The Washington Post recently published an article about Taryn Brumfitt, the filmmaker behind Embrace, the documentary that I am SO excited to be screening on March 8th. In the article, Taryn speaks to the criticism she has received for promoting a healthy body image that does not specifically include dieting or exercise. Critics say that she is promoting obesity or accepting an unhealthy weight that could lead to health problems. The article responds to that idea by saying, “Research has shown that body shaming can lead to worse health long term. In one study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine in July 2015, women with poor body image reported higher incidents of physical health symptoms such as headaches and nausea. Another study found that women who were self-critical and felt depressed about their bodies were more likely to binge eat.”
I was tagged on Facebook by a friend on this article, and what struck me, before even clicking the link, was how the comments were varied. Many of them were supportive of Taryn’s cause, talking about how wonderful it is that she is promoting the idea of loving your body no matter what. But many comments spoke to the notion of “being okay with obesity”, and some women were self-deprecating, saying how they couldn’t love their body unless they were in shape.
I want to address the first negative type of response, which is the notion that embracing your body no matter the type means that you are embracing obesity or accepting health issues related to weight. My first instinct when I read a comment like that is that the author is dealing with their own insecurities and feels the need to judge others. My next thought is precisely what The Washington Post stated, that having an unhealthy body image generally does more damage than being physically active and at a healthy weight while hating yourself. While the notions of being physically healthy and embracing yourself are in no way mutually exclusive, they require separate forms of work. To work on yourself physically you need to become more active and change your eating habits, but to embrace yourself, you need to do a lot of soul searching and stop thinking of yourself in a negative way. While it’s true that you can lose weight and end up liking yourself more, it is less likely that all your body issues just disappear when you see that magic number on the scale. What tends to happen more often is that when you begin loving your body as it is, you might make healthier choices because you are taking pride in nourishing yourself and seeing how much stronger you can become. And even if you don’t end up changing a single physical habit, just the fact that you feel better about yourself will do more for your general sense of happiness than if you were chiseled but inside you called yourself names and were never satisfied.
Which ties into the second negative response to this article, which were the self-deprecating comments made about the readers’ own bodies. “I love myself when I’m in shape”. Putting these conditions on yourself means that you will never win. Because once you lose the 30 pounds or see the abs start to show, you will always need to maintain that standard you set for yourself. Your six pack won’t just show up and stay there on its own, you need to continue working out to maintain it. What if you go on vacation or break your leg, and so your normal workout routine is halted for a few weeks or months? Then your abs won’t look as cut and if you don’t have a healthy body image and your only reason for embracing your body is because of those abs, won’t you start slipping back into negative self-talk? You could be in danger of blaming yourself for not looking the way you think that you should, even if the circumstances surrounding your hiatus were not in your hands.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have goals for your body, or that you shouldn’t desire to be in shape. I’d be a hypocrite if I said that people should never work out to look a certain way. However, if you don’t do the mental and emotional work and only do the physical, you are in danger of leaving a huge hole in your self-worth that could get deeper and deeper the higher you raise the bar for yourself. So, to those women who put those conditions on their bodies, I challenge you (and me) with this:
What if I talked to myself the way my best friends talk to me? What if I loved my body unconditionally, like I love my children’s bodies? What if I replaced every negative comment about myself with something positive?
Let’s all try it together. We can keep each other accountable for the moments we slip back into bad habits.
And to those who say that Taryn and women like her are promoting an unhealthy body, I encourage you to look at why you think that. And then ask yourself if anyone is truly promoting obesity or are they simply trying to encourage women to stop hating themselves?
If you’d like to see Embrace and you aren’t able to make our screening, you can download it here.
*I am a Body Image Movement Global Ambassador. That means that I work to promote the cause of the BIM, which is to encourage women to develop a healthy body image and embrace who they are without condition. I am not paid or required to write or post anything, but I am passionate about the movement and so I am creating content on my own that supports their cause.
Take care of yourself,