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Atheist Wednesday: Loving My Body
zuko, dietotaku

(This might be a two-part post, but I refuse to put the "pt. 1" up there, because it will just doom me.)

Anyway, today's post is more about skepticism than atheism, but the two are used almost interchangeably, so I don't think it's that great of a transgression. 

I used to hate myself. I mean, really hate myself. When I was a fifth-grader, all of my friends stopped talking to me, right about the time I gained a bunch of weight. (Before that, I'd been fairly lanky--I got a growth spurt early.) Naturally, I blamed it on that. When I got my first period, it only exacerbated things, bringing some lovely depression with it.

So, yeah, for most of middle school and high school, I thought I was basically the ugliest thing on the planet. During the school year, I wore sweaters every day because I was convinced they hid the fact that my breasts were so much smaller than my gut. (I was convinced back then that if my boobs had just been proportional to the rest of my body, I could have been happy.) I quite clearly remember sweating heavily and being unwilling to take off my sweater because people would see my bare arms and my belly.  I wore pants that didn't fit--they left heavy red marks in my stomach at the end of the day when I took them off--because I was so terrified of going up a size. I hated gym class and changing in front of other girls, even though I very carefully positioned myself with the other fat girls. 

(Funnily, I think the time I was least anxious about my body as a kid was when I was experiencing a bout of depression in high school. I was too focused on how upset I was to care about what other people thought of me. I think. That could be personal narrative interfering with what really happened.)

That's all par for the course, as far as I'm concerned. Culture teaches us to hate our bodies and hate ourselves, and it's even worse when you're a fat girl surrounded by skinny girls (as I was for most of middle school). And I didn't get that. I just thought there was something wrong with me, not that there might be something wrong with the culture. Every summer, I told myself I was going to lose ten or twenty pounds, and then I might finally be happy.

And then one summer I watched all this What Not to Wear. Now, if if you've only seen the ads for WNTW, I can hardly blame you for not liking it. TLC deliberately picks out the drama and the terribleness (as well as all the mockery they possibly can) because TLC, as far as I can tell, lives off a strategy of humiliating people who are different. But WNTW isn't like that. Yes, Stacey and Clinton do make fun of the person's wardrobe (and, well, usually it's because it deserves it). But TLC never highlights how sensitive they are. They know what they are doing and how much a woman's clothes mean to her.

And their interests aren't in making someone conform (well, they sort of are, but that's a different argument). Instead, they want a woman to love herself. They want clothes she can feel pretty in. They want to find her something that will make her feel pretty and desirable, because so many of the women who come on that show don't feel that way. They try to separate a woman's perception of herself from what culture tells her about her and from using clothes as a crutch to keep other people away. It's actually sort of beautiful.

I'm pretty sure I was never exposed to that sort of perspective before, but at first, WNTW was only important to me because it showed me that girls like me could find clothes. (I'd made clumsy experiments into the realm of dressing well before, and they usually ended with me feeling humiliated or self-conscious. Most of the pretty clothes I wore were for church and only for church, and I had no idea how to put them together or if they looked good on me.) I saw what would look good on my body type. I saw the importance of wearing good bras. I saw that girls like me could be beautiful.

I didn't really get the body-positivity parts at first. That came later, when I started tooling around on the internet and found stuff like that. But once I did, I wondered how I had gone so long letting myself hate myself because other people said I should. 

The answer, of course, is that I never learned to be skeptical about my culture. I always accepted things at face value and assumed that's just the way they were for everyone. (I was also probably looking for an excuse to hate myself. A lot of people do.) If I'd just been raised with skeptical values, maybe I could have figured out what was going on a lot earlier and saved myself so much pain. 

Now I know to be skeptical both of my culture and of the body-positivity movement. (Not that I don't think it's important. There's just some issues I question.) I know that I can't just take things as people give them to me: I have to inspect them as best I can for bias and for error and then try to draw my own conclusions. 

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