What does it mean to love one’s body?
It’s not uncommon for social movements to have some element of body politics, and you will often hear the phrase “Love your body” or “body love.” These phrases, innocuous as they are, have not escaped criticism. Critics of feminism claim that the mentality represented by those commands is that it is shallow and elevates the body above all else. Fat acceptance has heard similar criticism when members publicly speak out about “body love.”
I have my fair share of criticisms of “Love your body” campaigns. There are any number of criticisms you might have about them that are entirely valid. Still, some of the criticisms that I have been seeing are, to put it bluntly, BO-GUS. Christina Hoff-Sommers, someone I would ordinarily respect, epitomizes perfectly all the WRONG reasons to be opposed to body love. So I’m going to pick on her, but it applies to so many more. Here is the link. She is also quoted below. She says:
“Nobody should be that comfortable about anything; you shouldn’t love your body. You should love things that will survive the ravages of time: a passion for eternal things. Get beyond yourself and learn to have a passion for higher things. You’re going to get old and your body is going to betray you; it’s never going to be perfect. You’re never going to be as beautiful as Kate Moss or Gwenyth Paltrow, and it’s childish to try to be. There is always going to be one thing that you don’t like and you focus on, you know, the “I’m not as beautiful, my hair is not as lustrous,” and that’s childish. You should value other higher things: things that help other people. People have a way of enjoying each other and finding love. They think they are entitled to be perfectly happy and comfortable. No you don’t, and you should get over that.”
Let’s break that down, shall we?
CHS: Nobody should be that comfortable about anything; you shouldn’t love your body.
JDW: Uh, why not? Because you said so? After all, I have to live with this body from the day I’m born until the day I die. Why not learn to at least appreciate it?
CHS: You should love things that will survive the ravages of time: a passion for eternal things. Get beyond yourself and learn to have a passion for higher things.
JDW: So few words, so many implications. Where to start?
Did you know that it is, in fact, possible to multi-task? You can love your body, have a passion for higher things, AND serve someone besides yourself. Imagine that!
Number one: How do we define “higher things?”
Fashion and body art express artistic vision and political views. They can express emotion. That is hardly trivial or an obsession with appearance. If you take photos or make portraits, the messages you send might even last forever.:) Your physical body does not need to survive for it to be meaningful.
Use of talent? Check. Potentially meaningful communication and activism? Yes. Something that takes effort and skill? Yes. Something that might even last forever if you take the time to preserve it? Yes.
Number two: Why just the body?
You seem to think that only your body will suffer the ravages of time, or that appearance is the only thing you can be shallow or self-obsessed about. Au contraire.
Money and accomplishments will suffer as your ability to work declines with age or illness, but we don’t tell people to not achieve or take pride in those achievements. Most works of art won’t become classics, and technology becomes obsolete. Does that make them worthless? No. It can be a stepping stone to something else.
People can be shallow and self-obsessed about things besides appearance. It could be possessions, money, education, social status, or perceived cultural awareness. Some people are deeply concerned about their families, a few of their friends, and maybe their neighborhood. They have very little concern about the world as a whole or doing anything substantive to change it. Does that mean we don’t encourage people to have families, degrees, or money because it might cause a bad case of magacephalus?
It really isn’t a simple matter of the superficial vs. the deep. You can take just about anything and take a superficial or a deep approach to it. Even though we generally see career as deep and appearance as superficial, you can be an average, vapid, boring person that runs a business. Or a hugely talented, innovative, and politically motivated fashion designer.
Number Three: There’s more to it.
Body love is about self-respect. You need to engage in SOME level of self-care, or else you will not function. You want to teach girls that it is OKAY to help yourself in a culture where we still expect women to be sweet and selfless 100% of the time. So body love actually is productive in two ways: self-preservation and setting a good example.
Body love is not just about what you look like, but what you can do with your body. Dance and sign language heavily emphasize presentation and use of the body.
Again, it’s not as shallow as CHS seems to want it to be.
CHS: You’re going to get old and your body is going to betray you; it’s never going to be perfect.
JDW: Way to miss the point, sweetie pie.
The whole POINT of body image activism is that your body does not have to be perfect, and that the definition of perfect is subjective and ever-changing.
This means that old people can, in fact, be attractive, with or without your golden seal of approval. Some old people “age well” and look much younger for their age and therefore will fit your definition of attractive for longer. But I suppose in your mind, a day on a calendar is a fashion death sentence that means you can never again look in the mirror and not be disgusted. Got it.
I also have to ask a second time: why just the body? People like to say that your body will betray you, so don’t rely too much on it. My response is, again, so what? My money won’t matter once I die. I will not be as flexible or energetic when I get older as i am now. Does that mean I shouldn’t care about it or do anything with it now?
Maybe if people loved themselves enough to care for their bodies and actually had opportunities to do so, regardless of what type of body they have, they would be healthier, more energetic, look better, and be “younger” for longer. Of course, they would do this for themselves, not for you, but guess what? It’s body love that makes people socially acceptable enough to appear in public. So be careful what you wish for.:)
Your mind might be more stable that your body, but it’s not indestructable. Your mind can betray you too. People suffer mental illnesses, get brain injuries, psychological trauma, and physical illness in the brain. It’s frustrating and sad when your body betrays you. It’s earth-shattering and horrifying when your mind does.
CHS: You’re never going to be as beautiful as Kate Moss or Gwenyth Paltrow, and it’s childish to try to be.
JDW: Wow…remember that Mark Twain quote about it being better to be quiet and look like a fool than to remove all doubt? ‘Foolish’ is too generous a word for this material.
Okay, who decided that Kate Moss and Gwyneth Paltrow are objectively attractive? There is no law of physics that says that these people are models for what attractive is. What about personal taste? Time? Place? Culture?
My next, more salient point is that this statement misses the point in spectacular fasion. NO ONE who promotes body love encourages people to look like Kate Moss. We are trying to CHALLENGE the idea that you need to be like them to be attractive, worthy of self-care, and worthy of appearing in public.
CHS: There is always going to be one thing that you don’t like and you focus on, you know, the “I’m not as beautiful, my hair is not as lustrous,” and that’s childish.
JDW: I don’t know what body image activists you have been talking to, but you obviously have a beef with someone that is NOT me…or anyone else I know. That’s the kind of mentality that we want to challenge.
You know what’s childish? Attacking an idea without understanding it. Or building a straw man just to knock it down?
CHS: You should value other higher things: things that help other people.
JDW: Teaching people with disabilities to dance, which might entail teaching them to see their bodies in a new, positive light? Giving them the confidence to appear in public in a leotard? Teaching them how to care for themselves, train for dance, and accomodate their disability? That sounds like a lofty ambition to me.
Art and theatre? Both very body-oriented? Lofty.
CHS: People have a way of enjoying each other and finding love.
JDW: It helps to think of yourself as worthy of love, which body image activism can help with.
CHS: They think they are entitled to be perfectly happy and comfortable. No you don’t, and you should get over that.
JDW: You’re right. No such right exists. We do, however, have the moral right to bodily autonomy and to demand basic respect for our bodies. We have a moral right to engage in self-care and to reasonable opportunities to pursue it.
As for being happy and comfortabe, we may not have an absolute right to be comfortable with others. Other people have the right to be offensive or displeasing to us. We may not have an absolute right to demand that others make us “perfectly happy and comfortable.” But we DO have an absolute right to be perfectly happy and comfortable with OURSELVES.
It sounds to me like Hoff-Sommers had an axe to grind and was too lazy to know what she was talking about. At least I know it’s not because she’s obsessed with her appearance.