The mermaid and the whale

Published January 7, 2013 by Crystal

mermaidI was reading a post last night, you may have heard of it, a woman sees a sign at a gym “Do you want to be a mermaid or a whale?”, and she responds in writing, saying how happy whales are, how she’d much rather eat ice cream and be a happy whale.  It’s longer than that, I am paraphrasing, A LOT.

Now personally, I like this little story.  I don’t agree with it wholeheartedly, but the point of it is to get across the belief that self acceptance is important.  A mermaid is a mythical creature, a whale is real, and what’s the point of aspiring to something that isn’t real?

Every day we’re bombarded with pictures of airbrushed models, perfectly perfect.  Fitspiration posters show perfectly honed physiques, the ideal six pack, the flattest abs, skin unruffled by stretch marks or saggy-ness.  Actors and actresses have body doubles in films when their own body doesn’t quite match the directors ideals.  In short, reality on tv and in the pages of the magazines is hard to find.

So stories like the mermaid versus the whale are a breath of fresh air; someone standing against the hype of perfection, and saying “actually I’m ok”.

But it was not all who liked or appreciated this story, or the picture that ran alongside, a picture of a plus size model.  The comments quickly showed the division of the masses;  “I love this woman, she’s beautiful” was followed by “Fat is unhealthy, fat people need self control” was followed by “I work hard and train hard, that’s not a crime!”.

But nowhere in the mermaid article had it said “Gym bunnies need to get a life” and nowhere had it said “Fat is perfectly healthy”.  The article was about accepting yourself where you are, as you are, that sometimes you’re aiming for an ideal that you are never ever going to reach because it is mythical.   It seems to me that people needed to defend their rights to hate or like the story because they felt personally attacked. “I go to the gym and now people are saying we should have fat acceptance but I’ve worked so hard not to be fat, and to eat a good diet, all those people who are fat should work hard and get over it” seems to be what a lot of responses were saying.  I can understand the feeling of being threatened by a fairly new idea.  We’ve grown up with diet and fitness being pushed at us for so long now.  I remember the big old Jane Fonda book and cassettes, and the little yellow calorie counter book in my childhood home.  But with all this diet and fitness pushing we still have the “obesity crisis” being constantly referred to.  So something’s not working, right?  But it isn’t your fault, Mr and Mrs gym bunny.  I acknowledge, and applaud your lifestyles, they’re working for you and you are worknig hard, and that is great.  Equally, I applaud the man or woman who has had the revelation that going to slimming club has been costly and non-effective, that now they’re having to try a new approach that doesn’t involve calling foods good and bad, that has decided to start listening to their thoughts and feelings, and learning to no longer use food as an emotional filler.  I celebrate the woman who, after months of weight training and heavy lifting, can lift more than her body weight, and has those around her gasp in awe.  I celebrate the man who after months confined to his house, has taken the brave steps to go out the front door and walk a few yards down the road.

The mermaid story is not there to criticise, but rather to celebrate.  It is not saying fat is healthy, give up the gym.  It is saying, your life is more valuable than spending your whole time aspiring to something that is non attainable, and making yourself miserable.

One particular response I remember and responded to because she said “You can design whatever body you want…it’s all up to you..”.  This angered me, far more than I indicated, because it is an out and out lie.   If you are 5ft 4, nothing, short of bone surgery, is going to make you taller, no matter how much you crave an extra 4 inches.  OK, so she’s not lying, get surgery, you can get taller.  If you have broad shoulders, and wide hips, nothing is going to make your shoulders narrower and your hips slimmer, sure you can diet, you can exercise, but if your bone structure has given you those broad hips and shoulders, then you are going to have a miserable life wishing for a change that will never be.  Sure, liposuction can temporarily remove unwanted fat from certain places (but have you seen the reports on what happens after?), sure you can make your boobs larger with surgery and silicon implants (again, not sounding so great after the recent PIP news stories), sure you can get sculpted and cut, and I guess, if you have enough money, then a lot more is possible than if you’re Jane Normal.

But why should you be fighting against what is genetically yours? This isn’t about obesity, this is about accepting your body for what it actually could be if you loved it and loved yourself.  If, instead of aspiring to the model on the cat walk, who is quite possibly underweight and pre pubescent, we actually looked to our families to see the blue print of our make up.  And then, just maybe, if we realised our dreams of the perfect body are dreams of becoming a mermaid, we could actually start to enjoy ourselves as we are, build new, achievable dreams, dreams within our grasp?    And if we can dream about the achievable, maybe hating ourselves and our bodies less will stop us trying to escape the life we’re in with food and wine and drugs, which is what an awful lot of us do now.  It’s not lack of self control that we’re suffering, it’s lack of self acceptance.

Dreams aren’t bad.  They’re great, and they make us reach for things beyond us, they stretch us and teach us.  But a dream that holds us back from living a life must surely be a nightmare?


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