“Your body is not the problem.”
I feel like I utter this statement at least once a day in sessions and in my personal life. People describe their bodies with judgment and disgust. It is based on the heartbreaking influences of our culture and society, which state that some people have “good” bodies and are to be envied, and others don’t. We are made to believe that success and happiness, self love and self confidence will come from how we look.
How often do we see ads promulgating this myth? How often do we see various manifestations of our fat-phobic society? The idea that the body is both the problem and the solution is everywhere. I recall watching a male contestant on a reality television show disclose his history struggling with an eating disorder and body image dissatisfaction, and the way this acted as a plot point to show his sensitivity and bring him closer to the woman he was dating. When asked how he learned to cope, he essentially answered that he did so by altering his body and “getting healthy.”
Readers, that is not how one copes with body image concerns. We don’t address concerns about the foundation in a home by painting the walls. We don’t place a Band Aid on a concussion. Manipulating one’s body through food or exercise is what we are promised will fix us. But we don’t need that fixing. And—it also doesn’t work.
That individual, who changed his body to manage his insecurities, was applauded. People who describe themselves as struggling with their bodies and then report focusing on diet and exercise and proudly talk about how much weight they have lost are the products of our society. They ignore the ways this will make others, in bigger bodies, feel ashamed.
I do not judge these individuals who are the products of our society—I wish to educate them. I wish to sit down with them and explore all the ways that placing their efforts into their appearances has actually taken them away from authentically connecting with themselves and investing in growth on an emotional, mental and spiritual level. These levels will actually be long-lasting, unlike one’s body size.
When people describe altering their bodies to cope, they are not describing their obsessive tendencies. They are not cluing into the extreme fear of their bodies’ “going back to what they were”—which happens to 95% of people within two years—or the practices they uphold to stay how they are, forgetting that our bodies are meant to change. They are not telling us, in detail, about the social events they missed or those that caused extreme anxiety because they were unsure if they could eat or needed to exercise for hours before/after to compensate (read: purge) the food.
This fairy-tale idea that we will like ourselves better if we look a particular way is, as noted above, a Band Aid. It is an industry-driven idea that pounces on shame and false promises.
Our bodies are not the problems. Our bodies are the scapegoats—the way we cope with life’s challenges and existential crises. Our bodies are vessels. Our bodies are resilient; they have carried us through so much.
Our bodies deserve respect. Tolerance. Appreciation. Maybe even love. Our bodies do not deserve deprivation, judgment or punishing.
I implore you, stop thinking of your body as a problem to solve or an area to fix. Identify one way you can challenge the notion that altering your body will lead to happiness. Recognize and grieve the way you have been made to feel like you need to be changed. Invest in who you are so that you may connect with yourself and with others—and so that you may breathe the liberation of knowing that you need not be fixed.
Temimah Zucker, LCSW, works with individuals ages 18 and older in New York and New Jersey who are struggling with mental health concerns, and specializes in working with those looking to heal their relationships between their bodies and souls. Temimah is an adjunct professor at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, an advocate and public speaker concerning eating disorder awareness and a Metro-New York supervisor at Monte Nido. To learn more or to reach her, please visit www.temimah.com