Forging Alliance with Your Body

Photo from The Full Body Project
Forge an Alliance with The Skin You’re In
Candice Schutter - theMessenger, January 2009

*[Wo]man is the sole animal whose nudity offends her own companions, and the only one who, in her natural actions, withdraws and hides herself from her own kind.
- Montaigne

Tis' the season of new year's resolutions. Did you expect to see a different kind of picture? Take a minute to really look at the photo above. What comes to mind as you view these full-figured women in all their glory?
When I was in college studying for my BA in Psychology and Human Development, one class that rocked my world was entitled: Prejudice and Stigma. My dynamic professor,
Chris Crandall, is still at it. He has been studying prejudice for decades. Specifically, he is an expert on the topic of weight-related prejudice. I vividly remember the day when he revealed to us what I considered staggering statistical findings. He and his colleagues found that:  The parents of obese children were significantly less likely to pay to send them to college. The familial weight-dependent prejudice displayed towards female children was much higher than that of boys. And that perhaps the most painful aspect of the stigma of "fat" in all age groups - what set this stigma apart from other demographics - was that even people of the same size and shape were reportedly prejudiced toward one another. In essence, antipathy towards fat people is pervasive and culturally reinforced, even within the family and social circles.

The picture gallery referenced above intrigues me for the way in which it challenges me to think. Did you notice any culturally inherited prejudices in your perception of these ladies? These are women who dance in naked defiance of the cultural spell many of us are under. First, they bask in the glow of self-acceptance without sucking it in or reliance on airbrushing. That is inspiration enough. Yet they take it a step further. They blatantly dare you to face your judgments, your assumptions, and your willingness to accept beauty in all its variations. They dare to flaunt their abundant curves, usually kept hidden. They reach to one another for the courage it takes to be seen...a collective band of body-blazing pioneers. They are heros in their own right.

Over fifteen years after Dr. Crandall's initial findings, I can honestly say that I don't know one woman - of any shape or size - who is immune from the terrifying stigma of "fat" on some level. Again and again, I am surprised to learn that even the most slender, dynamic, and powerful women are fighting against their bodies. It's the same story in variant forms...25-year old women "feeling fat" while wearing everything from size two to size twenty, 35-45 year old women confused that they are no longer shaped like a teen model, and women 50+ years young who quite literally ban themselves from the pleasure of a bathing suit for life due to the pain of body-loathing. It's our best kept secret - this emotional sickness among women. We only allude to the symptoms of it, as our helplessness keeps us from diving too deep.

On my own journey, I have certainly braved the seas of change from adolesence into womanhood. Even my youth and interest in movement didn't keep me immune. I look back on photos of me athletic, thin, and in my “physical prime.” I feel a mixture of awe and utter sadness that I feared and "felt fat" even then! Now as I step into another transformative season of life, I peel back the layers on more negative beliefs and self-judgments as my body is changing. When will I truly feel total body acceptance?

If, like me, you have an intention for greater health and self-care in 2009, I fully support your mission. Yet I have discovered time and time again that intentions driven by the desperation of body-loathing are not a healthy prescription for change. True motivation comes from a heartfelt desire for a more fulfilling life, not a smaller dress size. And fitness is about so much more than a number on a scale.

In 2008, I took a break from dancing and most forms of fitness. This time-out was prompted by my body's cries for a hiatus from over seven years of pretty much continual dynamic movement. During that time the prescription for my wellness was stillness. Over the course of my time off, I gained nearly 20 lbs along with the weight of some new leisurely habits. Nevertheless, I was inventing new ways to be healthy and whole. And, I was invited to love my body anew - an ever-developing woman existing amidst a more curvaceous landscape.

I recently started dancing the integration completed its cycle, my spirit began to stir once again. I thought it would surely take a few months to feel the power of fitness and movement as I once had. What I discovered after only 1 week of movement was glorious! No, not that I had lost a bunch of weight or that I had rock-hard abs. I discovered that I immediately felt alive again...that sweat is an elixir of bliss when delivering the spirit within...and that to move is to breathe life forward. All of these are indicators of true fitness. To express my spirit through the flesh, at any age and cycle of life, that is wellness realized.

Lightness can be felt at any size. Beauty can be activated in a deep cleansing breath or in a simple movement of the hips. And fitness is an aliveness that can only be measured from within.

Ladies, I know I am not alone in my journey to change the way I think about my body and fitness. Yet, instead of turning to one another for support, we turn to our mirrors in shame. We turn to fad diets...we turn to deprivation and isolation...we turn to creams to hide our cellulite...and unfortunately, we turn on one another through subtle energetics that feed our pain and disconnection.

As with all mentalities we outgrow as a species, this cultural madness must be brought to light and shed. In 2009, like the women pictured above, let's create an alliance to accept one another in the ways in which we would like to be accepted. I propose that we band together to step out of the darkness and into the light and brilliance that comes from navigating our fears. Let's stop turning our back on one another and let's find fitness, pleasure, and self-acceptance somewhere other than in our reflections and dress sizes.

If you feel so inspired, I invite you to join me in the following New Year's Resolution:

• I will do my best to accept and find beauty in my body, as it is - giving myself at least one physical complement per day.

• I will send a message of body-based appreciation and admiration to at least one woman per day (via a heartfelt complement, through thought or word).

• I will readjust my thinking in order to incorporate a new definition of fitness - one where feeling radiant and powerful is more important than feeling thin. I will seek opportunities to express my radiance through my body in 2009!

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