Have a Rad (Bod) Summer

I’ve been thinking about the body.  A lot.

Recently, I wrote an article about Radical Body Acceptance for Golden Gate Mothers Group Magazine, which will be a feature in their July/August double issue.  It got me thinking about how much practicing radical body acceptance (AKA Operation Rad Bod) has changed my life, and how much work I still need to do.

For the most part, after a year of working to accept and love my body in its shape, I feel freaking hot in it.  Recently, I was in a wedding, and we got to pick our bridesmaid’s dress, as long as it was green.  Pre-Operation Rad Bod, I would have picked one designed to cleverly hide my body.  Something with sleeves, to avoid exposing my big strong biceps that have a permanent post-baby rash on them.  A longer dress, so as not to seem like I was trying to be more youthful than I am.  I probably even would have tried to wear tights!  But since I’ve been loving on my body all year, I chose a dress based on a few things: comfort, ease of dancing, and pretty fabric.  I ended up with a sleeveless, short dress, as it was an outdoor wedding in hot central California.  And it felt good.  I can’t say I love how I look in all the pictures that were taken, but that would really be pushing it.  Right now, I am focusing on loving my body when I am in it.  A huge leap would be to love and accept the way my body looks in photographs – not sure if I’ll ever get there, but hopefully someday. (And yes I actually struggle to like the photos I’ve posted below.  Full disclosure that I am still an Operation Rad Bod work-in-progress)

With my man, bare arms and all.

With my man, bare arms and all.

The dress doing the #1 thing I needed it to: allow danceability.  With Olive.

The dress doing the #1 thing I needed it to: allow danceability. With Olive.

So, choosing a dress that I felt good in, not a body-hider, was an Operation Rad Bod triumph.  But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – no matter how great I am doing on the body image front, there are at least 2 days a month, when I’m on my period, that it is simply impossible to feel good in my own skin.  I’m wondering if it is evolutionary.  We can’t get pregnant when we’re on our period, so are we supposed to feel gross to keep us from having sex then?  I’m no anthropologist, but I have my suspicions.

For those 2 days a month, I’ve been collecting resources to shore up my feelings of self-worth and love for my body, and I figured I’d share them with you all, for those days when you, too, feel the sum of your parts equals a disgusting person that should be hidden away for all eternity.  Because there’s enough hatred out there to make us feel bad about the female form.  We need to be fed a nearly-constant diet of body positivity to combat it.

First of all, I read Tomas Moniz’s gorgeous 30 Poems about the body, and found them so brave and true.  You can read them all online, but it is even better to hold them in your hands and read them aloud in groups, which you can do by asking him to send you a physical copy.  I’ve been keeping mine at my bedside table, returning especially to this quote, over and over: “the body is a wild, wild thing and will find its own form if I just trust it.”

It is a wonderful reminder, that our bodies are more than just what they look like.  We live in a culture obsessed with one particular sense over all the others: what we can see with our eyes.  What about how a person makes us feel in our souls, what their voice sounds like, what we think about when we are with them?  The other day I caught my eye in the mirror while engaging in imaginative play with Olive on our bed. I had an unbidden thought: I’ve always thought of myself as someone who could be lovely, if I lost about 20 pounds.  But what if I’m just a beautiful person?  Not in spite of the extra flesh, but because of it?  Because I’m happy and shining and I love using my mind?

My love of things vintage often reminds me that our culture was not always obsessed with the narrow ideal of female beauty we hold up today: extremely thin limbs, bony face, big boobs.  I started following this Etsy company on Facebook, Cult of Aphrodite Vintage, and she posts pictures daily that show that models, performers, and beloved cultural icons/“beauties” once came in a body type much more similar to mine than the same shape I see in every magazine, TV show and movie today.

Vargas girl

Vargas girl

Bessie Stringfield

Bessie Stringfield

Even Marilyn had trouble with "the gap".  And it's sexy!

Even Marilyn had trouble with “the gap”. And it’s sexy!

Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova

Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova

Vintage belly dancer

Vintage belly dancer

Olive has recently been asking me, when I sing her her current favorite lullabye (Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel No. 2), “What is beauty?”  I am looking for a deeper definition than “when you like the way something looks.”  One friend suggested: “beauty is the other side of sad. It’s like a bird who flies near you, but then leaves.”  Yes.  Beauty is something you can’t hold on to.  That’s what makes it so precious.

So, poetry.  And poetic definitions.  And wearing whatever makes me feel good, even if it shows off parts of my body I am still working on loving fully.  But also, I’ve been educating myself to undo years of fatphobic cultural education.  I have long suspected that the widely accepted belief that fat = unhealthiness is off.  The reasoning being, I have known some large people who enjoy wonderful health, and I have known some slender people who have had chronic health problems, and have even died from illness.

Therefore, when this Bitch Magazine article, Sized Up, came out, I was grateful for the research the author had done, which helped me look into this idea further.  In it, the author makes the case that the misinformation and judgment about obesity can be compared to homophobia, and that being fat friendly is a queer and feminist issue.  She writes: “Body size is determined primarily by genetics, and while diets and exercise programs may produce short-term weight loss, they have a 95 percent failure rate over the long term. Yet like queer people living with hiv or aids, fat people are stigmatized for a condition that is imagined to be their fault.”  Interesting, right?  Definitely food for thought…

I’m going to revive my Operation Rad Bod posts all summer, writing body-friendly posts and asking for your takes on the issue.  So, let me know – what are you doing to love your body (or at the very least, cut back on hating it) lately?

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15 thoughts on “Have a Rad (Bod) Summer

  1. This is awesome, you are awesome. can’t wait for more. As a woman from a long line( both family and friends) of overly body-concious people, I need this. I also pledge to do what I can to do things differently than I have before- and to try to tell you about it. x.

  2. i love this. i love all of the things about this. i have found comfort in the idea of practice…i practice yoga, i practice as a therapist, and i practice radical acceptance of those around me and, on my good days, myself. in its truest sense practice implies a certain amount of imperfection-which my highly organized and controlling self finds grating but my flexible and open self finds relieving as absolute perfection would be a horror to behold. when i am thoughtful of my responses to my body i notice that i think in all-or-nothing terms…this thought pattern is particularly prevalent in those who have been traumatized and i then think, “of course i am traumatized-i have been told i am-as my body is myself-wrong almost my whole life.” so yes to you, and to this post.

    ps. my mother (who is in her mid-sixties) recently went to her doctor for an annual check and the doctor remarked on how healthy her bones were and how rare that is in women of my mother’s age. my mother, a nurse and mother of 4, is not one to let a moment go by without comment, said “well, yes. they are dense and healthy because i have been slightly overweight by your standards my whole life-you carry extra weight and your bones dont get brittle on their own.” the doctor looked back at her and paused, then replied, “exactly. but dont tell anyone i told you that thats ok.” i’m proud of my mother. i’m sad and afraid of the response of that doctor.

  3. Ugh, this topic is something that is always on my mind! Not your body, per se…that would be creepy. But, then, I’m creepy so it would probably be fairly standard operating procedure. But anyway – the body. I hate HATE these constant reminders on all sides that I need to be thinking about how my body looks. The grocery store has airbrushed pictures of already-beautiful 20-somethings on the cover. The internet has Curvy Girls websites that laude plump arms, hips, thighs. There’s the Abercrombie fiasco that then got all the backlash. And while I love that more and more girls, women, ladies, chicas, divas are yelling back, are saying, “NO! I don’t HAVE to be the ideal American shape to be beautiful” I think the message is still not hitting its mark.
    Remember how when we were kids, most (MOST, not all) of us just reveled in having bodies? We loved how they felt on the swingset, how our legs could stretch over miles when running downhill at incredible speeds with the wind in our eyes, our nose, our ears, our hair? Remember how sun felt on our arms and, when we were really little (or maybe not little at all!), we LOVED to run around naked outside? I was a streaker. My siblings were all streakers because we loved the way life felt on our skin, all our skin. And we were healthy. Most of us, anyhow. Not the kid in bed in The Secret Garden, but the rest of us were healthy and even the kids that weren’t healthy were still…more healthy than not, if that makes sense. We were all outside even if some of us were benched. We were all exploring dirt and trees and rocks. If we were inside, we wriggled into small spaces like under the bed or into the back of the closet. We squirmed wherever we could fit and we’d hide alone or pack it in like sardines if friends were over…because none of us cared about our body types just as long as they did what we needed them to do. They were vehicles. We merely had to keep them strong and limber and we were good. And that sounds Pollyanna because I remember The Fat Kid or The Kid In The Wheelchair or what have you getting bullied but, at the same time, after school, we still all played together, we still ran and jumped or sat and read in the shade or did whatever we did because it was about being us and doing things, not about bodies.
    Sometimes I think the message we need to be yelling is not “I don’t have to be the ideal American shape to be beautiful” but “I am healthy and happy and that makes me beautiful” or even “I am not healthy or happy but that doesn’t make me ugly.”
    So I applaud you buying a dress for dancing, for celebrating your skin because it can feel sunshine and can pick up that freakishly adorable child of yours (I will steal her one day. I’m going to need a bigger house because my stolen child list is growing), for moving away from what you see around you to what you feel about you. And thank you for sharing your message AND your pictures.

    And just because my favorite thing to do is to write blog posts in the comments sections of other peoples’ blogs: On a related note – I don’t mind having the “OMG, how did I turn into Jabba the Hutt?” days. I like loathing my body from time to time because I love the feeling of looking at it two days later and going, “Oh. No, it’s fine. What was I thinking. Oooh! Look! My butt looks all pert today. Yay! What a cute butt!” or something equally ridiculous but fun to feel.

    • So…I came here to tell you something that has now changed into two things.
      Thing 1: I am going to a wedding at the end of the month and while looking for dresses, I remembered this post. I remembered to look for things that would let me move and feel comfortable, not something that would cover me up and make me constricted and sweaty and miserable. So thank you.
      But then I re-read my reply and I thought of a second thing I should tell you:
      Thing 2: Wow, sometimes I’m an asshole and I apologize. That was a partially-ok response up there but mostly, it was just jerky and I’m sorry I left jerkiness on your blog. I really did understand what you were saying, I just reflected general stupidity back at you instead of, you know, normal and sane thoughts and, again, I am sorry for that.

      • I’m so glad to hear that the post inspired your fashion choices! That is rad indeed. And no worries about the previous comment – I got a lot out of what you said about enjoying the days you loathe your body.

  4. I hope you feel good about this post because it is so beautiful! Thank you for your vulnerability, your voice, your information. Thank you for being beautiful!

  5. I’ve been trying to get more exercise and watch what I eat (I’m having trouble resisting the ice cream, though). I’m naturally slender, but I can see the writing on the (genetic) wall and I don’t want to rest on my laurels.

  6. You know how much this resonates and moves me Rhea! I’ve been around family that always commented on everyone’s current weight, and I was a very chubby kid. I’ve been a religious exerciser since I was 17, but the ironic thing is since I’ve had my kids and returned to work, I’m at my lowest weight ( but definitely not exercising more or even eating healthier). That’s been a huge mind fuck for me. Also, since my mother in law is now quadrapeligic, I celebrate every day what my body can do: feed myself, comb my hair, brush my teeth, hold my children and my husband and dance my ass off!! I always say wearing a bathing suit is my fear factor, but every year for our fifth grade pool party, I don my blue Jansen suit and dive in. I don’t want to send the message to my 10 year old students that they should miss out on the glory of splashing around in glee! So, I just cherish this amazing vessel that has grown two humans and can cultivate joy in so many ways. Rhea, the next time you are feeling arm conscious lets,start posing and showing off our “guns”. Muscular biceps are hella sexy!!!!

  7. I love this post and your honesty in it. I really like Jonelle’s response about practice, just practice again and again. Some of the things that help me practice are: living in an area where round is normal, teaching it (how hypocritical is it to teach that the fragmentation of the body leads to rape culture and then do it to myself?), a stable partner, kids (like the day when one tells you you have a squishy belly), learning from fat-positive sociologist friends, and oddly enough, exercise. I was thrilled with my body today when a lovely 20 year old walked out of the Hard Core class I was taking halfway through, and I finished it! I admire you for sticking with the project and I know that Olive will benefit from the nuanced definition of “beauty”. RAD, so rad.

    • Molly, I feel you about the exercise – my favorite way to feel good about my body is to move it. In fact, my next Operation Rad Bod post is going to be all about exercise! Thanks for the support, it really means a lot to me.

  8. The more encouragement to love ourselves the way we are, the better, because it’s still going to take so much work for me to really feel good about it all. The reminders like these are a great reset for me, and of course I do my best to talk the talk and walk the walk for my daughter, but it does feel phony, for sure.

    I totally can relate to the idea of going out and feeling great but then not being able to accept the photographs afterwards. It’s wonderful that when we are in the moment feeling good we can enjoy it. That’s a blessing. For me those pesky photos always ruin it. I like the idea of keeping those as separate things to conquer. Loving your body is different than loving photographs of your body. Works for me. Another great piece of writing, Rhea. xo

  9. I honestly don’t even know what you’re talking about. You look fantastic in that dress! You have an amazing body. There is not one problem with it. The problem is your perception. The media decides what is beautiful and for many years, it decided that women that have the bodies of 12-year-old boys are beautiful. Then, breast implants became easily accessible, so what is considered beautiful now is women with the bodies of 12-year-old boys but with big, unmovable boobs. We women have to stop giving such ridiculous notions of womanhood any power or weight. Real men are attracted to real women, not Barbie-doll fantasies of women. Real women have hips and thighs and arms that jiggle and breasts that flop around. Deal with it. Marilyn Monroe was a size 12 and men would have killed to spend five minutes with her. If you watch some old beach or pool movies from the 60’s (like Elvis movies), all of the women are large and decidedly unfit. No resemblance to 12-year-old boys. I personally think that nothing is less attractive in a woman than being too thin. Thin looks old and sickly.

    I too have always had an issue with my arms. Even at my tiniest, they were disproportionately large to my small frame. Then, one day, I saw a woman walking the perimeter of the dog park. She was plump and had, dare I say it, fat arms, but she was proudly sleeveless on a hot day and I thought, she looks great because she looks happy. NO ONE CARES ABOUT OUR ARMS!!! Seriously, the very sad thing is that 20, 30, 40 years from now you will look back at photos and wonder what kind of insanity you suffered from that you ever thought you didn’t look completely beautiful. We have so many real and frightening things to worry about these days, it’s just plain crazy to worry about how not flat our stomach is or how thick our thighs are or whatever. No one really cares but us. Healthy is all that is important. The people who love you don’t look at you and think, oh my, her arms look dreadful she should be wearing sleeves. You KNOW that. They think, my god Rhea looks radiant when she dances!

  10. I love your blog, Rhea. You are one of the most intentional, insightful people I know and I love reading your thoughts.

    I’m trying to love my body by appreciating not what it can do:it grew a baby, for crying out loud and my squishy stomach is a nice reminder of that. This article helps me view my post-baby body differently: http://www.stevewiens.com/2013/03/06/these-are-the-lines-of-a-story/

    I shared this writing with my sister who is a workout fiend, yet is never ‘fit’ enough for her liking. She had this to say, ‘That’s a good article. I may not haaaaate my body per say.. but I def do not love it. Side note: I think she looks really good in that dress.’

    Just thought I’d share the love with you!

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