Function over Form- how to engage in body image work
While I was training on my internship in Upstate New York, I had the privilege of working with the most incredible woman, Dr. Melissa Fallon. She was wise and wonderful, a beautiful soul who would become a mentor and hero to me that year and beyond. We ran a Body Image group with the college students and she taught me many things about how to work with my patients and how to shape and mold myself. She taught me that as women we have many birth rights- to have children or not, to love and to be loved, to own the body we have and accept it in whatever form it is currently in, to exercise or be active so that our bodies have that warm “used” feeling, to rest, to eat what tastes good and stop when we feel satiated. We also have the right to be counter cultural and reject the notion that how we look is the most important and most accurate reflection of the health and function of our bodies. Melissa taught me a powerful metaphor, which I have used to describe some of the problems with our cultural value of body image many times since: You can have a gorgeous, fully tricked out, cherry red sports car sitting on your front lawn, but if there is no engine in it- it’s useless.
Our bodies need fuel, they are built to function in so many wonderful and purposeful ways. If we focus on polishing and displaying them (like that sports car) without attending to their inner workings (both emotional and physical), then we may fall into body image traps, disordered eating, excessive exercise, and even eating disorders. At 8 months pregnant I am acutely aware that our bodies are designed to function in ways that are miraculous. However, this does not mean that I am not vulnerable to body image concerns. I want to love my growing and changing form but it is hard to escape the messages that society tells me about what “the right” body looks like. Rejecting the broad cultural perspective and embracing function over form looks like this for me these days: I value my growing body because it is creating a wonderful home for my little girl. My body is changing to nourish her and to give me the energy I need to help her come into this world! My body is doing exactly what it needs to do in order to make her strong! I love my curves because they mean that she is happy and healthy! In closing I hope our little girl turns out like Melissa, or even like me! I also hope she knows how beautifully and wonderfully made her body is!