We are being told frequently that obesity is getting out of had around the world. Television news run segments trying to scare us into slimming down, complete with close ups of hefty bodies walking down busy shopping strips. We're enormous and it's killing us.
At the same, time the weight-loss industry is making a killing as we all seek to have a beautiful body. Magazines promise to help us drop 5kg in some unattainable time frame and the latest superfood promises to 'speed your metabolism' so that your gut, wobbly thighs or slightly too-large bottom vanish overnight.
Never before have we been offered so many ways to be slim and therefore healthy. With the constant scare tactics about obesity a daily reminder of how we're killing ourselves with our sedentary lifestyles and love of energy-rich, nutrient-poor food, we're buying into anything and everything that will give us the body we desire. We associate slim and gym-honed bodies that flood Instagram with a ideal that we must reach to avoid being one of the people presented in the news clip walking down the street as a ticking time bomb. It's everywhere and it's exhausting.
I have always struggled with marrying the two concepts of weight loss and body acceptance.
At the same time, while we're being told to be concerned about the effect our lifestyle choices have on our health, we're also battling with accepting our bodies. The western beauty ideal still very much favours a slim body, with women supposed to have a pert, round bottom and slim waist, but ample breasts, and be a size eight or below. The men don't get off any easier with a six pack and broad shoulders just as desirable and evidence of a flawless diet and utter devotion to hours in the gym. If you don't fit this ideal, you're trying to work how to get it and that comes with a incredible amount of shame and self-deprivation for not looking like you're supposed to.
Even just writing that, I am exhausted.
I finally watched the documentary 'Embrace' by Adelaide mum, photographer and crusader Taryn Brumfitt. She went viral a few years ago when it dawned on her that her hatred of her body was not only making her miserable, it was setting a bad example for her daughter. She had previously realised that actually, despite having "nipples the size of dinner plates", her body was amazing. It gave birth to and fed three children, it runs marathons, it rides bikes and it is her home. The documentary is an incredible look at the incredible amount of pressure we place on ourselves to look a certain way and equate that with health, beauty and happiness.
I have always struggled with marrying the two concepts of weight loss and body acceptance. I spend my days with the consequences of obesity; dodgy hearts, sore knees and people for whom a simple walk around the supermarket is a big ask. I also spend my days with the consequences of the cultivated hatred for my body that I've been conditioned to have. It is supposed to motivate me to eat less, be thinner and hide anything that may be considered a flaw.
When I watched Embrace, it finally dawned on me how the body positivity and healthy body movement fit together. How on earth are we expected to treat our bodies as special and make them healthy not just hot if we're constantly being told how rubbish they are?
I've long had a problem with the way we motivate people to participate in healthy behaviours such as healthy eating and exercise. The motivation we are sold for losing weight is not about a healthy weight, a normal blood pressure or the ability to play with the kids. It's the picture of the man who has lost 30kg standing inside his old jeans that would now house two of him. It's the 'Bikini Body'. It's how may laps of the pool it will take to burn off the fries. It's about beauty and it's about punishment.
Brumfitt wants us to love our bodies and I agree wholeheartedly.
Once we stop cultivating hate for our bodies, we can stop torturing them. Once we stop starving them and punishing them with workouts meant for Navy SEALS, then we can cultivate a life that staves off obesity. When we celebrate the fact that a body gave birth, built a house, went for a surf, stood up all day at work, walked over the hill to see a sunrise or slept soundly, we might be more likely to fuel it properly.
Once we stop cultivating hate for our bodies, we can stop torturing them.
We won't starve ourselves all week only to binge on fast food on the weekend. We won't run so far to eradicate the evidence of a dietary mishap that we can't take the stairs at work. When we look in the mirror, we will be proud of what we have done and how healthy we are rather than how we wish we had Miranda Kerr's thighs and how inadequate we are for not fitting that standard of beauty.
Obesity and diseases related to excess are now more common around the world than diseases related to dietary deficiencies. And they're growing year by year. So perhaps what we're doing is not working. Hating ourselves into slimming down is not the answer. Loving and caring for our bodies into health and happiness is surely better than drowning in shame to get in shape.
Eat food that you enjoy and nourishes your mind and soul and exercise because it makes you feel good, not because you have to fit into a dress or a pair of jeans. Love your body and treat it like it is special because I can promise you, even if you don't look like a Victoria's Secret angel or a CrossFit superstar, it is amazing in every way.
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