May 30, 2024
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Why You Never Have to ‘Earn Your Body’

I was recently browsing through one of my social media accounts when an ad popped up on my news feed. It read: “Earn Your Body.” The small blurb advertised a local gym with a photo of a toned and fit woman smiling for the camera. While the ad was one of many on my account, it struck me.

Many of us have social media accounts. Those who don’t most likely subscribe to some sort of newspaper or news source. Oftentimes, especially during the summer season, these media are laden with images of men and women who presumably “got fit” just in time for bikini season. Yesterday I was traveling on the New York City subway when I couldn’t help but notice an ad featuring a woman directly across from me. She was bikini clad with a serious expression, almost challenging potential consumers to use the diet regimen and protein shakes that her photo was meant to offer. I also noticed the botched-up Photoshop that was used on her image and the way her arms, while looking toned, were abnormally angled—a result of poor imagery retouching.

The images that we receive about the “ideal body” play on many insecurities within individuals. Yes, it can be important to exercise. For health, fitness and perhaps even healthy weight loss. However, these ads tend to play on an individual’s insecurities. Can an ad cause disordered eating or an eating disorder? Probably not. An eating disorder is multifaceted and complicated and can generally be linked to multiple combining factors creating the “perfect storm.” Still, these ads do not generally help.

We are surrounded by false imagery, reminded that on some level we should always be striving to be something else. When I struggled with anorexia I constantly made little promises to myself. “Once I reach this weight, it’ll be enough and I can stop.” But this was never true. Because I was not practicing self-acceptance. The process of recovery taught me that I would always be able to find a flaw; something wasn’t toned enough, I wasn’t at the right weight. Rather than focus on the flaws I learned to take care of myself. I learned to treat my body well, and to accept my flaws and focus more on my character and ways that I could be proud of myself and progress toward a healthy and positive goal.

The ad mentioned above struck me more than some of the other advertisements I have seen. “Earn Your Body” implies that a given individual is not deserving. The body is what the outside world may see. And yet, this should not be the basis for judgment, whether it be self-judgment or judgment from others. We live in a world of comparisons. Many of us do not look in the mirror and think of our qualities, or even think realistically. Rather, we notice those things that make us feel insecure. Sometimes we think “today I look good” which translates into “today I feel good about myself.” But is it really ourselves we feel good about? Is the body the basis for whether or not we should feel good about who we are?

One does not need to earn one’s body. The body houses the soul. The body protects and surrounds our souls, our morals, our interests, our hobbies, our challenges, our histories and our dreams. Yes, it can feel lovely to dress ourselves up. Feeling good about one’s body is not a crime; it can be wonderful.

But let us remember what the body really is. Above all, it does not need to be earned. It should be celebrated and appreciated and valued for its function and the things it allows us to do and accomplish.

By Temimah Zucker, MSW

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