THE BLOG
02/10/2014 03:56 pm ET | Updated Apr 12, 2014

Body Truth Trumps Body Shame

I grew up in a house where bathroom doors were left open.

It wasn't a rule or a mandate. I don't remember ever actually discussing it at all. It was just the way our family did things.

Privacy was something you asked for when you wanted to read a book in the quiet of your room. Or when you wanted to make a secret phone call to your boyfriend -- the one you were sure Mom knew nothing about.

But it wasn't necessary for something as normal and everyday as going to the bathroom.

We had conversations from the toilet. We brought each other reading materials, sometimes snacks. My favorite way to spend a saturday morning was curled up by the heater in my parents' bathroom, chatting with my mom as she showered and got ready for the day.

Ours wasn't a naked family. But we were a family with a high level of body comfort.

When I say body, I don't mean the shapes or angles or BMI. I don't mean the height or weight or size. When I say body I mean the way it works, how it feels, the things it does.

A pediatrician and a pediatric nurse, my parents insisted that we call our parts their anatomically-correct names. Penis. Breasts. Vagina. No jokes, no dumbing down. If you called your arm your arm, then you surely should call your vagina your vagina and your penis your penis. That's what my brother and sister and I learned, anyway.

Instilled in us was the belief that words had power and truth mattered. And when it came to something as important as your body, there was no room for confusion about the parts you were born with or the things they did. 

So we talked about our bodies with truth and ease. We shouted real-time concerns straight from the bathroom. We talked about the same stuff with equal candor over dinner.

Ear infections, eye infections, other infections. Diarrhea, constipation. Nose bleeds, muscle cramps, menstrual cramps. Weight gain, weight loss. Periods and the house-disrupting mood swings that accompanied them. Breakouts, itches, rashes, puffy eyes, stray hairs.

No one ever flinched. No one ever said "gross." Any issues we had were met with a reminder of normalcy and then backed up with a physiological explanation, a truth, a reason.

Of course, the world fired back, attacking the confidence and certainty we had cultivated at home. No amount of anatomical comfort could fully protect us from the airbrushed supermodels and celebrities and magazine covers and commercials for miracle injections that existed to remind us that physical perfection was the goal, the only thing that mattered. In the real world, the message was clear: If you wanted to talk about your body, you talked about it aesthetically, not functionally -- that stuff was private, not for sharing.  

In my early 20s, body image issues hit me. Hard. At times, it felt completely consuming. I compared, I judged, I wished I was taller or thinner or that my skin was more clear, my eyes better spaced. At worst, it felt debilitating. I would spend hours analyzing my features, certain they were all wrong, different, ugly. I cried. I stayed inside. I unraveled.

But eventually I made it through those feelings. I came out on the other side, intact, and happily in love with my body.

When I say body, I still mean the way it works, how it feels, the things it does.

I emerged from body scrutinization to find my own power and reassurance in awareness. I care immensely about how my body reacts -- to food, to exercise, to stress. I run more because I think it's amazing to feel my muscles thicken and transform. I eat well and often so that I am strong and able and also less moody. I'm obsessed with getting enough fats and sleep because I know how much that stuff matters for my brain.

Also: fiber. So much fiber.

I think that unless we want to live in a culture-less cave, our struggles with body image may be entirely unavoidable (it's so hard to live in this world in a body!). And actually, I think that's okay. I think wrestling with those feelings and finding our own resolution makes us stronger, more confident, infinitely more capable. 

But I also think that without a deep appreciation for how our individual bodies actually work, it's too easy to lose sight of purpose, drown in scrutiny, and never make it back up for air.

If physiological truth serves as the unbreakable foundation on which we build our own body confidence, we become better equipped to survive the inevitable struggles, the doubts, the comparisons. It gives us something sturdy and real to fall back on when self-criticism creeps in. And it makes it impossible to ever truly believe that our bodies -- the way they work, how they feel, the things they do -- are anything less than perfectly normal.

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