I am halfway through yoga practice, and my quads are screaming louder than toddlers on an airplane. The yoga instructor, despite being surrounded by dozens of furious students in varying levels of physical pain, cheers us on with the enthusiasm that only a true hippie could muster. “Just a few more breaths!” she exclaims. “Remember to thank your bodies for being so strong!”
Thank your body. The phrase startles me. When is the last time that I felt legitimately grateful to inhabit this particular collection of bones and muscles and tendons?
We live in a highly visual society. Every day, we are bombarded with photographs, drawings and videos meant to inspire us to act—to make purchases, take vacations, exercise more, eat better, eat worse, drink Coca-Cola.
And more often than not, our eyes are assaulted with pictures of people. Beautiful people. These are the people that we should aspire to resemble, whose qualities we should attempt to emulate.
But as a result of the omnipresence of visual representations of other people’s bodies, we have begun to view bodies as separate from the people to whom they belong. These bodies no longer have personalities, lives, secrets, insecurities or dreams. They are simply physical entities whose beautiful qualities inspire us to strive toward new ideals for our own appearances.
We are allowed to talk about people’s bodies just like any other objects. The most common targets of our collective commentary are celebrity bodies:
“Jennifer Lawrence really rocks her curves.”
“I wish I had an ass like Nicki Minaj.”
“Taylor Swift is way too skinny.”
But it doesn’t stop there. We also feel entitled to comment on the bodies of other people in our lives. I know that I am certainly guilty of making judgments about other people, whether consciously or not, and then choosing to share those judgments with my friends:
“She has such a long torso.”
“Her quads are so muscular. I bet she plays rugby.”
We also go so far as to make comments about one another directly: “Your butt looks so great lately. Have you been squatting?” or “You look so skinny this week!”
But recently I have begun to wonder where this urge to engage in these kinds of discussions comes from. Why do we feel it necessary to comment on other people’s bodies? When did we begin to feel as though we are somehow entitled to make judgments about the way that other people look? Who gives us that permission?
I have never met anyone who is 100% happy with their appearance all the time. If I did, that’s a memory I’m gonna just keep on repressing. And as someone who has struggled with my own body confidence, I can say from experience that there is nothing more triggering than someone telling me how they think I look.
It doesn’t matter what it is. Anything from “You look so skinny!” to “Have you gained weight?” can send me spiraling into a dangerous cycle of dieting, exercising, or binge-eating. It’s troubling that even complete strangers possess that kind of power over my behavior, and yet remain completely unaware of their potential to cause harm.
I believe that, on the whole, people are getting more conscientious about what they say to one another. I have read plenty of articles about the dangers of fat-shaming and skinny-shaming. But I think we need to take it one step further.
I do not believe that we should be talking about one another’s bodies as if they are pieces of furniture, or articles of clothing or even works of art. There is only so much we can do to alter our appearance, and for some people, focusing on visual, physical aspects of themselves can be immensely troubling.
Instead, let’s focus on what our bodies can do. Let’s talk about how strong we are, how far we can run, how cozy our hugs are and how awesome we are in bed. Our bodies are incredible. And unless that’s what you want to talk about, let’s not talk about it at all. We’ll be a whole lot healthier because of it.