In her 1978 classic Fat is a Feminist Issue, Susie Orbach argued against the pain and suffering women put themselves through in order to conform to the culturally-defined dictates about how the female body should look.
And in her 2007 book Bodies, she returned to the topic, arguing that this problem is now more all-pervasive than ever.
The preoccupation we have with our bodies today – which manifests in dieting and gym memberships and also in eating disorders and surgical procedures – is a very troubling collective neurosis, she points out, and one which now affects not only women but ever-increasing numbers of men, too.
As she wrote in Bodies, “Those who had previously paid little heed to fashion or health now find themselves caught up in attempts to make the best of themselves and to take responsibility for their health and wellbeing. The individual is now deemed accountable for his or her body.”
But hold on… Taking responsibility for your own health and wellbeing and being accountable for your own body – are these actually bad things??!!
No, they are not – far from it.
That our collective preoccupation with weight and body image is higher than it has ever been is not in doubt. Nor is the fact that this preoccupation can cause a great deal of suffering. But the root of the problem is not that people long for and strive to have beautiful bodies.
Because that is a natural yearning.
Our bodies are supposed to be beautiful!
Just look at any small child, or at anyone who is living a natural lifestyle.
I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say that the human body that is healthy on the inside is on the outside nature’s most beautiful work of art.
We come in many different shapes and sizes. Tall. Short. Slim. Curvy. And everything in between.
We all have a weight that is healthy and being a great deal under or over that doesn’t only not look good; it doesn’t feel good either.
To my mind the problem is not that we are preoccupied with staying “in shape”.
It is that if we eat the standard diet, that is such a time-consuming, stressful and, in many cases, expensive preoccupation.
And that is largely because eating the standard diet and having a beautiful body are two things that are almost impossible to achieve simultaneously. Only the genetically blessed manage it (and managing it does not mean that there isn’t silent damage happening on the inside).
The standard diet is centred around cheap refined foods that give us plenty of calories but little in the way of nutrition – many of which are also highly addictive, so the more we eat, the more we crave.
If you are genetically blessed you may be able to pull off eating in this way but looking like you don’t until you’re 10 or 20 or, if you’re really lucky, even 30 or 40.
If you are less lucky, the effects may have started showing up on your body before you learned to tie your own shoelaces.
Men have an easier time of it than women because they don’t store fat as easily.
We’ve all heard the stories of the girls and women who exist on a few squares of chocolate a day washed down with black coffee. We’ve all read about the female celebrities spotted ordering salad and then pushing the leaves around the plate rather than eating them.
I don’t think I have ever met a woman who hasn’t spent a lot of time struggling to reconcile her desired body with her desired food intake.
To attempt to do this on a standard diet is to fight a losing battle, as you can’t have both.
Your choices are either give in and have a “standard diet” body, or strictly ration the amount of food that passes your lips and wage a constant battle against hunger and cravings.
And neither of those is a light, joyful way to go through life.
As Susie Orbach put it in Bodies, “A constant fretfulness and vigilance take hold from the moment they wake until the time they fall asleep. Millions, literally millions, struggle on a daily basis against troubled and shaming feelings about the way their bodies appear.”
The only healthy way out of this cycle of fear and loathing?
Give your body the chance to effortlessly reach and stay at its ideal weight by feeding it the foods it was designed for – i.e. natural, whole foods.
Modern, processed foods upset body and brain chemistry, set off cravings and cause weight gain.
Ditch them in favour of whole, natural, unprocessed foods (think vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds and plus any meat and fish you choose to eat) and you will not only easily shed any excess weight.
You will also be able to ditch the dieting and disordered eating.
Real food: the secret to having a beautiful body without ever going hungry.
All of us come to earth with a vehicle to travel in.
We get only one.
We can’t trade it in for another if it breaks down.
We can only take care of the one we were given.
The health of our body has a massive day-to-day impact on our enjoyment or otherwise of life – one that goes way beyond “looking good”, either in our own eyes, or in the eyes of others.
That said, if our body is something we wish to hide at all costs rather than reveal, when appropriate, that is a tragedy indeed.
Because our bodies are supposed to be beautiful.