Photo by AllGo - An App For Plus Size People on Unsplash

Further rumination on how the body we have is the body we deserve

Over the last week or so I have been both delighted and appalled by comments I’ve gotten on a nearly year-old article that speaks to body image. The piece was written in part as a story about calling people out for what they wear at the gym. It morphed into a broader piece on how the skin suit we have is the one that is perfect for the journey we are on, right here right now. It’s a vehicle, not us. Lot of love and care and respect and inspiration in that piece. But not for some.

About six folks got stuck on the word “deserve” in the title, got their panties in a twist and came after me with claws bared. Mostly young. Very young, in fact. With rabid self-righteousness and condescension as the weapons of choice.

It must be so exhausting to be so very young and so very clueless. I remember; I did it too. In the military we called it “time in grade, time in service.” With luck, it might pass. Or not.

Bright spots remain.

In the last 24 hours two comments came in which speak precisely to why I write such pieces.

These speak for themselves.

With deep thanks to both of you (you know who you are).

From my buddy Dee:

Hey Julia! …I work with people of all sorts in the clinic and I’m always astounded to hear of some of the worst heartbreaks that people have gone through in life (whether by accident, injury, intentional harm, combat etc) and then to be told that they have endured some form of body shaming when they are still in the process of recovery.

It’s a toxic world out there; superficial, callous and plastic. But it’s always inspiring when these same patients of mine find that strength to claw their way back with their god given bodies through sheer grit, guts and determination no matter what sort of things they are told by detractors and naysayers.

Our bodies are true gifts. It doesn’t matter what they look like. We need to be mindful of this, stay grateful and to encourage people when they try to make themselves better; even if they don’t look like star athletes or movie stars.

One of my favourite patients always inspires me to keep my faith and to keep working out. He’s still recovering from a stroke and heart disease and was told he’d never walk or speak again. He now walks 8–10K a day and does weight training at home. He may still get jabbed at with negative comments at the gym but he just keeps going like a real hero. He’s a miracle and a shining example of “the body you deserve”. He’s earned it. And I hope to live up to his ethos every time I want to skip a workout because I don’t look like those perfect Instagram people. (author bolded)

Yesterday, from a new commenter Herb Cochley:

…The other day an older lady in the local grocery store took me to task for running every day without a shirt. She implied I wasn’t fit enough. I let it go with a smile. But the fact is, I have lost 120 pounds. I have lots of empty and flabby skin, but strangely I am really proud of it. And I run as though my body is a badge of honor. (author bolded)

(Tagging Katie Andrews on that.)

But as you have written, there is another aspect to it. Where was this confidence before I lost weight?

I was in the same grocery store after the fact. A girl was going the wrong way down an aisle as mandated by the virus distancing regulations. She apologized and we ended up have (sic) dinner as a result. I was so attracted to her. I was attracted to the extent that I apologized if I were hitting on her, and explained that I didn’t mean it to be rude. She said that it was fine, that most guys don’t get past her weight. I realized that here was this girl who was pretty big, and I hadn’t even considered it before then. I told her she should be proud, and that she has her priorities in order. I am going to send this to her. Again, thanks for writing.

Kindly, and to those who utterly and totally missed the point, this was the point. You and I have absolutely no clue what story is behind anyone else’s body or their journey. That is why is it monumentally inappropriate to attack anyone’s physical form. Which was of course the entire point of the article.

Come on folks.

The personal attacks I got were from folks who seemed to think I am in perfect shape, have a perfect life and consider myself superior. Which is apparently why they seemed to hear moralizing in an article that, if any moralizing was being done at all, was calling out body shamers.

So natch, one guy wrote me that I was shaming the body shamers. After I stopped laughing, I was tempted, but didn’t bother, to note that he was shaming me for shaming the body shamers. If you can’t see why this is funny, my material is not for you. I have of course called myself out on this elsewhere.

On the badge that is my body

I have beaten the holy shit out of my body. I have scars and loose skin and no teeth and injuries and disabilities to beat the band. I deal with pretty regular pain and sometimes pretty awful pain. I’m a 90% disabled veteran who is considered unemployable because I get so many migraines. I’ve had 21 concussions and deal with post-concussion syndrome. That’s a fraction of what I deal with. That I am still upright sometimes surprises me no end. I still push myself, all the time, to work, to train, both because of and in spite of what I deal with.

I am deeply aware that there are so many people far worse off. I am also aware that there are plenty of people who think they are far worse off than everybody else, but aren’t, and don’t know it. Those are the folks who seem to love to play “I have it worse than you do” one-upsmanship with the general public. I fail to see how this is useful, but then I stopped swimming in my pity party pool decades ago.

My body, just as for all of us, is my love letter to myself as well as my statement of survival. Of thrival, as my commenters wrote about above.

My social media expert JC wrote me the other day a line out of one of our regular bi-weekly discussions. Those people who drive us the most crazy, who piss us off the most, are the most likely to cause us to grow. I agree completely. Drives me buggy, but he’s right.

Those are the folks who force us to look at our shit. For me, that’s a whole lotta folks on Medium(Rosennab, Yael Wolfe, Elle Beau, Gillian Sisley, Marley K., Sharon Hurley Hall and the whole lot of you brilliant incredible people, too many to list). They are brave enough to write truths, truths which can and do cause me to look long and hard at my shit, and as a result I get to grow.

Or not. My choice. But they’ve done their job.

But only for those who are ready. The way I see it, the more folks spend their time interfering with others, the more they telegraph how seriously they need to deal with their own issues.

The woman in the store barking at Herb about his body? That woman has serious-as-shit body issues herself. The folks who shame Dee’s patients? Kindly, IMHO, folks got some serious self-hate going on. Same way I feel about those folks who have the compulsive need to bark at, bite at, and bully Medium writers who have a challenging take, whether that’s about Race, Feminism, Body Image or any other damned thing. If you are looking for offense, you will find it, even where there is none. That’s what Morals Police do.

If free speech bothers folks that much, Hong Kong is hiring Morals Police right now. People can bully folks with an opinion all they like. And by god put them in jail, which I am sure would be deeply satisfying.

Tough times are the times that make us who we can be. The stories from the commenters above are clear indications of that. I write and speak about inspirational stories. Because I fucking live one. That’s why I admire courage in others. Write about it. Speak about it. Link to and promote other writers whose work rocks and challenges and invites me to think differently.

And I have the courage to own my shit. Plenty enough personal shit and plenty of courage. But that doesn’t come from attacking others for what they bring up inside me.

Like Herb, my body is my badge of honor. Not about bragging rights. Nor am I going to apologize for getting older, getting wrinkled, getting grey. Don’t like it, don’t look. Don’t like my shit, don’t read my shit.*

Handle. Your. Own.

It’s great fertilizer for personal growth.

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

*Ripped off with permission from Ann Litts.