“What I’m Viewing Is A Little Different Than What Your Eyes Show Ya”: On Body Image
by Aramide Tinubu
A casual-to-moderate gym devotee, I’ve always been intrigued by who goes to the gym. It’s so fascinating to watch what machines people gravitate toward, and which classes are perpetually overcrowded. I was under the impression that you could tell a lot about person by observing these things. But it turns out, the gym floor isn’t where you see people at their most vulnerable, it’s actually the sauna. (The women’s sauna specifically because I haven’t had the privilege of being in the male sauna.) Though I’ve been a member of my current gym for well over a year, I hadn’t ventured into the sauna room until last week. A stifling box full of body odor and sweat simply didn’t seem all the appealing to me. (It has also taken me this long not to run for the door like a bat out of hell as soon as my workout sessions ended.) However, like 90% of New Years resoluteness I’ve decided that 2015 is the year that I gather myself in order and whip my thunder thighs into shape. Tragically this means hanging about New York Sports Club for at least an hour.
I’ve vowed like many others while sipping my green juices and counting my calories to be more in tune with my health. And yet, as a Black woman I wonder if it goes beyond the health factor. In fact I know that for me it goes beyond health. As women, we strive for perfection, to have just the right amount of hips and butt, just the perfect handful of breasts without a roll, or stretch mark or piece of cellulite in sight. I feel like there is a constant cycle of questions about my body in my head. How should my body look? How do I think it looks? How does everyone else perceive it?
If I’m honest with myself, I’ve been overly obsessed with my weight since college. Like most women, I’ve been aware of my body and how it looks compared to others since puberty. In an effort to be “thin”, I’ve not eaten, I’ve juiced, I’ve dieted, I’ve worn corsets and so on and so forth. At first I tried to get away with not working out. (In my eyes, sweating was the devil.) Senior year of college, I chopped of all of my hair and I no longer had an excuse so I began running. Initially, I was barely making it a mile before feeling like the end was near, and now over two years later running I can run three miles without too much effort. (Of course this is when I’m in one of my gym going friezes which constantly ebbs and flows.) So now I have a tolerable relationship with exercise but my internal wars that I have with my body are a whole other situation.
I think like most women there are weeks when I wake up and I’m happy and content and I think I look good. And, then the next day after I’ve had just one too many glasses of wine or scoops of ice cream and I suddenly feel monstrous, and guilty. Think to myself, if only I was this dress size, or this number on the scale, or if a particular outfit looked right on my body.
I thought about all of this a few evenings ago as I sat in the minuscule sauna room at my gym, with a sweatband around my stomach (something I’m too ashamed to wear out on the gym floor.) As I sat there breathing deeply I observed the other women around me. Like me, at least two of them had on some sort of stomach garment while one woman spent the entire time lathering her body in coconut oil. As I sat there bewilder and perplexed., I began to realize the absurdity of it all. Were we somehow going to be inches thinner with silky smooth skin once we left this sauna and reentered the real world? Or, were these just steps that we take in order to trick ourselves into feeling better about our bodies? The thing is, we have to stop all of this poking and prodding, all of this lathering and tightening. The media does not give us accurate representations of the female body. Celebrity women do not live “typical” daily lives. We can’t get caught up in how we think we should be, or what we think men want us to look like. Instead, we should embrace ourselves our bodies and strive for real health, internally and externally.
Aramide A Tinubu has her Master’s in Film Studies from Columbia University. She wrote her thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a Black Cinema geek and blogger. You can read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami.