Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Make Peace with Your Body
Girls in our society are at war with their bodies practically from pre-adolescence. It's been this way for a long, long time. We want to be thinner; we want to have more curves; we check every passing mirror for validation because we think our outer appearance defines our inner value; we battle against physical changes that come from month to month and year to year, furious that our body is not a fixed sculpture in marble but something that ebbs and flows and shifts over time.
Our bodies are inextricably linked with our spirits and our minds. It takes us a long time to understand that connection. The world doesn't help, using that feminine mind-body link to minimize what we think and feel and to justify excluding us.
Our bodies mark the passage of time for us, and we battle that, as if we could somehow stop time, as if we would rather not know where we are in our journey.
There are some wonderful signs of hope for today's girls. There was a time when we didn't even talk to one another about our bodies, so we couldn't help each other understand what was happening to us. That has changed, thanks to some amazing women pioneers, especially during the 1960s and 1970s, who blasted through the cones of silence that surrounded the health issues unique to women. Trailblazing women entered the medical profession and started actually studying the physical differences in women. The book OUR BODIES, OURSELVES revolutionized women's access to information about their own bodies. Today's young women take for granted the incredible knowledge base that now exists, and their own freedom to talk openly about their bodies and to educate themselves.
When Title IX passed, it not only changed the face of women's athletics, it changed the way the world viewed exercise for women. There's still a ton of pressure around exercising to look good and lose weight, but the world of sports and athletics has been thrown open as never before and now, a healthy female body has muscles, and women have access to all sorts of sports and athletics. Not just some women, but all women, as part of our every day lives.
Mind you, when I went shopping for hiking boots just a few years ago, the main shoe stores I visited didn't carry ANY women's hiking boots. I had to buy a pair in a boy's size. This in Portland, Oregon, a hiking town if ever there was one. On the other hand, the girls I teach in elementary school throw themselves into physical exercise with a joy that can only come from inclusion, and from the certainty that this is their right. Sports are no longer seen as something just for jocks and tomboys.
The reason I'm pointing my lens especially at sports and exercise is this: I am making peace with my body because of sports. And I was never an athlete. I was the one no one wanted on their team. I was the one they tried to keep the ball away from because they didn't think I could catch it. So of course I hated sports. Then, in high school, I started biking, on my own, and it felt good. Sadly, at that time, exercise for me was so wrapped up in my obsession with weight and looks that it served as a weapon against my body more often than not. Cut to college, where I dabbled in swimming and ice skating, as long as nobody was looking. Self-consciousness was still such a strong presence. Later, hiking and long walks came into play, allowing for a detente of sorts.
I turned a kind of corner when I was battling depression and learned that exercise was as effective with my level of depression as medication in some patients. I joined the gym. Exercise wasn't a tool for weight loss for me any more. It was a prescription for mental and emotional health.
But it wasn't until I started paddling with a dragon boat team that a true and lasting peace with my body seemed possible. In dragon boats, for those who don't know, a team of 16-20 people (depending on the type of boat) work together to paddle in time with power and speed. It is the essence of team sport. You are surrounded by the supportive energy of your team mates. You CANNOT win unless you work together.
On the dragon boat team, I am surrounded by women of all ages and body types, all strong and powerful and beautiful in their might. We practice 3 times a week. I push myself further than I ever thought I could because of that powerful supportive energy. And my body delivers. It shows me over and over again what it's capable of. That supportive energy has become something I share with my body. I believe in it. I am proud of what it is capable of. I celebrate it. To me, after over 30 years of being at war with my body, this is nothing short of a miracle.
Here's to sports and physical activity. May today's young women find ever more reasons to celebrate their bodies, instead of being at war with them.