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January 22, 2015

I May Not Have the Body I Want, But I Have the Body I Need.

William_Merritt_Chase_(1849_-_1916)_Young_Woman_Before_a_Mirror

I always feel shamefully less than brilliant when I write about this same old subject—the body. My body.

I mean really, writing about my physical self is the antithesis of intellectualism, the realm in which I prefer to reside. But no matter where I go, there it is. My flesh. My bones. And not one day passes that this flesh and these bones are not in some way dictating, entirely independent of my higher faculties, the quality and substance of me.

What if I had a “perfect” body. What would that even mean? Would I be 5’9″, lean but curvy, strong but “feminine”? Would I be perpetually 24 years old, have long straight hair without laboring over it with a hair dryer and endless products, flawless skin, piercing blue eyes and a precisely symmetrical face? And if I was these things, would I still be me?

Not even close. And really, even if I could wave a magic wand and be given all these things, would I choose them if it meant I had to relinquish the person that I am, that I have become, that I am becoming? Absolutely not.

So that leaves me right where I am, where I have always been—smack dab in the middle of my meat coated skeleton trying to make sense of things.

Of my many physical obsessions, I’d say a preoccupation with my weight has been the most constant torment in my life. From the time I was old enough to realize I was shopping in the plus size section at Sears, I knew I had the wrong dimensions.

But let’s say that wasn’t the case. Here is an incomplete list of the things I don’t believe I would have done or learned had I been given the body of a Barbie rather than that of a plain old girl.

1. How to eat healthfully and compassionately.

Really, I just don’t think I would’ve been motivated. Though the way I eat reflects deep spiritual principles, it originates in the none-too-lofty desire to be thin. If I could’ve eaten hamburgers and pizza pies and felt and looked great, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have bothered to figure out how to make a green smoothie or where the meat in my hamburgers came from.

I am not proud to admit this, and I’m sure other naturally slim people eat healthfully and compassionately simply because it’s the right thing to do—I know they do—but the origins of my diet are a fear of being fat. And If I hadn’t been spurred on by that fear, I never would have discovered the smell of fresh basil growing in a sunny pot, the feel of wet kale leaves between my fingers, the meditative appeal of chopping onions, the taste of one fresh egg laid by a hen I know, very lightly fried and resting atop a little mound of sticky rice.

This one-time fear has transformed, with time, into one of the great passions of my life, a passion that a different body might have denied me.

2. Yoga

As with eating well, I came to yoga hoping it would make my physical body more beautiful. Had my body been “perfect,” would I ever have bothered to unroll a mat? Doubt it.

And as with eating well, yoga has become a cornerstone of my life—not the physical practice, much of which I can’t do anymore anyway due to a severe back injury (also not what I would have wished for, but another thing which has pushed me in the direction I needed to grow), but the philosophy.

My spiritual practice is a direct result of me being dissatisfied with my body. Ah, the irony.

3. How to be deeply empathetic toward others.

My very humble struggles with body dysmorphia and my vast and ever present array of other imperfections, physical and otherwise, have done more than drain me, scare me and depress me. They have created room in me for the knowledge that everyone is imperfect and afraid. When I know that to be true, I can feel true empathy for them—and sometimes, even for myself.

Imagine what a strange world it would be if we truly believed we were perfect and everyone else was flawed? We call people who do believe that narcissistic and describe them as mentally ill, so isolated are they in their skewed version of reality.

My imperfections connect me to other people—they help me understand them better, they let me laugh with them, they allow me to comfort and be comforted.

These things that I bemoan—all of them—my weight, my age, my injuries, my inability to do math or drive competently on the highway without breaking into a cold sweat—these things are actually my ace in the hole.

Without them, there is no me, and that is the most frightening thought of all.

 

 

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Author: Erica Leibrandt

Editor: Travis May

Photo: Wikipedia

 

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