The Big Issue : Edition 503
THEBIGISSUE22JAN–4FEB2016 13 sunscreen, quit smoking and prefer a diet that is not too rich in Golden Gaytime. Take all the tedious time you need to search for a good exercise program and never feel shy about discussing your fallen arches. Worry about your body. But, please, stop worrying about your “body image”. Just a few days ago, after I had finished an hour-long, midlife, hypochondriac fitness session in the park, I decided to conclude the unspectacular stint at a coffee counter – because without a shot of caffeine, chances were I couldn’t get home without an ambulance. Both halves of a pair in front of me were unable to decide on their order – this, by the by, is my other piece of good advice: know your coffee order long before you get to the counter, especially when surrounded by near- dead midlife runners. She was saying, “I don’t know if I want rice or soy today!” and he was encouraging her indecision by offering ill-remembered bits of pseudo-science about “hormones” and “carbs”. Matters of make-believe science and consumer indecision aside, this is what troubled me: neither of them could efficiently decide on an order because, as the female half of the pair said, “I don’t have a very good body image today.” “Neither do I,” he said. Concern for the body is one thing, but concern for the “body image” is quite another. It is surely inconvenient enough to worry if one is in good health but to worry if one believes one is in good health seems to me a further, quite unnecessary, complication. The pair, like many of us, were worried that they had eaten far too much over the holiday season. However, they weren’t simply worried that they had eaten too much, but that they felt they had eaten too much. In saying, as many people now do, that they were concerned for their “body image” (rather than their “body”), they made the question of how to treat their bodies entirely psychological. Now, I’m not saying that the world isn’t an evilly managed place that sells us products by convincing us of our own imperfection. It’s good, of course, to be aware that the bodies promoted by the market aren’t the bodies most of us will ever have. It is somewhat useful to think of the power of “body image”. But, surely, after acknowledging the existence of an externally imposed “body image”, the psychological work that should follow is to try to ignore it completely. Instead of saying, “I need my body to feel better” we say, “I need a better body image”. It is quite clear to me that the last thing I need is the yoke of a “body image”, because it only gets in the way of my actual, real-life body. There are many ways for us to prompt our bodies to feel better and these might include: coffee, Golden Gaytimes or regular runs. There is only one way for us not to worry about our “body image” and that is to dismiss it as a fiction. “Concern for the body is one thing, but concern for the ‘body image’ is quite another.” RAZER Weighing In PHOTOGRAPHSBYJAMESBRAUND IF YOU REQUIRE wise words of counsel, you are unlikely to get them from me. I am generally empty of sound advice and always unable to provide a good example of adult living. But, like all faulty old clocks, I chime in sometimes with inadvertent truth and this is probably it for the year: if you fret a lot about your body, please stop it. By this, I don’t mean you should quit worrying about your overall health. I am an enormous fan of active hypochondria and years of concern for all parts of my body, from my lazy colon to my pronating feet, have only been good for my person. Please, not only permit but also demand that qualified professionals stick their fingers in all the recommended holes. Wear » Helen Razer (@helenrazer) is a writer, thinker and semi-professional hypochondriac. Submit any imagined symptoms and she will overreact in three to five working days.