Another Item to Fix: Looking Deeply at Calls for Body Acceptance

January 5, 2017

Written by guest blogger, Cheryl Madliger. Her review of Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight—and What We Can Do About It by Harriet Brown is featured in the See How She Runs: Feminists Rethink Fitness issue of IJFAB.

Read the full review here or on Project MUSE!

In a season of resolutions aimed at improving—or fixing—everything in our lives, in particular our bodies, books like Harriet Brown’s Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight—and What We Can Do About It (published by Da Capo — Lifelong Books) offer respite from the pressure.  In my review of the book, I applauded Brown’s contribution to what is an important discussion about the importance of critically assessing the notions of “health” we are bombarded with on a daily basis. Brown tackles what she calls an epidemic of weight-obsession which disproportionately affects women, who strive towards thinness at all costs, relentlessly anxious about our bodies.

While work like Brown’s draws attention to contemporary constructions of health and fitness, she joins a chorus of writers (scholars, bloggers, magazine columnists) urging individuals—women in particular—to reject the messages they hear about their bodies in favour of self-acceptance and a new definition of health. It has become difficult to know whose contributions to this discourse are simply capitalizing on a new form of insecurity amongst women in the form of a need to accept oneself and one’s body. The urgency once attributed to dealing with one’s muffin top or love handles has now shifted, for many women, to embrace the new ideal of living in perfect harmony with our bodies. Life coaches, personal trainers, wellness coaches, health coaches—there are so many people talking about and selling this new ideal.  A google search for “body acceptance coaching” returns upwards of 85 million results, and as someone who has dabbled in the body acceptance arena, I can think of figures in the field who charge in the realm of $1500 for group coaching calls and pump-up emails dedicated to helping you with—or reminding you about—the issue. So often these offerings combine the need to love your body with the contradictory promise that by doing so, you’ll lose weight.

As a certified personal trainer and trained life coach whose Masters thesis examined the representations of healthy femininity in CrossFit media, I’ve spent hours on end wondering what the answer to our bodily discontent is.

Where does that discontent come from?

Perhaps the normalization of women hating their bodies is a piece of the puzzle and not the problem in and of itself. Add to it that I’ve been through an eating disorder, and you’ll understand why bringing a truly critical eye to anything or anyone that promises to truly solve our body and life woes is important to me. Just as in recovery when I had to look beyond the superficial components of my eating disorder, our bodies and our relationship to them represent complicated, multi-layered issues.  Culturally, shifting the responsibility laid on women to achieve and maintain the perfect body towards achieving and maintaining the new ideal of health and loving our bodies does naught to relieve the pressure. Waking up and feeling like a failure for carrying around the last 10 pounds is frustrating, as is the frustration of hearing over and over again that you ought to love your body and look good while doing it.

Our bodies are ever-changing. They get injured, sick, grow, swell, shrink, and wither. When we stop the obsession with our bodies and our relationship to them as things to be managed, we free up time, energy, and awareness for so much more.

This year, watch for those offerings promising an easy fix whether it comes to your body or your relationship to it. Relief from resolutions often comes disguised as another task of self-management, compelling you to spend your time, energy, and money on fixing another perceived flaw.  Body of Truth contributes to an increasingly necessary discussion about what it means to challenge contemporary constructions of health. Brown could have gone further to really question the ideological implications of healthism and the way we assign health a moral aspect, extending her discussion of the ways in which the normalization of women’s bodily discontent might perpetuate some of the very issues she serves to free women from via her writing.  Rather than taking a surface level approach, arguing over what represents health, we ought to question our obsession with it. When it comes to resolutions, may this year be a year of thinking a little deeper.

To read more by Madliger, be sure to visit her blog,, and follow her on Twitter @cherylmadliger!
The special See How She Runs: Feminists Rethink Fitness issue is available to read here and on Project MUSE

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