Stop It With All The Body Affirmation Jazz Already

by Nicole Leigh Shaw
Originally Published: 

That’s how I feel about “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.” Here’s what’s inside a human being: intestines. That’s for one. And vascular stuff and mucous membranes and brain matter and an appendix, usually. There’s also waste and gases and acids. Bones, too. Bones are inside a person–the same things we use on Halloween to creep out trick-or-treaters. Yes, what’s inside us are mechanisms and parts, like a car. That’s because a body isn’t a destination, it’s a vehicle. Put that on your stock photo and tag 53 of your closest Facebook friends.

So, where is your body, your size 2 or your size 12 or your size 22, taking you today? Out for ice cream? Great, enjoy it! Cardio Alligator Wrestling? Fantastic! I’ll take a pass, because I don’t actually want to die trying to get my cardio in, but you do you, kid. Just remember that you’re never going to get where you are going if your only destination is your vehicle.

What you can do is take your coupe or your Mack truck or whatever it is your body resembles and keep it gassed up, change the oil regularly and get the routine maintenance handled. (This is all a metaphor for staying healthy, right? You’re keeping up with me?) Look good and feel good…by all means, do. There’s not a thing wrong with pride in your package. But there’s nothing particularly right about it, either.

When we repeat the “It’s what inside that counts” platitude, I think what we really mean is that our bodies are less important than what comes out of them. I’m talking about creative and emotional output. I’m talking about physical output. I’m talking about the sum total of our contribution to the people in our world. From hugs to high fives, from building a house with Habitat for Humanity to playing Cards Against Humanity, we are putting out something of much greater value than that of the shape and size of bodies. Truth be told, the shape and size of a person’s body is rarely correlated with her ability to be valuable to someone else–unless you need help reaching the high shelf or need a person with unbelievably small hands to help dig your earring out of the sink drain. Then, yes.

Oh, I know you don’t see it. We aren’t trained to see output in the mirror. But I bet you see it in other people all the time. When someone helps us or touches us or is just plain fun to be with, we forget all about their looks, instead assigning value to their crooked teeth and knobby knees based on what they’ve done to better our own situation.

Take that goofy-looking guy in college who made you laugh or really liked your idiotic performance piece in the quad. Once he proved to have emotional value to you, his overly large ears or disproportionately-wide-and-flat butt became a lot more appealing, am I right? When humans interact in meaningful ways, we start to attach our emotional response to their physical being. I like your laugh, therefore I like your eyes. I get excited when you talk about macroeconomics, therefore I want to see you naked. This is how attraction really works. And it works that way for us, too–you and me.

All that’s left is to take care of the health of our bodies so that we can go places and do things and influence people. When we die, no one is going to give a eulogy that starts, “Nicole weighed 140 pounds, was 5-feet-1-inch tall, and had brown hair most of her life. She was not busty.” If we’re using our bodies correctly, someone will stand up and cry snot onto her little stack of index cards and say something like, “I’m sorry, I just miss her so much. I remember the time that she….”

So let’s be done with the measuring and weighing and obsessing. I’m in the middle of life now, hopefully on the short side of the halfway point, but I have no way of knowing that for sure. I have no way of knowing if watching Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 is going to be the last waste of my time before I pass away in the night, thinking, “I should have watched Modern Family reruns instead.” But I do know that I should stop reading affirmational essays about embracing my body shape and give myself permission to ignore my body shape.

I will exercise and eat well enough because I do want to live longer, if possible, and not have a body that I’m incapable of hoisting off the couch. But on my next walk, I’ll take my scale with me so I can toss it in the trash can at the top of the driveway. I’ll find another yardstick for measuring my sex appeal and my worth and my humanity. Maybe I’ll use a really valuable measurement, like how many laughs I can make people laugh or how many hugs I give that matter or how many times I didn’t tell someone in carpool what I really think about them holding up the line.

Maybe I’ll even judge myself by the number of times I shared a pizza with friends and didn’t count the calories.

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