There’s a phrase floating around the internet: “Your body is the least interesting thing about you.”
There are articles, tweets, even Etsy products that say it. For those of us fed up with a culturally driven obsession with our bodies’ weights, measurements, appearance on the beach, etc., it’s a reminder that those things don’t have to matter to us. For people with or in recovery from eating disorders, the idea can be especially helpful. If someone’s obsessed with what every calorie or minute of exercise will do to their body’s size and appearance, the saying can encourage a shift away from that preoccupation. Not every eating disorder requires the same shifts and approaches to healing, though.
I’ve had binge eating disorder, and I had to start to think of my body as interesting to begin to change my thoughts and behaviors. Binge eating disorder is, for me, not a state of bodily obsession but of bodily dissociation. Moving away from that state meant cultivating some interest in my body—what it can do, how it responds to things, what it tells me. When I was in the habit of ignoring it, I might have liked the idea that it’s not meant to matter much anyway. But that concept would have actually driven my disordered behaviors, not fixed them, since I was in some twisted way seeking a total disconnect from my body and wanted to obliterate myself with food. The way I experienced disordered eating makes me see this saying differently.
The phrase also makes me think of bodies as a point of interest generally. The body is not irrelevant, and for some people it’s among the most interesting things about them. To break away from the notion of skinniness as next to godliness, we don’t have to reject our bodies’ significance. We can ask: How else is the body interesting?
Your body can do interesting things
I don’t mean to be willfully obtuse; I know the intended meaning of “Your body is the least interesting thing about you” refers to things like its weight on the scale, whether it fits in size-whatever pants, whether it conforms to the current Trendy Body Look. I just bristle at the idea because of my history, and because I’m paying close attention lately to the stories of people who center their bodies as points of interest. What bodies can do, and how and with what challenges and victories they move through the world—especially if they’re different from mine (white, able-bodied, smaller than average)—is compelling.
For example: The most spectacular burlesque number I’ve ever seen was performed by a very fat woman who lip synced to “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from “The Little Mermaid.” She practically tore the house down by the rafters in her Ursula drag. Dollar bills exploded into the air. The ASL interpreter for the show pretended to faint when she shimmied her breasts at him and dropped into a split. Her body was interesting because it rejected an idea of burlesque that, as dancer Lillian Bustle has said, still expects women to maintain an “idealized ‘showgirl’ body type.” I didn’t grow up seeing fat women showered with applause. I needed to see it when I did.
Some of my most enduring memories are of people using their bodies to do things that astonished me. My tiny mother once took me to Gold’s Gym and showed me how to lift weights. I was stunned that she knew what to do, curling and pressing alongside muscle bound men, unintimidated. My dad, who had surgery on his spine when I was a kid, later broke apart our entire driveway by hand with one tool, hauled the chunks away and re-paved it himself. The body’s power has always just been cool to me, which is probably why it was so painful to feel powerless in my own when my binge eating seemed outside my control.
Your body can tell you interesting things
In the depths of bingeing, my body felt like an entity totally unrelated to the concept of me. I believe we’re more than our bodies, of course, and the self, the you, is not the flesh container in which you lurch around on this rock. But I do believe a solid connection to my body, the concept that my body is an unassailable part of me, is imperative to my well-being.
I find that connection mostly through exercise because it opened my eyes to what my body can do (get more flexible if I actually stretch; recover and become stronger if I actually rest; feel less sore if I strengthen my muscles and posture), what it can be for (moving without pain; lifting stuff that needs lifting; competing in a powerlifting competition for fun; maybe birthing children one day and then chasing them around), besides appealing to whoever’s looking at it. I didn’t think about any of this when I binged. During those periods, all body-brain communications went dark. The aftermath of a binge feels like sleep paralysis. The aftermath of deadlifting twice my body weight or cycling 15 miles feels like waking from human history’s best nap.
You don’t have to do what I do (or what anyone else does) to be a little more interested, to feel a little more connected to your body. Here’s my advice: Start with something real rather than some far-off notion that you’ll do walking meditation in the forest every morning. Start with something fucking annoying. Think about the relatively minor but still exasperating body things that nag you as you age. (Many of us have much “bigger,” more complicated, chronic bodily realities, but the idea here is to think of the very smallest.) Mine? My knees sound horrifyingly “crunchy.” I bruise incredibly easily and doctors say it’s nothing, but it’s ugly. I might be becoming mildly lactose intolerant. I can’t have caffeine after 2 p.m. or I’ll be up all night glowering at the ceiling, teeth chattering like a Halloween skeleton.
Think of these things as Pop-Up Video facts about your physical self. What do you want to do with them? Maybe nothing, which is OK. But maybe you want to Google some stretches for plantar fasciitis and buy some vegan cheese. These vexing little changes are communiques from your body, which you can think of as a demanding but stimulating dance partner rather than a sniper hiding behind a tree. I know this might ring of toxic positivity, like I’m telling you to delight in your howling lumbar spine. But just take it from someone who’s lived through people screaming at her from across the street that she was a fat bitch, and who’s had relatives literally praying she’d lose weight—sometimes you need these dumb little positivity hacks to feel OK in your body when it seems like the whole world doesn’t want you to.
Other people can tell you interesting things about their bodies
If you’re finding your own body more interesting, you may find other people’s more interesting too. There are countless stories out there that center the body as a point of interest, identity, contemplation, pain, or victory.
Here are a few I’ve read:
Susan Burton’s memoir, “Empty,” on anorexia and binge eating disorder.
Caroline Reilly on the catharsis of body modification when living with chronic pain.
Anissa Gray on having an eating disorder as a Black woman when E.D.s are seen as “white girl problems.”
Reina Sultan on living with endometriosis and other conditions and recovering from an eating disorder, which doctors didn’t diagnose for years.
Aubrey Gordon, writing as Your Fat Friend, on plane travel as a fat person.
Tommy Tomlinson on life as a fat man and the difficulties of weight loss.
Katelyn Burns’ story on trans and nonbinary people’s experience with breastfeeding.
Keah Brown, a Black disabled woman with cerebral palsy, on the need for more functional and accessible fashion.
Gianluca Russo on the lack of fashion options for plus-size men.
Trevor MacDonald’s story of giving birth as a trans man, by Marissa Higgins.
Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, “The Secret to Superhuman Strength,” about her relationship to many types of exercise.
What about your own body do you find interesting? Have you read other interesting body stories? I’d love to hear.