I Am Not My Body

22 Jan

When OccupyBoston occurred, those of us not interested in playing a role were still categorized – as part of the 99%.  But there’s a far larger protest afoot: OccupyYourBody and once again, many of us fall into the 99%.

An article that I read yesterday at the gym noted that a mere 1% of women are happy with their bodies.  1%?  Only 1 out of 100 women like the way they look externally?  It made me sad and a bit depressed.

Because the truth is that we are not our bodies. My body may be an external manifestation of my state of mind, of my ability to care for myself, of my desire to live a long life and die of natural causes. But my body is not ME.

I’ve always believed this but lately I’ve been thinking about it more. I love running. And I haven’t run in 5 weeks.  5 weeks is a very long time to not be able to do the thing that brings me great joy.  Early Saturday morning long runs – when the city is just waking up, there is an entire weekend ahead of us, the air is cold and brisk and I have set aside time for this run – those are my favorite mornings.

So a few weeks ago, when my test run (after resting for 3 weeks) led to severe pain by mile 4, I was pretty upset.  My mind and my legs felt fresh – they wanted to run for miles and miles. But my left IT band hurt so much that I knew running through it wasn’t an option.  So I stopped and went home.  And worked on finding joy and headed off to watch the Bruins (lose).  And, tucked into a seat, a bottle of water in my hand, a knowledgeable hockey friend on my left and my boss on my right, I loosened up and threw myself into cheering for the fights (err, I mean the game).  And because I hadn’t run 16 miles, I didn’t spend those two hours forcing myself to eat and drink large quantities of water, I never took a bathroom break, I didn’t check any marathon training schedule on my phone or obsessively calculate what training I should do the next day. I sat and watched and when my phone buzzed, I ignored it.  My boss said “I’ve never seen you so relaxed before.”  It was great.

A few days later, a friend commented on how happy I looked.  It was probably because I’d just been sitting with a group of coworker friends, introducing them to each other, and having a lot of laughs (probably at my expense). But I also told him that it’s because I am remembering that I am not my body.

Aside from running pain, I am healthy and can participate in most activities. But whether or not I do those activities doesn’t make me who I am. I am my words, my ideas, and my actions.  And I want to be known for my words, my ideas, and my actions. I will never have a perfect body, nor would I want the pressure that comes with it.

Attempting to conform to the world’s standard causes us to drift from our own uniqueness.  I cannot be both standard and unique. I can only choose to be me transformed (becoming the best version of me) or me conformed (becoming the version the world believes would be most accepted).  One brings freedom and one brings constant fear of rejection.

Yesterday, a friend asked for exercise advice. She began cataloguing a list of her body’s imperfections. I had to stop her. “I will help you feel healthier and stronger and proud of what your body can do” I said. “In return, you will treat it with respect.  You are not your body.”

And yet we reinforce that daily.  Every time we say “Have you lost 5 pounds? You look great!” we are leaving people with one of the following reactions:
1) Did I not used to look great? Was I so horribly fat that people talked about me?
2) I haven’t lost 5 pounds. I guess I should wear these pants more often.  Or actually lose 5 pounds.  I must look like I have 5 pounds to lose.
3) Yay! People are noticing! I am getting compliments, I must work harder/eat less to lose more.

Wouldn’t it be better to compliment people on the actions they have taken: “You look amazing! What’s your exercise secret?”  “I am so proud of you for working out 5 days a week, finding time in our busy schedules is such a challenge, you inspire me!”  Learning to compliment people on their words, their ideas, and their actions is a small step towards helping more people truly become the 99%.

You are not simply your body.  I am not simply my body.  We will age and shapes will shift and injuries will come and go but who you are, and what I love about you, will only get better.  Don’t waste your life striving for X when everyone else loves you for your Y. OccupyYourBody proudly because it is yours. Just don’t turn OccupyYourBody into OccupyYourMindEntirelywithhowtoOccupyaBetterBody.  It’s just not catchy.

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