“And softly, I said to my body, ‘I want to be your friend.’ It took a long breath and replied, ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this.”
— Nayyirah Waheed
Lockdown at first brought smiles to many faces. Months and months of vacations from work and school and a relief from the stifling city crowd. But as we got deeper into the year, it became darker. We have had to overcome some of the hardest obstacles this year, one of them being how we as individuals perceive ourselves. Due to a sudden pause in our bustling lives, there has been, of course, a decrease in the physical activity we got.
Boredom, stress eating and anxiety are just some of the reasons why we put on a few extra pounds. This was shown by our bellies becoming flabbier, the razor-sharp jawline that was so in vogue becoming softer, our arms becoming chubbier and what not.
Isn’t it justified if our bodies went through some changes during these troubling times? Isn’t it justified if, just for a few months, we gave our body some extra compassion and care? Instead, why do we treat our body like a slave and subjugate it, make it behave out of sync with what it is ‘designed’ to be?
The exterior of this concept may seem to be black and white, but internally, it is extremely perplexing. To explain ‘Body Image’ in modern times, we will be taking the help of well-renowned sociologist Max Weber, who introduced an interesting theory of ‘Ideal type’. According to Weber, “An ideal type is a logically consistent model of a social phenomenon that highlights its significant characteristics.” In simpler words, an ideal type is a ‘perfect’ model of a social phenomenon.
Who or what is the perfect model of body image?
Well, of course, the exemplary actors and actresses we love to see on the big screen or the alluring models we see on glossy magazine covers represent these ideal types. Weber’s ideal type is just an instrument or tool used to compare the perfect model of a social phenomenon to what we actually have in reality, so that we can strive towards perfection.
Bodies are not the same all around the world because of various reasons such as the food we eat, the kind of terrain we live in, the climate that surrounds us, etc. Our bodies cannot be categorised so easily. As an individual, you don’t need to strive for that perfect body you see on the big screen or glossy covers, because your body is already perfect.
When it comes to bodies, there is always that one recurring question,
“What is the perfect body?”
In India, the perfect body for a woman is a slim figure with a tiny waist, thin arms and legs. In Mexico, the perfect body for a woman is a voluptuous figure with wide hips. In Romania, a woman must have a fit figure with slight hint of abs, but not too much. If we look at the beautiful statues of divine goddesses in many of the Khajuraho temples, their stomachs are not completely flat, but in fact have paunches. So, if the divine deities that we pray to don’t have the ‘perfect’ body, then who makes these standards?
It’s none other than the patriarchal society we live in. This system sets standards and rules in stone for both men and women to follow. Women’s bodies simply become victims of male desire. While patriarchy puts constant pressure on men and women to have ‘desirable’ bodies, capitalists feed off those insecurities.
“Society’s definition of ‘health’ is, at its root, strategically designed to get us to buy goods and services that promise to make us healthier. Diet companies don’t actually want us to lose weight — they want us want to lose weight and keep paying over 60 billion dollars every year to use their service and/or product. Health-related companies don’t care about health; they care about profit. And they use our collective fatphobia to convince us to keep playing the capitalist game.” (Grace Manger; Adios Barbie)
This article would not be complete without taking the feminist point of view into consideration.
Female bodies are fundamentally much different from male bodies. Yes, females have the same organs as males — stomach, colon, intestine etc. —except for the reproductive organs. A female’s uterus is 5cm wide and 7cm long, her ovaries are about the size of a small plum, her fallopian tube is about 7-12cm long and just a single centimetre wide. So, with all this packaging as a necessity, there is always fat surrounding the stomach area to protect these vital organs. On the other hand, a male’s prostate is the size of a walnut, making it fairly easier for them to get those ‘wash-board abs’.
According to Susie Orbach, a British psychotherapist, psychoanalyst and feminist, some women engage in compulsive eating because their natural feeding patterns are disrupted by oppressive ideologies produced and distributed by the media and beauty industry. While becoming lean is a form of normative conduct, becoming fat, for Orbach, is a symbolic reaction against a phallocentric system that continuously distorts women’s body-image. Not only is there an obvious form of gender dualism at work here, but also a significant dichotomisation of culture and nature, body and mind, as well as individual and society. As she remarks, “Thin is natural, while fat is distortion.”
This year did start off on a negative note, with most of us cursing our bodies, rebuking it and asking for our stomachs to be flatter, our legs and arms more toned, and our bone structure stronger. But at the end, it is our body that has carried us and helped us get through this God-awful year. This body has helped us keep our head and heart in the right place during the worst months, this body that has helped us survive.
Make 2021 all about loving your body and loving your raw authentic self.