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Erin Stewart: Loving our imperfect bodies

Erin Stewart observes that women often hide under the guise of "health" to shame ourselves about the things we hate about our bodies.
Erin Stewart observes that women often hide under the guise of "health" to shame ourselves about the things we hate about our bodies.

When’s the last time you had a bad thought about your body?

Maybe about the weight you want to lose? The stretch marks on your stomach? Or the underarm flab that threatens to send you airborne when you wave?

If you’re like most women, you have these thoughts constantly. I’m too fat. I’m too thin. I’m too old. I’m too something not quite right. We think about our bodies when we get naked before a shower, when we stand on the scale at night, when we eat food we’ve told ourselves we “shouldn’t” be having. We talk about our bodies with other women — comparing, complaining, commiserating.

In short, we think about our bodies a lot. More specially, we think about what we hate about our bodies.

That’s why I loved a piece in The New York Times this week by Jessica Knoll titled "Smash the wellness industry," who says women have become victims of the lie of the “wellness” industry that thin equals healthy. And because of that myth, women find themselves in a near-constant state of talking/thinking/obsessing all the ways our bodies fall short, all under the guise of seeking better health.

I’ll be the first to admit it, I do this all the time. I set food limits for myself. I set exercise goals. I use apps to help me track my calories. I say (and often believe) it’s because I want to be healthy (because of course I do!), but deep down, at the core of most of these decisions is the fact that I want my body to look like the body I want (and am told I should have).

Knoll concludes with the idea that pursuing health doesn’t have to mean hating our bodies. She writes, “Most days, I feel good in my skin,” she writes. “That said, I’m probably never going to love my body. … We don’t have to love our bodies to respect them.”

I think it’s a shame that women often reach this conclusion: I don’t hate my body, but I don’t love it either. Why not? Why don’t we love our bodies, with all their sags and scars and cellulite?

Does something have to be perfect to be loved? As a mother, I love my children, not because they are perfect or brilliant, but because they are mine. Because they are a gift.

My body is the same. It is mine, given to me to watch over and to care for. And while that means I definitely should be fueling it well and exercising it often, it doesn’t mean I can’t love it with all its imperfections. I tell my children I will love them no matter what. So why would I turn around and deny my body that same kind of unconditional love?

I don’t have to hate my body (and my extension, myself) as I am working towards optimal health. Striving for physical wellness or better eating habits doesn’t have to become synonymous with shame. We don’t have to shame ourselves — scold ourselves — simply because we fall short of some ideal we’re told we need to be.

I, for one, am tired of being ashamed. And with two daughters in my home, watching me step on that scale, hearing me say “I shouldn’t have eaten that” or talk negatively about my body, I think it’s time for a little less shame and a little more love of my body. Not because it’s perfect, but because it’s mine.

And when I look at my girls, I hope they grow up feeling nothing but love for their bodies, no matter the size, shape or scars that come with it.