This weekend my husband was watching “The Wolverine”. Remember the lengths I went to in order to obtain that video? It turns out I was actually uninterested in watching it, and so I puttered around the kitchen, making cookies and banana bread while my husband – who must be the world’s most confident man – would call me in to the living room occasionally to watch a scene or two. The scenes that he was bringing my attention to were solely gratuitous shirtless fight sequences. “Nicole! You’ve got to come see this!” he would say and then we would both watch in awe. How much did that man train in preparation for that movie? By all accounts the movie was kind of terrible, but the parts I saw were just fine.
It’s a little bit funny that I should objectify the male body so much when I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the objectification of the female body. Remember that “What’s Your Excuse” mom – Maria Kang, who a little while ago posted a photo of her fit and toned body with her three young kids? Shock! Outrage! Shaming! And yet, I fail to see the issue. She’s a woman who has launched a fitness program and website for all those moms out there who are mired down in the world of early motherhood, who want to increase their level of fitness. Great, right? But no, she has been much taken to task for fat-shaming and bullying.
Very, very gently I say to you: if this bothers you, look away. Maybe I’m naive, but I do not see how a woman launching a fitness program is doing it specifically to make womankind in general feel bad about themselves. My belief is that this woman is capitalizing on what every single fitness program talks about, and that is to Just Do It, in the words of the Nike people. No fitness program is based on “just exercise when you feel like it, maybe, or don’t, whatever.” They all say, NO MORE EXCUSES, schedule it in, find the time, do it.
So what’s the difference between what every mainstream fitness program says, and what Maria Kang is saying? She’s a young, attractive mother with a smoking hot body who has obtained that figure through hard work and exercise, and flaunts it. And why shouldn’t she? What’s wrong with it? If someone else’s figure is deeply offensive to you, then I suggest not looking at the photos, reading the stories, or subscribing to her website. But why should it offend you at all?
I have mixed feelings about the expression “Things will only hurt you if you let them” because sometimes people are really assholes and do say things specifically targeted to hurt people’s feelings. Example: if you get new carpeting put in your house and show me with pride and happiness, and I say “Carpeting is for stupid people who like allergens” then I am being an asshole. But if someone posts a flattering photo of themselves, saying that they have done away with excuses and have obtained a targeted level of fitness, and that you can too, well, I fail to see how that shames anyone. This is one of those cases where if I have an issue with it, then it’s my issue to deal with.
I’m quite proud of this photo, actually.
Sometimes when a woman celebrates a breastfeeding milestone, or talks about her pride in giving her baby the very best start in life due to breastfeeding, I get a pang. I think of my own two children who I weaned very early and it makes me sad; but is it the fault of the breastfeeding mother? Is she talking about breastfeeding specifically to make me feel bad and ashamed of my own perceived failure? Of course not. It’s my issue and mine alone. It’s not her, it’s me.
And so I find it disheartening when I hear all this bashing about women and their bodies: from “Scarlett Johansson looking “fat” in a bikini” to “Real Women Have Curves” memes, from “Marilyn Monroe was a size 16” to “Denise Richards is too skinny”. There are the things we say to each other and about each other: “I hate you, you’re so skinny,” or “She probably has an eating disorder,” or “I hate to tell you this but you’ve gained so much weight that I’m worried about you!” We fixate on these things and so someone who purports to inspire young mothers to achieve new levels of fitness is slammed as a bully or a fat-shamer. We disparage fat people and we disparage skinny people and everyone’s body is up for criticism.
Lately there’s been a meme on Facebook, a “love your selfie” game where you post a photo of yourself without makeup and with natural hair. I love it because it’s celebrating what we are, our natural selves, even though this is what I look like au naturel:
Even with that photo, I do love myself. There are things I do not like about my appearance, certainly. There are things I would change if I could, but on the most part I’m happy with my physical self. I wake up every morning at 4:30 and practice yoga for ninety minutes, I watch what I eat, I try to get enough vitamins, rest, and balance in my life. I can do a lot of things: I can play Fur Elise on the piano from memory, I can bake awesome cookies and read story books with all different voices. I can do calculus and analyze statistics and throw on a great Southern accent from that time I was Amanda Wingfield in my high school production of The Glass Menagerie. I can do this:
But there are many, many things I cannot do. There are lots of things that YOU do that I admire, that I do not do myself: run marathons, press up into handstands, have the patience to spend your days working with children, take courses while juggling everything else, keep it together while your husband travels, travel alone to exotic locations, tote little people around all day. I cannot decorate cakes, swim laps, knit, sew on a button, or drive to new locations without much assistance and many tears. I have never turned a cartwheel in my life. But the fact that I do not or cannot do these things does not mean that I hate you for saying that you can do them. I do not feel that your ability to do these things shames me in any way. I’m proud of you for being able to do them. When my children were babies I was more like a chewed up piece of old string than Maria Kang, but that does not mean that Maria Kang has shamed me.
What I want us to do is look at ourselves, really look, and realize how beautiful we are. We are so beautiful, so interesting, so smart. We don’t need to feel inferior because of someone else’s success, because of someone else’s figure, vacation, job, or children. WE are successful, WE are beautiful, whatever the shape of our bodies and our days. What I want you to do for yourself is to really look at your life, really look at it, and see what amazing things you’ve done: the everyday things and the extraordinary things. I want you to see yourself for the amazing and beautiful person you are. Because I know you are. We all are.