Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Body War.

The strange thing about Facebook is that you can have a link to a cancer survivor’s blog bookended by an ad for Western wear and a photo like this.  This, in case you didn’t click, is the photo of fitness guru Maria Kang, six-months postpartum and completely ripped, which has been circulating the Internet like crazy causing debate among women mainly surrounding the tagline above the photo which reads “What’s your excuse?”  When I first saw this photo, I reacted like a lot of women probably did: with an eye roll and a bypass.  I also had a baby six months ago but look nothing like this.  Overall, I’ve been focusing on patience, as this will be the last time I give birth, nurse a baby to sleep, and work to rebuild strength lost through an amazing pregnancy.  But I’ll be honest.  There have been moments of real frustration, of throwing a pair of jeans across the room because they don’t fit, of cursing my feet that have jumped to a size 12, of looking in the mirror and feeling sad.  And I am not alone. 

I have a lot of beautiful friends.  Like seriously beautiful.  Like they have no idea how beautiful.  And these beautiful friends sometimes talk about their bodies and how they’re not so beautiful.  And many times these beautiful friends talk about their bodies this way when their beautiful children are present.  This is hard for me to hear.  It’s hard for me because I was one of those children who heard way too many adults complaining about their bodies.  In college I had major body image issues and hid it from my friends and family.  To this day, many people don’t know how badly I struggled.  Thankfully, I had help of a few who were aware and managed to overcome this kind of existence that made me feel so trapped.  At last, I was free.  I moved to working with young adults with affective and eating disorders on an inpatient unit and saw the extremes of what it is to be imprisoned.  I knew nothing until I saw these young women (and men) and heard their stories. 

All this body-talk got me thinking.  We, as women, have a narrative, don’t we?  Or at least if we don’t, society has one for us.  The story is predictable, and it’s getting old.  Society has made us into these uber body-conscious beings, but we seem to have forgotten the basics.  What is the role of our body?  It’s a fourth grade health class question.  Our body protects and moves.  It houses our mind, heart, and spirit.  It can hold and nourish another being.  It can scour Earth to look for another one to take care of.  It experiences a wide array of sensations.  It grows old, and it dies.  It is ours for one life, this one.  And yet we are at war.  So many of us are at war with our bodies.  Our wars vary, but in each one, the body is an enemy.  Many of us have a choice whether or not to go to war.  Some unfortunate souls do not. 

Many months ago, I began following a friend of a friend’s journey with breast cancer.  I do not know this woman personally, but I was touched by her story because, like so many others, I have held a loved one’s hand as he battled a relentless cancer.  When I hopped on Kara’s blog as a reader, she was undergoing chemotherapy, fighting alongside her amazing husband, four beautiful children, supportive friends, and loving community.  Since, she has learned that her cancer metastasized and is in the process of dealing with a new reality.  In her most recent post, she talks about her attempts to embrace the present moment despite a yearning to create spaces where she will be remembered.  I have started this next sentence a thousand times because it will be the one in which I try to describe her and what her story means to me.  Grace, beauty, honesty, courage, and strength all seem to be good adjectives, yet none of them quite encapsulate this woman.  She is living well in the face of a tragedy.  Her body is dying, but her hope and spirit remain alive.  I hope that you will read her words for yourself and get to know her.  Kara is forced into a war she doesn’t want to fight.  And here we are complaining about our muffin tops. 

I know, I know, it’s all relative is what you’ll say.  And yes, eating disorders and negative body image are real problems that aren’t easily fixed.  But, cancer.  Cancer.  Cancer sucks.

I don’t think you need cancer to be a hero, though I think Kara is the one of the greatest I’ve ever “known.”  I don’t think you need to always love the way you look to be a hero.  And I don’t think you need to plaster bikini-clad photos of yourself on the Internet to be a hero.  I do think that being a hero in this war means that you have awareness and desire for change and take steps toward a new kind of existence.  An existence where we celebrate our bodies more often than criticizing and over-examining.  I think being a hero in this war means that you are supportive of your comrades and understand that we cannot fight alone.  As a collective group of women, we must – we must – create a counter-narrative to the story that’s already written.  Use positive affirmations, use self-talk, use inspirational people like Kara to move you.  Whatever you do, come home a hero.


  1. made me cry reading this. Touched by your words. Love you friend. I really want to get together soon. Let's make it happen.

  2. Thank you for these kind words. It's no surprise you know my dear Jen. Thank you for sharing my story.

  3. Keri, you inspire me. I wish we could be together more. I mish you and think about you often. XO Sarah Walkowiak