberships, personal trainers, makeovers, style consultants, life coaches etc…. While all these things can have their place, there is a point at which to say “enough” – my body is not a project to be worked on….my self is not a project to be worked on.
I don’t think we’re ever going to find love for our bodies or ourselves in the realm of concepts or ideas, because love is not a concept; it’s an experience.
When have you experienced love for your body?
Personally, I’ve experienced love for my body most deeply in the following ways:
– dance meditation / “spiritual bellydance” (more about that in the blog post “What moves you?”)
– good sex
– and creative writing
What’s the connection between loving your body and writing? (since this is, after all, a writing blog!) It might seem like there isn’t one; writing, after all, seems like the most mental, the least corporeal of the arts. And yet, if writing is going to be good, it has to be embodied.
When people ask me if I do research for my fiction, I assume they mean spending long hours in the library digging through books or online search engines. But for me, that’s only one part of research. The other part, which I call sensory research, is just as important. If I’m writing a scene set in Times Square, for example, I will go down to 42nd street and stand on the corner, just being present in my body, taking it all in: the colors and images in the flashing lights, the different sounds and layers of noises, the way the air smells, the way my posture and boundaries change when moving in a crowd, etc…. All of this, this bodily experience, goes into the prose – it has to – if the story is going to feel authentic. Even if you’re writing fantasy, it has to be embodied. I don’t want to just know the werewolf walked across the floor, I want to hear his toenails clicking against the black and white tiles, I want to feel the warmth of his breath raising the hairs on my neck….
It’s easy to forget about your body when you’re writing, but it’s your truest friend. Stiff muscles remind you of the need to get up, stretch, go for a walk – and it’s often on that walk, while engaged in something physical, that the solution for the plot problem comes to you. A little yoga or dance can clear worries from the mind, calms it down enough to focus.
When I was a student at Oxford and totally stressed out from the mental pressure of academic life, I would sometimes steal away secretly to the bathroom of the Bodleian library, and practice belly dance moves. I’m sure no one knew what I was doing in there. But just doing a few undulations, letting my hips roll and shimmy, would take me out of my anxious mind and into my body, which is always in the present moment. I would find myself laughing, because from my body’s perspective, everything my brain was worried about looked pretty meaningless.
The body with its animal needs – nourishment, rest, warmth – makes us pause, gives us balance, keeps us real.
So, in honor of love your body day – do something that that gives you the experience of genuine love for your body – be it taking a break and dancing to a cheesy 80’s song, or letting blueberry juice drip down your chin, or squishing mud between your toes, or letting your sweetheart caress all your curves, or sharing a good, long hug with a friend – whatever your body would love to do today!