I remember walking down the hallway of my ever supportive elementary school, talking and laughing with one of my best friends, doing what fourth or fifth graders do. But, as I recall this memory, vividly replay the scenario in my mind, I don’t recall something that fourth or fifth graders should be doing, what anyone should be doing, for that matter. The situation went like this: One of my best friends and I were pitter pattering down the hallway back to class from the lunchroom, as I look at her and say, “you know…whenever I’m around boys, I suck my stomach in”
Yes, I know…I can’t believe ten-year-old me said that, either. But, the thing was, she agreed with me, too – we reconciled in the fact that we shared this secret with each other, we were comforted in the fact that we weren’t the only ones who felt the need to do so – but, why did we feel the need to do so?
This isn’t the only cringe-worthy, questionable scenario I remember about my childhood body-image. I remember genuinely asking my parents if I was fat, more than once. Elementary school me, worrying if I was fat – not questioning the mindset, not questioning my logic, but being genuinely concerned about my body image, about how others viewed my body. Looking back at this, it makes me worried, makes me hope that young people aren’t doing the same exact thing now, that I was doing then. I worry that middle schoolers are trying to “diet” and “smoothie cleanse,” for weight loss, all while telling their parents they’re trying to get “healthier,” just as I did. I wonder how many young people are genuinely trying to convince themselves that health is determined by weight, or body shape. I wonder how many young people everywhere are being convinced that health is determined by weight and body shape.
At this point, I think many citizens, worldwide, with ready access to media and advertisements are able to critically think about what they’re seeing, and why certain advertisements are targeted towards them; but, I wonder if we genuinely know how much advertisements, depiction of body image, obscure definitions of health in the media, and portrayal of body image in the media influence our everyday lives. This obsession with how we look, and how we think we need to look to be liked, attractive, and valuable as a person – this is what needs to change. There is absolutely nothing about the way you look that will make someone who loves and cares for you as a person, that will make them love or care about you any more, or any less. Think about the people who you love and care for – it’s not because of their physical appearance, it’s because of them: their sense of humor, their caring personality, the way they always tell you the truth – it’s because of their personality, you care for them because of who they are, not how they look. This is the mentality we need to be grasping onto, teaching ourselves and living in this knowledge, so that elementary schoolers, like me, aren’t worrying about “sucking in their stomach” around boys.
As we focus on how we look, and only set goals for physical and aesthetic purposes, without asking ourselves if we’re trying to get there in a healthy, attainable way, we disregard what our bodies thrive on: health. Our bodies fight for us every single day, and disregarding our internal and emotional health , being coerced with external influences influencing our body-image, it takes a toll on what we should be striving for: true, genuine, health. As we are bombarded with influences of many unattainable body image standards, advertisements to get fit, and so, so much more, it’s hard to look at it from this perspective, at first. But, feeling healthy, being healthy, and maintaining overall health is so much more important that looking fit. Not only does body size, shape, or weight have much to do with overall health, but breaking free from the physical aspect, and living a lifestyle in order to fuel your body and mind is what we need to be focusing on – mental and emotional health included.
Although an active lifestyle and healthy diet do have a part in overall health, those two things are nothing compared to what being “healthy” truly means. To everyone, it is subjective, but health is living for yourself: having your best interest in mind. Eating nourishing food, but not feeling guilty for indulging in food that you enjoy. Understanding and training yourself to fuel yourself with your food, to fuel your soul with the activities you enjoy. Health is understanding when you need to push yourself, and when you need to take a break. Health is finding activities and hobbies that you enjoy, in which you love doing them. Health is knowing when you need to ask for help. Health is getting up early and starting your morning bright and early, but sleeping in when you need to. Sometimes health is drinking green smoothies and doing sunrise yoga, and sometimes it’s spending a majority of the day in bed, reading books and watching Netflix. No one can tell you what you need to look like, how you need to live, or what health means to you – that’s your job. Your body is your body, your health and mindset about what that means for you can be reclaimed by you, not anyone else. You are the only one who knows what your body and mind truly need to thrive, do that for you, no one else.
Let’s reclaim what health means. Let’s reclaim what body-image is to us. Let’s continue reclaiming body-positive representation in the media. Let’s continue reclaiming our lives.