Like (sadly) many women I know, I've long been engaged in a fraught, dysfunctional battle with my body. Since I was 12 or so, I've spent an ungainly amount of time either obsessively dieting or obsessively scolding myself for NOT dieting. (I use the term "dieting" loosely -- it's not like I've spent every day on Jenny Craig, but I've usually done some variation of calorie-counting or vaguely attempting to "eat healthy"). This ongoing struggle to control my size means, obvs, that I have long-held issues with self-consciousness, self-loathing, and the false fear that I'm not quiiite good enough "as is."
Growing up, I could look in the mirror and (usually) acknowledge a relatively decent-looking human staring back at me. But no matter, because I never felt decent ENOUGH. Not compared to my best friend, or my neighbor, or my neighbor's super-fit mom. Hence, every time a boyfriend rebuffed me, or an OKCupid dude disappeared after one date, or someone asked for a friend's number instead of mine, I'd unfailingly, immediately chalk it up to my lazy ass not being skinny or pretty enough.
It was a ridiculously oversimplified stock answer to a complex interpersonal dance, and as a feminist, I knew -- logically -- that reducing my worth to the size of my jeans was a load of cursory crap. I also saw that my own biased analysis of my romantic rejections probably wasn't even remotely legit, considering how fickle and bizarro attraction can be. (Not to mention that I was selling men short by believing that the only women they could ever possibly be interested in were pin-thin and model-gorgeous.)
But still I fight my own body. "I'll accept you eventually," I've kept promising myself -- one day, far off down the road, once I've managed to squeeze back into my high-school jeans. But self-acceptance right here, right now, when I looked … like this? No way, no how. I might as well have stamped a gigantic letter U on my forehead for UNACCEPTABLE.
I know I'm not alone in this. The other day, a childhood friend was telling me about how she runs every morning. She loves it, she said, because as a mom of two little kids, those 30 minutes are the only time she gets for herself each day. Then, unprompted, she segued into a disparaging quip about how she's still struggling to take off her last few pounds of baby weight. It was like she couldn't let herself have that brief daily respite of silence and serenity -- she had to muddy it with a tinge of self-hate, explain it away, turn it into a self-improvement thing instead of just ... Her Thing.
But why the constant self-improvement schtick? Why can't we ever rest for a sec and just let ourselves be who we are, and look the way we do, and be OK with that, right here and right now? I'll admit, the idea of unconditionally accepting myself instead of constantly scrambling toward "bettering" my body sounds pretty effing hard -- but it also sounds pretty effing radical, and it's what I'm working for.
So this story, about how celebrity trainer Tracy Anderson has helpfully offered her (unsolicited) body-transforming services to "Girls" actor and creator Lena Dunham, just made me ... sad. The gist: In an interview with The Cut, Anderson gushed about how much she loves "Girls" before proceeding to hint that though Dunham's show may be awesome, her body could use a little work. Even though Dunham hasn't agreed to work with her, Anderson sends trainers to the show's set -- and dammit, if only Dunham hated herself just a tiny bit more, she might give in and let Anderson "transform her." (Gag.)
Here's the thing: Lena Dunham didn't ask Tracy Anderson for her help. Lena Dunham's body isn't anyone's project, and she doesn't need to be transformed.
Anderson backpedaled, noting how much she likes seeing "diverse" body types on TV. She explained how she trains "everyone from Jennifer Lopez to Gwyneth Paltrow ... and I’m a totally different body type. I think there needs to be more emphasis in art and entertainment and fashion on all different body shapes."
Gahhhh; I can't. Maybe if more people like Anderson would learn to cut it with the unsolicited "help," more women would learn to accept ourselves as we are -- no tweaks, edits or upgrades necessary. When will our bodies become meaningful to us because they're OURS to nurture and protect, not because they're public property for outsiders' critique and consumption?
No, I don't love everything about my body, and I doubt I ever will. But that doesn't mean I'm not perfectly OK as I am. What I need isn't more pressure to be "better." What I need is permission to accept myself as is -- to give myself a break from the constant hamster wheel of frantic self-improvement.
I'm not broken, and I don't need to be fixed. Neither does Lena Dunham.
I'm on Twitter here.