Megan the Stallion’s recent hit single BODY has taken control of the charts and airwaves. I sat one day singing the chorus of the song over and over and over again as I washed clothes, folded them and organized the closets in my house. Once I realized what I was doing I thought about the lyrics of the song and then my own body. Megan raps about her body, her curves and her appreciation for the way that she’s built. I began to think about all of the women who do not see their shape and their curves as something to be appreciated and celebrated. I thought of the women who long for a different shape, curve and bust, hip and waist ratio. I thought of myself–home, cleaning, with my hair atop my head, my t-shirt covered in breast milk and my body–recovering from the birth of my second son. Stretched where it used to be tight, soft where it used to be hard, wide where it used to be narrow and different altogether. Before I could throw and invite my girlfriends to the pity party I started planning in my mind, a small, still voice spoke to me something I read while pregnant, could you just love me like this? It was my body talking. . . .
So, I’ve decided to. You know, to just love my body like this. I’ve decided to appreciate and celebrate my body for all it is and everything it is not. I am grateful for its proper functioning. I am grateful for its abilities. I am grateful for its gifts. I stood in the mirror for a short while a few days ago after putting my children to bed and thought my goodness, look at this body! It is by no means perfect (though my husband may beg to differ), but it is mine. It has allowed me to walk, run, serve. It has allowed me to be an athlete. It has allowed me to dance. It has allowed me to enjoy a variety of foods from different cultures, kitchens and creatures. It is healthy. It wakes up each day and completes a laundry list of tasks–including laundry–and creating and keeping a home for the people I love most. It has allowed me to birth two beautiful, brown, healthy and vibrant boys. It has allowed me to play basketball with my competitive pre-teenager and serve as a milk machine to my two month old. It is solid. It is strong. It is magical. And it is the only one that I will ever have.
Last year the very body I found myself questioning and complaining about, housed the miracle baby laying next to me in this very moment. This body nourished him. It held him. It carried him from seed to 41 weeks of gestation. It endured repeated withdrawals of blood, an extra 50 pounds, altering levels of blood pressure, cravings and quarantine. It kept him safe, it kept him warm, it allowed him to eat and grow. It expanded and accepted each of his kicks, punches and flips. This body, that I found myself cursing and sometimes outright rejecting, labored for 9+hours without so much as a drop of medication and then, squatting, screaming, sweaty, exhausted, and unappreciated, this body pushed my rainbow baby from the warmth of my womb to the light of the world. This body did that!
As I write this I am half ashamed that I sometimes look in the mirror and find myself angered at the stretch marks that grace my side, stomach and thighs. I am a bit annoyed with myself for wanting Beyonce’s legs and Saweetie’s stomach. I am also proud though. Proud to be in a space where I am growing to accept the body that God has given me and appreciate all that God has allowed it to do. It doesn’t mean that I don’t wish to improve upon the imperfections I find within it. I have “body goals”. I had them before I gave birth to both of my boys and I still do. I asked my husband for a surgical, mommy make-over as a Push Present and I just might get it! But I also love my body, just as it is. I am proud of it. I honor it. I respect it. I cherish it and I am finding new ways to show my gratitude toward it each day–giving thanks each time my baby feeds from my breast, praising the brown skin that covers it each time I apply lotion and giving it what it needs when it needs it.
In addition to my internal struggles, I have found other women to be the most critical of my body. As women we are often the biggest critiques of one another in all arenas. The body is no different I suppose. It has been women who suggest I am too thin or not thin enough. It is other women who suggest I eat more of one thing and less of another. It is other women who, for the entirety of my pregnancy, made comments about my weight gain, eating habits, changes they observed to my body and even now, post baby. It is women who comment on the weight that I lost, the way my body looks, etc. is typically other women who, especially during my pregnancy, made comments like: “Oh gosh you’ve gained so much weight.” or “Wow, your face is so chubby.” or “Hey wobble, wobble.” or “Goodness, I’ve just never seen you like this!” or “You’ve lost so much weight since giving birth.” or “Girl, you’ve changed so much since the last time I saw you!” or “You look so skinny since giving birth.” or “How much do you weigh now?” [chances are, 9 out of 10 pregnant women are grappling with their appearance changes themselves during and after pregnancy. Your comments are 9 times out of 10, not helpful.] My husband reminds me that not all of these comments are negative, but I remind him that NONE OF THEM ARE NECESSARY! A little tip for men and women everywhere, unless a woman asks for your opinion about her body, its shape, its weight, its curve, its loss, its gain–DO NOT GIVE IT. Compliments do not have to be BODY SPECIFIC. If you want to say a woman looks good, say she looks good. If you want to say you appreciate the way a woman is made, say that! If you have thoughts about someone’s loss or gain of weight, keep it to your damn self. If she wishes for you to elaborate or wants your opinion to begin with, she will ask for it.
I have had hard conversations with women I love about the ways we care for our bodies. I have had conversations with women online and in person about plastic surgery, body enhancements, and pre and post baby bodies. I have had conversations with myself about the expectations I have for my own body, when it’s stressed, when it’s in pain, when it’s housing a miracle and when it’s not. Society [and really social media] has made it hard for us as women to come to terms with our own bodies in our own time. Each time we are online we are presented with images of other women. Their lives, their interests and their bodies. It’s as if they have always been perfect. While one can write a blog post alone about what is real vs. what is not, the fact of the matter is when we learn to love our own body for all that it is and all that it is not, we are not intimidated, envious or concerned about what the next woman has and how she got it. We can’t argue for women to have rights to and over their own bodies in one breath and argue against it in the next.
Considering all things, it should come as no surprise that eating disorders are as common as they are. While girls/women of color experience eating disorders at the same rate as their white counterparts, they are less likely to receive help for their eating needs (NEDA, 2020). From the time that girls are young, they are being looked at, measured, valued, sexualized and provided with opinions about their bodies. What it should be, what it should do, what it should wear, and how it should look. All of this helps to create a strong notion that there is a right and wrong body. Consider the statistics:
- Black teenagers are 50% more likely than white teenagers to exhibit bulimic behavior, such as binging and purging (Goeree, Sovinsky, & Iorio, 2011).
- In a study of adolescents, researchers found that Hispanics were significantly more likely to suffer from bulimia nervosa than their non-Hispanic peers. The researchers also reported a trend towards a higher prevalence of binge eating disorder in all minority groups. (Swanson, 2011).
- Asian, Black, Hispanic and Caucasian youth all reported attempting to lose weight at similar rates, while among of Native American adolescents, 48.1% were attempting weight loss (Kilpatrick, Ohannessian, & Bartholomew, 1999).
- People of color with self-acknowledged eating and weight concerns were significantly less likely than white participants to have been asked by a doctor about eating disorder symptoms, despite similar rates of eating disorder symptoms across ethnic groups. (Becker, 2003).
While I have never struggled with an eating disorder, body dissatisfaction is quite common and it comes by way of tricking one another into believing that a certain body type is better than another. There are cultures who favor bigger women over smaller women and vice versa. Much like cultures who prefer lighter complexions over darker ones. Such hierarchies create psychological imbalances and poison communities.
I look forward to the day that women as a collective come to a place where we hold our bodies as the sacred temples they truly are. That we will appreciate, love and honor our bodies for the things they can do and the things they cannot do. And that we will hold that same gratitude, love and honor in our hearts and in the spaces we occupy, for other women as well. I have found that I owe my body a debt of immense gratitude. It is worthy of my time, my attention, and my care no matter what shape it is in. And yours does too!