Celebrate Girlfriends: Perceptions of the Body

Oscar Women's CheckupsLRGAs a general rule of thumb, I never comment on girl’s bodies, especially when I notice significant changes, unless I know for certain these changes have been made in a healthy way.

My sister, for example, just lost 30 pounds. I can comment on her change, because I watched her eat and work out in healthy ways. She cut bread out of her diet, limited her sugar intake, and began running at least 30 minutes a day. I know for certain that she did this in a healthy way, because I watched it happen, and am proud of her efforts.

So often, we see our friends ‘looking skinnier’, we compliment them, tell them they look great, and that positive reinforcement encourages them to continue their routines. IF our friends are losing weight in ways, such as my sister, then that is great. However, so often, these weight losses come from stress, anxiety, hatred of self, and by reaffirming that they ‘look great’, we are really just telling them the stress, the anxiety, the hatred of self is a perfectly acceptable state to be in.

Being a dancer, I am well-versed in body image issues, and as I get older, I can’t help but notice how those unhealthy schemas dictate so much of how we do business in our adult lives. In sports, such as dance, cheerleading, gymnastics, your bodies are always on display, and because people marvel at your body as ‘art’, and it’s such a competitive atmosphere, you are constantly comparing your body to other girls’ bodies, and always trying to make yourself gain the title of “the tannest”, “the ripest”, “the longest hair”, because gaining those titles makes your existence valid, and potentially gives you an edge to make that team. If you watch professional cheerleader tryouts, there is always one token red head, one Asian, one curly haired-person. And, when you tryout for those teams, naturally, you figure out which slot is open, and change yourself to fit that slot so you have a better chance of making the team.

Although I would never say I had an eating disorder, I for sure presented some unhealthy body perceptions and habits, especially when I was dancing on my college team. When I stopped dancing, my greatest fear was that I would GET FAT, so I attended six yoga classes a week, as well as two weight lifting classes, and did cardio at the gym on the “off” days. It became an obsession, and has definitely taken some time to break. Of course, this is not unique to me; if you talk to any other athlete whose body is on display, they will say the same things. But, through yoga, developing healthy eating habits, and reminding myself that my body is just fine, I have been able to combat some of those dysfunctional tendencies. I recently went downtown with a German, and her response was, “Wow, you Americans wear so much makeup!” It is so true. We try so hard to make ourselves something we are not.

In my adult life, I have to remind myself that the things I do in the short term will influence my long-term self. While not eating may make me seem really skinny right now, I am not giving myself nutrients, and risk developing osteoporosis later on. While tanning might make me feel really beautiful right now, I am speeding up the aging process, and risking skin cancer later on. While drinking alcohol and Netflix binging might seem joyful right now, I am, even if slightly, deterring my liver, and slowing down my metabolism, that inevitably could lead to poor health later on.

I don’t know about you, but I really want to live a long, healthy life. There are too many places in this world I want to go, too many things to learn about, too many people to meet. One of the major motivators for me to work out is that, on the days I do not work out, my joints hurt, my ankles crack, my knees buckle. And, because I know that ‘one day off’ turns into ‘two days off’, which turns into ‘three days’ and eating a bunch of sugar. I want to dedicate myself to taking care of my health (and also my body image) so that I am able to see all of those places, do all of those things, meet all of those people.

(Infographic credit to Oscar; dedicated to health that is human, simple, and smart: Oscar health insurance company)

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