By Rebecca Capurso
The human body is an amazing thing. With regenerating parts, self-adaptive instincts, and enough DNA to stretch across the diameter of the solar system twice, our bodies are set up in just the right way for us to exist and thrive in the world.
And yet, our bodies can’t seem to get a break from the constant barrage of criticism we hurl at them. What did our bodies ever do to deserve our daily insults? As it turns out, nothing. Most of us are aware, to some extent, that the body’s “unappealing features” are only “unappealing” because society has collectively decided so. We’re socialized to believe it. Despite knowing this, it can be challenging to give our bodies the love and acceptance they deserve.
But imagine for a moment what would happen if we chose to appreciate and celebrate our bodies with all their attributes and functions, rather than shaming them and labeling them as “unnatural.” What if we tried to reframe the way we think about our bodies as they move through the world?
Hair, Hair, Everywhere Hair
Let’s start with hair, for example. We’re covered in it from head to toe, with the exception of our palms and soles of our feet, yet we’re told that there are only a few places on the body where hair should exist. People of all genders spend considerable time and money shaving, trimming, and waxing to fit certain standards of attractiveness. Unfortunately, having visible body hair, even on masculine bodies, is currently associated with laziness and dirtiness.
In the midst of all this hair removal, we forget what hair actually does for us. Body hair helps with thermoregulation, our body’s way of keeping us warm in cold conditions and cool in warm conditions. Our pubic hair (and hair covering other sensitive body parts) works to prevent skin-damaging friction, as well as serving to protect against bacteria. Our eyebrows help protect the eyes from sweat and moisture. Basically, we’re consciously or unconsciously giving a big middle finger to our body’s natural armor when we obsessively shave and tweeze.
That’s not to say that shaving for the sake of comfort or attractiveness is a bad thing. It’s just that when we choose to think of our body hair as something that’s wrong with our body, we miss out on an opportunity to appreciate one of the body’s awesome natural protective systems.
Love the Skin You Are Actually In
Another feature we love to hate is our skin. The number of ads we’re exposed to that push skin-care products designed to make skin look smooth and spotless is proof of this. Stretch-marks, wrinkles, oil—the list of perceived blemishes goes on. But why do these have to be blemishes, or as the dictionary defines it, “a small mark or flaw that spoils the appearance of something?” Couldn’t we view them as what they really are—proof of the skin’s resilience and hardiness?
The natural oil that comes out of our pores works to shield our skin from bacteria, viruses, wind, and rain. It also helps to remove dead skin cells. And sweat? Sweat helps lower our body temperature to prevent us from overheating. Without sweat, sunbathing would become an extreme sport. So rather than seeing oily, sweaty skin as something that needs to be dealt with, see it as proof that your body is alive and thriving.
Stretch marks, our favorite. But why aren’t they? They’re just neat-looking marks that form when the skin stretches quickly to accommodate a change in size. Yet stretch marks are vilified, even when they signal the fact that a new life has been brought into the world through pregnancy and child birth. By celebrating stretch-marks, we’re celebrating the fact that skin has the ability to change and adjust to wherever we are in life, for it moves with us. Not only that, but any kind of mark on the skin shows a life lived fully, whether it be stretch-marks, wrinkles, or scars. Our skin shows what we’ve been through, and that our bodies can keep up.
Then There’s Our Period
Now, let’s examine a bodily function that also takes quite a bit of flak: menstruation. Having a period can be a hassle, without a doubt, but how many of us have heard or said something along the lines of, “Periods are like your body punishing you for not getting pregnant?” I laughed and agreed the first time I heard that. But truthfully it’s a harmful perspective to have around a vital bodily process.
Viewing menstruation as a “punishment” reinforces the patriarchal idea that the main purpose of female bodies to produce babies—the idea that if we’re not pregnant, we’ve failed as women and are being punished with a period for not using our bodies for their “natural” purposes. This frame of mind also fosters plain old negativity towards our bodies and their ways of functioning.
You may know that menstruation flushes out the lining of the uterus that has built up in case an egg is fertilized, but that’s not all it does for us. It can also provide us with health insights by giving indications of potential hormonal imbalances, thyroid conditions, bone health, and more. Having a period is a great way to get in tune with your body and the messages it can convey.
By learning to appreciate the beauty of the complex process of menstruation, we can start to view it as another one of the really cool things our bodies are capable of and a necessary part of our existence. It doesn’t have to be an annoying time of the month or something to feel shame towards. It’s something to be proud of for it is an indicator that our system in working.
At the End of the Day, Love the One You’re With
To put things in perspective, look out the window. We are part of the same system that trees and plants and birds are a part of, and yet nobody judges a flower for having spots or invalidates birds that are blue. Of course not. We accept them the way they are, in their natural form, and in all their diversity. Let’s give our bodies the same treatment and respect. Every part of our bodies serves a purpose and is doing what it should; that’s what makes us human and connects us to the natural world at the same time.
If we can change the way we think about our bodies and shift our thoughts from socially-induced shame and annoyance to appreciation and acceptance, we can begin to truly love ourselves and the amazing things our bodies are capable of. Let’s stop judging ourselves based on such ridiculous standards that don’t reflect how amazing we are. Because in the end, societal standards don’t look out for us, but our bodies do. And that’s worth celebrating.