Jenn Leyva challenges you to stare at the bodies of the Olympic athletes, but rather than judge or criticize any perceived “flaws” like so many others are doing, just simply be amazed by the human body’s abilities.
In general, I’m not a fan of sports. I grew up going to baseball games, soccer games, football games, and whatever else my family thought would be fun. My parents and friends would cheer a team on, and I would sit wondering how long until I could get a snack or go home. Playing sports was better, a season of soccer, t-ball, basketball, and even a bit of dance.
I hated most of this, but like many kids forced to complete some task, I’m grateful that I had those experiences. I will never play basketball again (if all goes according to plan), but I appreciate being a part of a girl’s sports team, an atmosphere where girls are encouraged to be tough, strong, and physical and to show ourselves and each other that we’re just as capable as the boys.
I still loathe watching most sports, but I’ve found myself engrossed in the Olympics, particularly the women’s portion. Part of the appeal of women’s sports for me is how we showcase the accomplishment of women. Even Jane Fonda thought of her fitness routines as a pro-women agenda out to “break the weaker sex mold.” Sarah Roble’s ability to lift over 500 pounds should be able to shut everyone up about women being inherently delicate and in need of constant care.
Somehow, that message has gotten lost, so instead of cheering on our best athletes in their feats of human strength, speed, and will, we are commenting on jiggling arms. And make no mistake, as it’s been pointed out before, this is still misogyny.
There are people out there who think that the solution to misogyny taking over women’s sports is to ask for you to not look. Or at least to not talk about these bodies. In many ways, these people are right. These Olympians are not for you too look at. They are here to perform majestic feats of athleticism and perhaps to stir up some good ‘ol fashioned nationalism (USA! USA! USA!). These bodies are here to lift weights and swim and dive and run and whatever else these athletes need to do to show their athleticism.
I, however, find this to be a band aid. Not talking about athlete’s bodies will allow athletes the dignity they deserve to compete without worrying about who’s writing an inane blog post about their “flabby arms.” They deserve this. But we all deserve this. We all deserve the dignity to exist in our bodies without scorn, fear, hatred, and self-loathing.
So I ask that you stare. Take the ESPN Magazine “Body Issue” or any 20-minute clip of the Olympics. Look at how utterly magnificent these bodies are. The sculpted muscle, the precision of their steady gaze. Look at how dedicated they are to their sports. Stare at these bodies of all genders without hatred, envy, or lust. Imagine that you are looking at the body of a stranger as only a mother or a lover could. Gaze with love and appreciation. There are no flaws, no imperfections, no areas for improvement. The body is simply magnificent.
Now take that same loving gaze and look at your own body. Stand naked in front of a mirror and just look at yourself. If it helps, pretend it’s not your body or even a body. Pretend it’s the surface of Mars and you are so grateful to have this close of a view. Appreciate the different textures and colors. Look at the mounds and crevices, the way your hair grows in different directions.
Stare at your own body when you pick up something heavy or walk up a flight of stairs. Touch your legs as they flex. Look at your face in the mirror and make faces at yourself; marvel in the thousands of expressions you can make.
Take it all in. Your body is nothing short of magnificent, just like all of the Olympic athletes.
When Jenn Leyva was 16, her dad told her that he’d buy her a car if she lost weight. She cried, finished her calculus homework, and is now a New York-based fat activist and recent graduate of Columbia, where she studied biochemistry. She authors Fat and the Ivy, a fat blog about social justice, feminism, science, health, and fa(t)shion.
Photo of the author by Gary Barnes