At my university we had a thing called “love your body week.” During this week, there were some nice things, like balloons left around campus with positive messages written on them.
But there were also weird things, like lots of students walking around in their underwear. I think it’s great that you love your body, sir, but buy me dinner before you hug me wearing nothing but boxers please. There were also student organizations that would hand out condoms – although I’m not sure what kind of “self-love” you’re practicing that requires condoms.
But none of this is what made me absolutely despise love your body week.
When I’d see the underwear students dancing around in hippie circles, do you know what I saw? Healthy people. People with the energy to run around outside for hours. People who weren’t in pain or fighting nausea. People who might have some extra fat rolls or hair patches, but no scars. I never saw a girl’s midriff sporting laparoscopy scars. I never saw an ostomy pouch.
And I realize that this jaded view is inherently anti-invisible illness. Invisible illnesses are, after all, INVISIBLE. How did I know none of them were sick? One in two people are, so it was very likely many of them were. But I felt that some acknowledgement of illness or scars or SOMETHING would make love your body week a little more real and a little less of an excuse to be an obnoxious college student.
Because woo sex! And edgy naked people! Breaking social norms! It was just more of the same to me. It was just party college crap. And it made me hate my body more than it made me love it. It was healthy people strutting their health around.
And if we are making this about sex, then what about the people like me who really struggle with sex because it’s painful and sometimes downright impossible? That fact has always made me feel like less of a person. After all, sex is this universal thing, right?
I guess the biggest problem with love your body week is that it acts like so much more than it is. It’s sold as this positive affirmation that everyone is beautiful. But, as my favorite tagline for this blog says, “health isn’t just skin deep.”
Your body is so much more than what’s on the outside. I know that body image is a really hard thing, especially for women, and especially for young women. I know that having a good body image can be a life or death situation. I know that anorexia and bulimia are epidemics that are ravaging young women today. I think it’s good to promote the acceptance and love of one’s appearance.
So call it “everyone is beautiful week” or something like that. Because positive body image does NOT equate to self love.
Loving your body is loving your whole body. It’s hard when you have a chronic illness. It’s an important obstacle to overcome. Most of the time, I love my body. Most of the time, I can remember that with all its shortcomings, it has borne me through many storms. I remember that as much as my body tends to suck at being a body, it is very good at healing.
But some days, I hate my body. And it’s not just on days when I feel extra bad or I start a new medication. It happens a lot on days like the love your body week days. Days when healthy people unknowingly make me feel left out of a club. It’s such a huge club that most people assume everyone’s in it. Love your body week is well-intentioned, but very poorly executed.
I know I sound like one of those internet people who’s just looking to get offended by something that really is probably harmless. Maybe that’s true. I was in college when I wrote out my notes on this topic, and college students are the most easily offended people ever – check out this Nostalgia Critic video for some great commentary on that. Maybe I was being too sensitive.
But to anyone planning a love-your-body-week-type of event, I would ask that you think outside the box a bit. Remember that the body is a whole. Remember that loving one’s beauty is important, but don’t neglect to promote well-being in other ways as well. Celebrate self care! Encourage people to take time for themselves. Hand out boxes of tea and bottles of bubble bath. Open up a conversation about how hard it can be to love your body for reasons beyond aesthetics. Talk through illness. Connect with people. More skin to skin contact does not equal deeper connections.
Remind people that today they woke up. They got to campus. They’re breathing. And that is a show of twenty-something years of your body being there for you. Maybe it wasn’t always perfect. Maybe it sometimes even almost killed you. But something pulled through, and no matter how many doctors and nurses and medicine was involved, you owe part of your survival to your body. Ultimately, it has not failed you. You have not failed it. Teach people that “love your body” is a labor of love and teamwork.
That is a cause worthy of the title “love your body week.”