As someone with not much regard for my body, I can hear my nutritionist cackling with glee at the thought of this post. She's spent months trying to brainwash me into liking it anyway. I fight back, chafing at the idea.
Now along comes Martha C. Nussbaum, PhD, a leading ethical thinker based at the University of Chicago, saying we should not just like our bodies or merely tolerate our young bodies in their prime. No, she writes in a recent New Republic essay, we should consider our bodies as "dynamic, marvelous, and, more important, just (as) us ourselves." We should celebrate our bodies with the spirit captured by the 1970s movement Our Bodies, Ourselves, sparked by the book-turned-organization. The alternative is ugly: Prejudice, bigotry and other social ills will surge when fueled by self-dislike.
Nussbaum mourns the loss of body-embracing spirit: "I fear that my generation is letting disgust and shame sweep over us again, as a new set of bodily challenges beckons."
Flaccid muscles, graying hair, foreheads creasing with wrinkles. Not yuck, not gross, do not withdraw, do not hide in shame, she writes:
[The poet Walt] Whitman knew that we will not be able to love one another unless we first stop hiding from ourselves—meaning our bodies...
As we age, we are yielding to all the forces we tried, back then, to combat: not only the forces of external medical control, but the more insidious force of self-loathing. Whitman knew that disgust was a social poison. Psychologists studying the emotion today confirm his intuitions about its link with prejudice and exclusion.
If you don't like yourself, your body, then what must you think of others, Nussbaum questions. Worth pondering, I'll concede.
Previously: Ask Stanford Med: Director of Female Sexual Medicine Program responds to questions on sexual health, Blogging may boost teens' self-esteem and Tai chi linked to mental-health boost, but more study is needed
Photo by Jennifer Morrow