I’d like to share these photos of female athletes taken by Howard Schatz in 2002. I’d like you to look at the variety of their bodies. What is your initial reaction? Does your opinion change after learning each woman is in peak physical condition?
I feel like these images have been thrown around a lot lately. I don’t know why they suddenly resurfaced, but, to me, their timeliness seems profound. I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately that discuss body image, particularly for women. In fact, I’ve seen a lot of bodysnarking, especially on fitness blogs, about bodies that are not perfectly toned, or are lacking the absurd “thigh gap,” or don’t bounce back from pregnancy in three months or less. This mentality is indicative of two fundamental problems prevalent in our society.
The first problem is that we are taught self-effacement from an early age; we are taught to value (or devalue) ourselves depending on the size and shape of our bodies. From childhood we learn the implicit meanings associated with the loaded words “skinny” and “fat;” we use them as weapons against each other, and we use them to judge our worth.
The second problem is the continuously perpetuated misnomer that being skinny is the same as being healthy, that being fit means nothing if you are not thin.
Each of these issues infuriates me because each teaches us to have an inherent lack of respect for our bodies, our minds, and our hearts (both literally and symbolically). The world is filled with an infinite variety of human bodies, all beautiful, miraculous, intricate machines. We teach our children to despise being fat rather than teaching them about how to care for their bodies properly – neither starving nor stuffing it with food. We teach them to hate themselves if they have round hips or if their collarbone does not prominently protrude.
It is time to stop cultivating a culture of self-hatred and start focusing on living the healthiest lives we can. We must start respecting the miracle of the human body, love it, feed and rest it properly, exercise it, and enjoy it while it works. I’d like to make a small, obvious, less-than-cheerful point: we will all die. I suggest focusing on health in terms of quality of life. Ask yourself: Am I happy? Am I strong enough to play with my kids? Are my relationships meaningful? Use fitness as a means to live your best life, your strongest life. Don’t use your precious life to hate yourself or make others feel menial or pathetic.