Body shaming is learned. Another way to talk about bodies:
Bodies are always an interesting topic in our society. In fact, a preoccupation with bodies and how people wish to change their own is a major reason adolescents come to see me in my practice.
Primarily, because they cannot see value in their bodies. How could they? From an early age, we are bombarded with billboards, advertisements, and, magazines all showing us what a woman is ‘supposed to’ look like. Placing value on looks over function. Almost none of the images shown for the public eye are true to form. This is another conversation topic, but important to share with our children.
Let’s take a moment now and think about what we can say to our children who may have heard or regurgitated a societal criticism to Lady Gaga’s skin, i.e. body during the halftime show? Perhaps try:
“That is actually a real human being on stage. Not a picture like in the magazines or commercial freeze frames, which uses filters (like snapchat) or computer modification that don’t represent what real people look like. Real people have flesh, muscles and bones. The proportions they show us on billboards or advertisements don’t exist in real life. I can understand how it might get a little confusing to appreciate the the real thing when it is dancing before our eyes during a halftime show. How about we acknowledge how talented and beautiful she is in her own unique, strong body to sing and dance like that at the same time?”
What else can we tell our children when these moments come up?
How about these 5 things:
1. The only thing that is truly yours:
You were only given one tool on this earth that is truly yours. The body you came in. It was specifically designed for whatever is required while you are here. A sports car is designed to go fast and is built that way. A min-van was built to hold a family. Your body gives you hints as to what you could do with it in the same way. It tells you what it desires to eat, who it wishes to be with and what it would love to do and learn. Often times, we can’t hear how are car is running when the radio is turned up too loud. Kind of like how it is hard to tune in to our body’s cues when an add for McDonalds or Dunkin Donuts is so big and bright. Our body may even reveal some natural abilities to be be used like tools if we open our tool box wide enough, peek inside and discover the gifts within.
2. Keeping our vehicle tuned-up
It is important to tune up our cars and it is the same with our bodies. The physical body is the vehicle we use to get around this planet. While it doesn’t need an oil change, per se, it might need some washing, grooming and a lot of nurturing to stick around for us. Our teeth fair better with brushing, our wounds need cleaning and our hair a good soaping to keep out unwanted critters.
3. Fill up the tank
We need fuel like our vehicles. Not gasoline, but food to run on. We don’t pour cheese puffs in our car and our bodies tend to run poorly on only them as well. Our human cells like natural foods with less ingredients. Think about things that only have one ingredient: orange, broccoli, Almonds, fish, etc. Our body gives us cues like when our mood is brighter and our energy is higher, that our body likes the fuel we are consuming. If we deprive our vehicle of the things it needs, it will shut down and have a shorter shelf-life. Our body is vulnerable too when we don’t give it what it requires. If we don’t eat enough, or get the proper nutrition, it will stop normal activity and our health will be at risk. If a factory machine is fed too many car parts too fast, it will get overloaded and create malfunctioning vehicles. Like cars, If we force our bodies to overeat, our systems get tired and overwhelmed, leading to organ mistakes that also put our health at risk.
Remove parts at your own risk:
There is only so much modification, painting, trimming we can do to our car before it stops being familiar to us. We are the same. You can remove (suction out) parts, and put new parts in, but you do so at the risk of losing the foundation of the machinery you were given for a reason in the first place. It is your choice though. Sometimes a new engine or hip can give our machine another ten years. Not all replacements are poor ones.
4. No two cars from the same shop will every be the same once they begin to drive.
That first trip out on the road may cause the car to hit a pot hole and suddenly there is a slight unevenness in the structure. Or a tiny rear-ending can lead to a dent in the back. Similarly, even identical twins start to show differences with time, based on what type of food they eat, how much sun ( vitamin D), their body absorbs (think freckles, hair), and what kind of movement their body is brought to experiences. If one child does gymnastics and the other soccer, there will be developmental differences. We will refrain from discussing developmental emotional differences here, but we can acknowledge they are also extremely significant. That is another discussion entirely. But you get the idea. We might come from the same shop (like cars or siblings), but our parts are definitely unique, once we hit the road of life.
5. It would be really boring if only one type of car existed in the world
This is the key to embracing what we have. A Porsche would not be much of anything if they were the only vehicle in existence. If everyone had the exact same body, we would all look identical and tastes would go out the window. That was not the evolutionary point according to science. The point was to be attracted to people based on natural instinct and survival of the species, not a magazine’s point of view. Each car is meant to attract a different kind of driver. Hence, why we have so many different cars. I personally, don’t like the smell or tiny space of a Porsche. But some people love it and drool over its sleek design. Our bodies are the same. Individually, they are meant to attract a certain kind of driver or mate.
In my practice, I conduct a lot of Sex and Relationship therapy and a really cool thing happens behind closed doors. People get honest to themselves about what really turns them on. The answers are so diverse. Just like how some people like a Porsche and some really like a spacious Minivan. Some Men like tall, athletic girls, other men like short girls with voluptuous curves. Some women like short guys with hair, some like tall guys with no hair. In all fairness, I do hear from the majority of men I treat and have worked with that they are naturally attracted to a woman who they don’t ‘feel like they will break,’ when riding through life together.
After my observations, women are often surprised to hear that the majority of men don’t notice things like cellulite or stretch marks the same way women do. I’ve heard women talk about the comfort of a belly on a man, and I’ve heard men talk about the sex appeal of ‘something to grab’ on a woman’s body. Above all, I hear about how people fall in love with the whole being (mind, personality & body). That the unique characteristics are what make a person fall in love with the individual from the crowd. Some endearing quotes I’ve been privy to: “that birthmark on her right thigh gets me every time,” “His long second toe is my favorite thing,” “her jiggly butt,” “His larger than life belly-button,” Her belly when it hangs over her pants,” “His saggy jewels,” “her contagious laugh,” “the way he hums in his sleep,” etc, etc. It has nothing to do with pant sizes or perfections. It has to do with the being who doesn’t look, or act like anyone else they know. Those imperfections are the perfect reasons we fall in love. We fall in love with the whole person and the person becomes our perfect.
So remind yourself and your loved ones to love the vehicle they are in. It was designed to function for YOUR life, look unique, and hold a personality just as distinct in order to attract people you are more likely to connect with, and a life that is perfect for you!
Sari Lehrhoff, MD
Short Hills, New Jersey