By Brenda Bethman
We write a lot here about body image, the detrimental effects it can have on women and men, and the importance of combating media images of beauty and having a positive self-image. One thing we do not always address, however, is just how difficult doing so is. I have a graduate certificate in women’s studies, have directed two women’s centers and a women’s & gender studies programs, and taught many WGS courses. I do not engage in or tolerate “fat talk.” I know that what matters is not the number on the scale or the size of my pants, but my health.
And yet, yesterday was hard.
Yesterday was my first meeting with a personal trainer at our campus gym. I am someone who normally avoids exercise like the plague, but for the reasons I outlined at my personal blog, I decided earlier this month that it is time for me to get more fit. And there’s the rub — I keep telling myself and others that this is about fitness and health, which, to a large extent, is true. But, there is, even after years of teaching and thinking about body image issues, a part of me that does obsess about the numbers that the “Bod Pod” spit out yesterday, that whispers to me that I am “fat” and that’s why I need to do this, and that could well slip into obsessing about workouts, calorie counts, etc. if I am not careful.
I hate that. I hate that I, too, have assimilated cultural beauty norms to such a degree. I worry that, if someone like me, who should know better, is still so deeply affected by these norms, that change is impossible. I worry that I will bring these feelings of inadequacy to work or the classroom and infect my students with my insecurities about the numbers that do not matter other than insofar as they affect my health.
Which brings me to the title question: is it possible to do this without obsessing? I do not know for sure, but I do know that I am going to try and that if anything will help, it is the work of smart feminists who have written about this much more eloquently than I, as well as the support of the blog communities of which I am lucky enough to be a part. It is also enormously helpful that the trainer I’m working with focuses on strength-building and not the numbers (we did not, in fact, even discuss them yesterday). In our first meeting, she told me one of the reasons she became a trainer was due to her interest in helping women become strong. I knew immediately that I had found the right trainer. If you’re interested, you can follow the details on my personal blog — and my more general meditations on the larger connections to body image and women’s health issues here.