So, folks, it’s the Fourth of July again. I’ll leave aside the discussions of post-colonialism and cultural erasure and militarism and imperialism for the moment (though if you do a quick Google search with any of those words, you’ll find interesting reading for the rest of the summer). No, my topic for the day is FREEDOM.
Not the stars-and-stripes, writing-“MURICA”-across-a-cake-in-sparklers-and-frosting kind of freedom. If you know me IRL, that’s not exactly my bag. But freedom to exist in your own body.
Sometimes body hate and self-judgment feel like more than the status quo. It feels like the only quo. How could you stop feeling this way about yourself, if messages on every side (from the diet commercials to the media to your friends and family) are telling you it’s impossible to feel any other way?
Permit me to stretch for a moment, but do you think Alexander Hamilton would have accepted tyranny and over-taxed lightly caffeinated coffee alternatives because society told him there was no alternative? No! My favorite Founding Father (and the most dashing, because seriously he died in an honor duel to the death) would have planted a flag in the ground and shouted, “No! There is another way!”
In that vein, I’ve set about drafting the Body Peace Bill of Rights. Body hate is not a predetermined conclusion. It is a practice. And as with any practice, it takes realizing that there’s an alternative to make a change. As you navigate the holiday weekend (or just the weekend, should you not be in the US), keep in mind these five inalienable rights of every person to feel secure, at peace, and unthreatened just as they are, right this moment.
1. Freedom from other people’s opinions and judgments
“One shall accept no opinions respecting the establishment of one’s body, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom to eat, or dress, or exist, or petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
(I’m leaving the ability to petition the government untouched, because I feel like that’s always been the less-hyped aspect of the first amendment. Let’s give government petitions some love, folks.)
Summer holidays, at least in the American Midwest where I currently knock about, often translate to barbecues, potlucks, and other gatherings centered on food. I don’t think of myself as a particularly social individual – friends are continually reminding me that there are ways to pass an evening that don’t involve Netflix or fourth-round novel revisions – and yet somehow I’ve been to four or five such food-based events this summer. It can be stressful. The fear that people are going to watch what you’re eating, that they’ll comment on it, that there’s an expectation for you to eat or not eat a certain amount… It’s everywhere.
And you don’t need to worry about it.
Your food intake is nobody’s business but your own. 99% of the time, no one at your social gathering is at all concerned with what you’re eating. I can almost guarantee that you’re the most worried about it by a mile. And if someone there does make inappropriate or uncalled-for comments about it, know that it’s not your problem what they’re saying.
You’re a fully independent person (*cue bald eagles screaming across a flag-draped sky, for ambiance*) and you are fully capable of feeding yourself. Anyone who wants to make you feel judged for what you eat is petty, probably self-conscious about their own food, and in need of a serious dose of body peace. Spread the zen from your side, as much as possible.
2. Freedom from food-related fear
“Adequate and tasty nutrition being necessary for good living, the right to eat what sounds good, is available, and will not make you feel ill shall not be infringed.”
Grab a plate of potato salad and a cheeseburger if that’s what you want. If you’d rather have a grilled veggie burger and fruit salad, grab that. Just make sure that it’s what you really want, and not what you think is “right” or what you think others expect you to have. See the first amendment for reassurance that, odds are, no one will notice either way.
It’s just food. Food is not the enemy. We need food to stay alive. Why not make it taste good at the same time?
3. Freedom to avoid destructive situations
“No one shall, at any time, be quartered in an environment where one is uncomfortable, judged, or made to feel unwelcome.”
All too often, there’s an expectation to say “yes” to everything. Every invitation. Every party. Every request from friends, family members, and co-workers to bring your famous key lime pie to the next gathering or cookout. (Hey. Guys. I make a fantastic key lime pie. It’s understandable.)
But some situations are just not the best thing for your well-being. If you know that you’re entering into a situation that will only make you uncomfortable, sad, and possibly triggered, you reserve the right to (politely) say “no, thanks, not this time.”
Self-care is enormously important, and is not being “weak” or “giving in.” It’s knowing your body’s needs and your own needs for your mental health. So if you know something won’t be good for you, don’t do it. It’s the same as choosing not to eat a peanut butter sandwich if you’re wildly allergic to nuts. We all know what the outcome will be, so why put yourself in that situation?
This doesn’t have to be straight refusing invites, either. It can be as simple as choosing not to engage Great-Aunt Mary in a discussion on gay rights or politics, or politely shutting down a conversation from your grandfather about why you’re still unemployed. Take care of yourself, and the rest will follow.
4. Freedom from body-related limitations
“Fear of judgment or social norms shall not restrict one from free and enjoyable expression.”
For years, I would get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when the dreaded poolside dinner combo was introduced. As if eating food in front of people wasn’t hard enough, then there was the double whammy of having to eat in front of people while wearing a bathing suit. Please, just have me gnaw through my own leg while I’m at it.
I’m sure none of you are new to the two-step plan for getting a bikini body this summer, but I think it bears repeating:
- Go get a bikini.
- Put it on your body.
Voila. There we go.
I know this is easier said than done, and I’ll admit that I still have to gear myself up for the act of eating a cheeseburger in a bikini in front of others. But I’ll do it. My stomach’s not flat. My thighs touch. I’ve put on weight during college. I’m not going to look like I strolled out of the pages of Sports Illustrated. And you know what?
Look up at the sky. It’s still there. My burger-bearing bikini body has not caused the sky to crash to the ground, burying us all in the debris of my personal inability to look like a supermodel.
Ask a friend to talk you through it or go with you if you feel nervous. Find someone you can confide in. But don’t let outside pressures about appearance or socially constructed beauty stop you from doing what makes you happy. You deserve better than that.
5. Freedom to accept mistakes
“The right to struggle, slip up, or trip without giving up or inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on oneself shall be reserved, here and for all time.”
Newsflash: none of us are perfect. We can keep the principles of body love and self-acceptance and recovery high up there on our mental list, and sometimes we will still slide backward. We’ll allow that relative or that friend’s comment to throw us for a loop. We’ll interact with food in a way that we know is self-destructive or an unhealthy coping mechanism. We’ll make big plans and chicken out at the last minute.
Hey guys: that’s life.
But don’t let that slip become a landslide. Accept that mistakes and slip-ups are a part of everyone’s recovery, indeed everyone’s life, but they don’t have to define the future. A relapse can always be turned around. It’s never too late to choose to do something good for yourself.
Recovery isn’t linear. The path winds and dips and turns and sometimes takes you straight through a building and out the other side, but every step is exactly the step you need to take. Be gentle and kind to yourself if things are still difficult for you. Every step you take on the path to recovery is one step farther along than you were before you took it.
What amendments would you add? What are your strategies for making it happy and at peace through the summer? Let me know in the comments! Personally, I’m heading out the door to a Fourth of July gathering right this minute – and who knows? Maybe it’ll involve bikini-clad cheeseburgers.
To clarify: I’d be wearing the bikini. Not the cheeseburger. That’d just be weird.