Here are some basic ingredients of a good vacation — good friends, a dirt-cheap beach hut, a coral reef rimmed by pink mountains in the desert, no Internet access. What about a rule against hating your body out loud?
On my trip this past weekend, we called it the "no bodysnarking" rule, though that's a misnomer — in each case, the bodies being disparaged for not being thin or toned or muscular enough belonged to the speaker herself, or himself.
It's not that I set out to police my friends according to Jezebel commenter guidelines. (There's nothing wrong with trying to be consistent in your beliefs, something to which I aspire — but you know, it was vacation.) But moments after this bunch of usually self-denying workaholics wriggled into their first swimsuit in recent memory, the gripes began — at some imagined curve or a few extra pounds, at their supposedly disgusting gluttony at mealtimes.
It was as if they were preempting what they thought everyone was thinking about them, except I'm pretty sure no one else gave as much of a shit. Or that, no matter how far we got from our usual contexts, there was no getting rid of the narrow codes that tell you your body isn't good enough.
Each time I heard them talk trash about themselves, I cringed. Not because this is a battle I've already won and I want to smugly impart how much I've figured out that all you need to do is Just Be Confident and you won't worry anymore about whether the sight of you in a bikini is revolting. But because it just seemed like a waste. Because I wanted to stop talking about whether we'd spent enough time at the gym or denied dessert often enough before the trip, and get onto more interesting things, like making fun of the drum circle down the way and regularly comparing notes on digestion. Because I hated seeing brilliant and kind people harsh on themselves in a way they would never do to anyone else. And, since we are engaged in this sort of self-criticism more than anyone else, I hated seeing women consumed with so much self-loathing.
It didn't take much to convince these sensible people, although I did get teased a bit for my earnestness. (Each joke was heralded with arms in a J-formation.) And I think it made a difference in the atmosphere.
Of course, just because you aren't saying it out loud doesn't mean you aren't thinking it, and there's a lot more to making peace with your body than a gag rule. But there is a sort of mutual enabling of vocal self-snarking — sort of like this scene in Mean Girls:
Karen: God. My hips are huge!
Gretchen: Oh please. I hate my calves.
Regina: At least you guys can wear halters. I've got man shoulders.
Cady: [voiceover] I used to think there was just fat and skinny. But apparently there's lots of things that can be wrong on your body.
Gretchen: My hairline is so weird.
Regina: My pores are huge.
Karen: My nail beds suck.
[pause. All look at Cady]
Cady: I have really bad breath in the morning.
In other words, not to get all yoga on you, but the negative energy, outwardly expressed, is contagious.
And to get all yoga on you, here's something I've learned from it about how to consider my body. It is sometimes said that we should be focusing on what our bodies can do or how they feel and not whether they look like we think they should look, or someone tells us how they should look. But what if your body can't do what you want it to do? And if not-doing and not-looking meld into a fine combination of not-feeling-good?
I've gotten upset or frustrated at what my body can and can't do, at yoga and elsewhere, and I've self-snarked, for lack of a better expression. That's despite the fact that the best yoga classes are the ones that are process-oriented and not pretzel-twisting oneupmanship, and I've learned to exclusively attend the former. But one of my ever-wise instructors likes to use the word "informative." Your hamstrings aren't firing when you do that pose? Informative, meaning, let's find a way to work with it. It may take you years (decades?) to have the strength for a headstand? Informative. Now keep moving.
You hate how you look in a bikini? Informative. Now shut up about it.
Image via Benko Zsolt/Shutterstock