A couple of weeks ago I mentioned a film I’d seen, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, starring Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack. In this press conference at the Berlin Film Festival, Emma Thompson talks about being ashamed of her body, which is an almost universal female trait, and increasingly a male one too, as people of all genders are exposed to unachievable images of airbrushed perfection.
It doesn’t help that there is an entire industry – advertising – that depends on making us feel inadequate in comparison with impossible standards of perfection, and then offering us the perfect product to make our bodies slimmer or more muscular, our teeth whiter, our hair glossier, our skin clearer. It’s very liberating to wise up to this game, and become relatively immune to its toxic messaging.
When we move past superficial aesthetics, it becomes obvious that the human body (along with all other animal bodies) is a miraculous thing. Even the most otherwise unremarkable body contains 10 billion (yes, billion!) miles of DNA, can reproduce itself, heal itself, be aware of itself, alchemise food into bone, blood, and skin, move at will, and produce a myriad of strange secretions.
And yet how we abuse our bodies – not just with junk food or eating disorders, addictions and self-harming – but by comparing ourselves unfavourably with Insta-influencers and seeing all our flaws instead of paying attention to the remarkable phenomenon that is us as embodied beings.
I am writing this blog post to myself most of all. Like most other women, and many other humans, I have spent a lifetime finding fault rather than appreciating all that is good. It may not be the perfect height or the perfect shape (perfect according to what standards, I have to ask myself), but I have a body that is strong and healthy and 99.999% of the time simply shows up and does what I need it to do. This body has rowed solo across three oceans, for heaven’s sake! Other people’s bodies have played games, made useful and beautiful things, gestated and birthed babies, laid soothing hands on the suffering, prepared delicious meals, and all manner of actions that when you stop to think about it, are quite close to miraculous in terms of strength, capacity, and creativity.
When I dishonour my body by criticising it, what message am I sending into the collective consciousness?
This might sound like a leap of logic, but when I look at humanity’s cumulative trajectory, fouling our planetary nest, killing each other in wars, exploiting and abusing our fellow humans, I can’t help but wonder if this is a manifestation of some collective shame – starting with body shame, but maybe extending to many other forms of shame that we lapse into when we stop appreciating, and start comparing and criticising.
Hurt people hurt people, as the saying goes. If we were all really healthy and whole, would we be acting this way? Before we can heal the planet, we have to heal ourselves, else we will just keep projecting our own shame and inadequacy onto everything we come into contact with.
So I’m resolving to take responsibility for my role in the hurt and shame, and correspondingly taking responsibility for my potential role in the healing – starting with stopping the bad habit of comparing, and instead appreciating and honouring the physical body I live in for the miracle that it is.