Another lesson for girls: love your body


Historiann and Knitting Clio, ca. 1982

The doyenne of adolescent and college student health history, Knitting Clio, has written an utterly appropriate lesson for girls, number 11:  “Love your body.”  She adds some thoughts too about Brooke Shields, and even scares up one of those scandalous old magazine advertisements for Calvin Klein Jeans.  (Just click here to see it–go on, click–I know you’re curious.  Doesn’t Shields look incredibly young to be wearing all of that makeup?  It was the 1980s, friends–that’s how we rolled when we were in our early teens.)  KC writes,  “I both hated and emulated [Shields] for those Calvin Klein ads — they were one of the (many) reasons I disliked my body.  I dieted strenuously and got real skinny so I could fit into my pair of CKs.  Other girls in my high school went further and were hospitalized for anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders.”  She continues: 

In graduate school, I worked with Joan Jacobs Brumberg, and found that what she calls  “bad body fever”  has been a problem that has plagued women for at least a century.  Now that I’m approaching middle age, I’m more tolerant about what my body looks like, even though women of a certain age — like Brooke — who still look fabulous have raised the bar considerably.

Right on, sister.  (She reminds us of the “Love your body” campaign, an adjunct of the National Organization for Women.)  How much of my teens and twenties did I waste obsessing about this body part or that feature?  (How much time when you were young and gorgeous did you waste?  How much time are you wasting right now?)  What a total waste of my time, energy, and youth.  In my 30s, I felt pretty darn great that I didn’t completely fall apart cosmetically (I know–how shallow), and now that I’ve just crossed into my 40s, I’m finally grateful for my body–to have a healthy body that functions well and isn’t in pain seems like a wonderful luxury.  It’s done everything I’ve ever asked of it–and more than I deserve, I suppose, considering that I didn’t always take care of it as it should have been cared for.  I just spent some time recently with a good friend who’s had breast cancer and a double mastectomy, and who reminded me that good health is nothing to take for granted.  So, as Knitting Clio says, love your body–enjoy it, and take care of it.

0 thoughts on “Another lesson for girls: love your body

  1. No shirt, no shoes, NO DICE!

    Love that Rick Springfield head shot–I used to watch him on General Hospital. Who’s the guy in the photo underneath? I’ll send a special prize to anyone who gets the right answer. (Could it be Anthony Edwards? But no–he was in Fast Times, too!)


  2. Of all the lessons for girls, this is the one I wish I’d learned. As a teenager I wished I were taller, then I wished I were thinner. . . Not sure I’m completely over it, but I’m better. And I’m always stunned the assumption that you should do surgery to “fix” whatever isn’t “right” — nose, breasts, whatever.


  3. Historiann, I agree with what you are saying. But how do I convey your message to my seventeen year old sister, especially as her older brother who would seemingly “know nothing” about it? She is locked in the obsessive phase of unrealistic celebrity body worship and emulation which, as it appears to me, is dictating her youth and social life. I would hate for her to be filled with regret in her later years, especially if there was something I could do to help her now. Is there?


  4. Alex–good question. Can you encourage her to get involved in groups and clubs that will allow her to focus her time and attention on something other than her body image? It won’t cure the problem entirely, but making sure she’s doing more than reading trashy mags and staring at herself in the mirror might pull her out of herself. If she gets in with a good group, she may meet people who have more realistic notions of their bodies and a healthier relationship with food.

    I think you can also question her directly about why she thinks looks are so important. They feel that way at 17, but you may plant some seeds that encourage her to think about using her time now to help put herself where she wants to be at 20, 24, or somewhere else down the line. You are her older brother, so presumably you have a little bit more wisdom and experience to offer her from your perspective, right?


  5. The thing that gets me about our whole throw-away celebrity culture is that You’re either too fat or too skinny, or if you have a ‘perfect’ figure, your pilloried for having cellulite or a bump on your nose or whatever. I have a friend who is naturally extremely thin, and she gets fed up with people she doesn’t even know accusing her of being anorexic (she most definitely is not). To me, this is a reflection of the wider societal attitude that women’s bodies are public property, and can be freely analysed and picked apart by complete strangers.

    I wasted way too much time fretting over my body. It was only when I got into distance running in my early 30s that my attitude changed, and I started to truly value my body for what it could do instead of what it looked like. Running my first half-marathon was an incredibly empowering experience (even if I was dead slow!).


  6. “To me, this is a reflection of the wider societal attitude that women’s bodies are public property, and can be freely analysed and picked apart by complete strangers.”

    Yes, indeed. Excellent point. Women can’t win–criticizing their bodies for whatever shape or size they are is a great way to attack women for daring to make their own decisions about food, exercise, and appearance.

    I think you’re right, too, that becoming more athletic is a good strategy for encouraging people to have a healthier relationship with food and with their bodies. (With the exceptions perhaps of ballet and figure skating!) That’s another great suggestion for Alex.


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