Washboard Abs: I Can’t Stomach It. ~ Lara Patangan

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While at the beach this summer, I indulged in one of my favorite guilty pleasures—reading magazines; only this time I found the contents with their emphasis on losing weight, hard to stomach.

Right on the cover, it teased of a Total Body Plan. At 41, I am still trying to piece together some semblance of a life plan. I had no idea my body needed a plan, too. I wondered if they made special Day Planners for these kinds of plans with separate tabs for each of my limbs.

Under the name of the celebrity on the cover was another teaser Her Body & Career. While the career seemed valid enough, I couldn’t help but think it was just tacked on as extra appendage to what was really being showcased—her body.

Also on the cover, there was the question that has undoubtedly been asked since the time of great philosophers such as Aristotle and Aquinos—how to lose the last 5 pounds?

Finally, in the July issue it would be revealed. And in case you were just a tiny bit skeptical about their claim, right underneath it assured readers they were indeed, for real.

For real?

I didn’t know whether to be angry or just bored. Either way, I am weary of our society’s obsession with weight.

Sitting on the beach I thought about how most of us out there (myself included) were more naked than not, giving me ample opportunity to study the different bodies. Some were sculpted, some sagging, others a combination of both. There were bulges and curves. I saw dimples and D-cups. I saw elderly bodies with lines and patches of gray, and the creaseless bodies of children who seemed oblivious to things like body plans.

And, I decided it really wasn’t that interesting. Any of it.

For real.

What was kind of cool was watching the agility of the surfers as they balanced on their boards; the tenacity of youngsters as they got knocked over by the force of the waves—and not only got back up, but like warriors, ran straight into the waves again undaunted by their tumble; the people riding bikes catching up with friends or taking leisurely strolls enjoying the solitude as much as the surf; and the uber-athletes running sprints in the soft sand to train for their next race.

I marveled at all the human bodies. Not what they looked like, but what they could do and knew that there bodies are vessels by which they experience the world.

After all, the things they allow us to do are phenomenal.

Still, it’s weird to think how our bodies become ways to define ourselves instead of simply the vehicle we use to define the world with our unique gifts.

For me, the cover of that magazine is just another reminder that most of us don’t get that things from this world will pass away.

Yes, even the last 5-pounds.

God doesn’t care if my abs look like a 6-pack or that I just drank a 6-pack. He really doesn’t.

He does care that I love my neighbor—even if I really don’t want to. He cares that I allowed my body to stretch beyond the size of a giant beach ball to experience the miracle of life. He cares that I teach the lives I brought into the world to live a life according to His plan.

I don’t think washboard abs were on his mind when he died on the cross to wash away the inequities of sin.

And so I don’t sound like a Pharisee, let me be clear—I have been as guilty of this kind of vanity as anyone else. While I have always been thin, I have never been perfect physically or otherwise. I have obsessed over my imperfections.

I don’t know the totality of time wasted by humanity striving to weigh less so they can feel like their value is more. Nor can I fathom the dollars spent on this endeavor to conform our unique selves to the selves of a select few.

But it has all become tiresome to me, and for that I am grateful.

Eating healthy, exercising and otherwise respecting and caring for our bodies is to honor God. If in the process, we end up with 6-pack of abs, so be it. But Body Plans and articles on how to get a better-looking bum seem to make people feel bad not better.

Later that same evening, I was on the beach watching my kids play with their young cousins. I once again marveled at not only the magnitude of the ocean, which never tries to shirk from its wide girth, but the many people on the shore. Regardless of age or imperfections they seemed too enchanted with the sea to do anything other than feel happy.

It made me think of the cover of that magazine again and how it offered not only the answer to that timeless quest to lose the last 5 pounds, but 137 ways to feel happy all summer.

For real, 137 ways!

I watched my nephew, who is almost 2 years old, run with abandon, determination and wonderment right by this elderly woman, who was brown, wrinkled and worn. She was relying on her walker to navigate herself through the sand. As my nephew precariously balanced to stay upright while racing along, she did the same on her walker—all the while holding tight to the handle of her kite that swayed effortlessly above them.

With the gentleness of the wind and in their own unique way, they both flew.

So now I had reason 138 to be happy: no body plan would have ever strived for a moment so flawless—a moment that had nothing to do with looking perfect but everything to do with being beautiful.

And it was for real my dear friends.

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Lara Patangan

Lara Patangan is a freelance writer in Jacksonville, Florida. She also blogs at Mercyme40.wordpress.com, a site she started on her 40th birthday to chronicle her experiences spending the year doing corporal and spiritual works of mercy. No longer on the cusp of new decade, she finds that much work remains—in the world, her community, her relationship with God and perhaps most challenging, within herself. She is not ashamed that this work has nothing at all to do with her abs.

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anonymous Oct 1, 2014 8:17am

I truly loved this article and I am so glad to know that there are others who appreciate the human body for its abilities and its innate beauty. I am also glad to see someone so poignantly point out the beauty of taking in a moment and truly treasuring the now. Thank you for your perspective and for sharing it with the world. Great Read!!!

    anonymous Oct 1, 2014 2:37pm

    Thank you Laura. I appreciate you taking the time to share. Like most women in our society it's easy to believe the fallacy that looks are ever important – and nothing seems to dictate that more than having the "perfect" body. While I believe in eating healthy and exercising nothing compares to a perfect moment with friends, family or even a moment of solitude sitting with my cat!

anonymous Aug 20, 2014 6:50am

Great article, Lara! Thank you for sharing and for being so vulnerable to your readers 🙂

anonymous Aug 19, 2014 10:46am

Yes, great article. There are so many other things to work on instead of your stomach like being content, kind, patient, loving, etc. – the things that really matter.

    anonymous Aug 19, 2014 8:33pm

    Thank you, Alexa! You are right, but I think maybe what is key is to work on those things within ourselves. We are taught to be kind, patient and loving to others but often, we don't do any of those things for ourselves. If we did, I think we would be more appreciative of what our bodies allow for us instead of scrutinizing its perceived failures.

anonymous Aug 19, 2014 7:02am

Wonderful article, amazing viewpoint. Being thin is highly overrated (I can tell you this from experience!) What is truly fulfilling is completeness in your heart. I love your style of writing, everything comes full circle. Just like life, as you so beautifully pointed out. We need to remind ourselves regularly how important it is to see the big picture and not to scrutinize ourselves, or our tummies!

    anonymous Aug 19, 2014 8:28pm

    Thank you, Molly. I like that you write "Being thin is highly overrated." In life, we either feel like we are good enough; that we matter or we don't. And I guess this can depend on the day – I know for me, that is true regardless of my weight. I was afraid to write the article because I am thin and thought people who knew me would make comments like "easy for you to say." But trust me, it was not easy for me to say- but being thin has never compared to the joy I felt being with friends, or the peace I feel walking on the beach with my family. To borrow your beautiful words, that is what completes my heart. For real!

anonymous Aug 18, 2014 3:43pm

You guys discovered a hidden gem in Lara. Great blogger!

    anonymous Aug 18, 2014 6:50pm

    Thank you, Norm! You are ever generous!

anonymous Aug 18, 2014 9:18am

Love the attention to everyday beauty and moments. We just have to open our eyes and its there!! Oh, and I agree, after 42 years on my end – those magazines get awfully boring……but, nonetheless, I still would like to know the secret to getting rid of the last five pounds 🙂

    anonymous Aug 18, 2014 11:09am

    They do get boring! I don't think that even the most disciplined among us are going to commit to some of those exercise routines/body plans and maybe it's because when we have we never looked like the model in the picture!

    Better to eat and exercise in moderation and find joy in all that your body allows you to experience – even with those last five pounds!