Having a Healthy Relationship with Your Body: Learning from Bethany Hamilton, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Mirna Valerio

This month we’re talking about having a relationship with your body. What does that mean? 

It means accepting your body and loving it the way it is. I think we often get caught up in “when” and “if” statements. “I’ll be happy when I’ve lost 10 pounds.” “I’ll be fit when I weigh this much.” “I can love my body if it looks the way I’ve always dreamed.” This is not healthy! We have to learn to accept and love our bodies now or we’ll never love them. And we need to teach our children to do the same. 

I want to tell you about some incredible people that have a strong relationship with their bodies.

By troy_williams - https://www.flickr.com/photos/troy_williams/29490817471/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76422485

Bethany Hamilton:

Professional surfer. She lost her left arm to a shark attack when she was 13, but returned to professional surfing by teaching herself how to surf with one arm. She has written several books and has had two movies made about her. She also competed on The Amazing Race (an intense team, traveling competition) with her husband and finished in third place. I knew about Bethany before watching the season of The Amazing Race that she was on, but that show made me realize how incredible she is. The Amazing Race is not easy - the challenges can be very difficult and exhausting, and there were definitely times where I wasn’t sure Bethany could physically accomplish the task one-handed. But she refused to give up! I was also amazed by how incredibly kind and positive Bethany is. She was gracious when receiving help, but more often than not she powered through whatever challenge came her way - beating out many of her competitors. Bethany tells her story to inspire others of what their bodies are capable of, and she shows us that trauma doesn’t have to defeat us. Determination coupled with the strength our bodies possess can unlock amazing potential and possibilities.

"I don't need easy, I just need possible."

By Eduardo Montes-Bradley, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41552332

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Author and journalist. He has written extensively about African Americans, their history, and struggle. While reading Between the World and Me, I fell in love with the way that Coates implores the reader to believe that their body is beautiful, specifically the black body but I found myself convinced that all bodies are precious while I read his words. From the book:

“Black is beautiful, which is to say that the black body is beautiful, that black hair must be guarded against the torture of processing and lye, that black skin must be guarded against bleach, that our noses and our mouths must be protected against modern surgery. We are all our beautiful bodies and so must never be prostrate before barbarians, must never submit our original self, our one of one, to defiling and plunder.”

For a race that has been told that they are worth less and beneath others, these words are so refreshing and exude truth. For any race or person that has been told that their body is less, Ta-Nehisi Coates is here to tell you that that is wrong. I love the way that he describes the black body in his writing. He knows that his body is precious and invaluable. He also knows that you are unique and that you do not need to change your body to conform to some societal ideal.

Mirna Valerio:

A former educator that became popular through her blog “Fatgirlrunning”. Mirna loved running in high school but got out of the habit until a health scare in 2008, which reignited her passion for running. She started her blog soon after that to talk about her experiences as a larger runner in a world of thinner athletes. Her athletic story has been featured in many articles and a short documentary and she was chosen as a 2018 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. She wrote a book called A Beautiful Work in Progress. Mirna is here to tell us that your body can be fit regardless of your size and all you need to do to get started is move. Here’s a quote from her book that I found on Goodreads:

“My message for anyone who is in middle school or who knows someone in middle school (please share this with them) is simple: Your body, whatever its size, whatever its hair color and hairstyle, however its height, whatever its age, is acceptable. Your body is acceptable just the way you are.”

Excuse me while I run to the bookstore!

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What do we learn about from each of these very different individuals? We can love our bodies now because of what they are capable of, because of their unique qualities, and because we want to. 

I’ll be honest - this post is just as much for me as it is for you. I can tell you with certainty that the way you view and speak about your body will impact your children, especially your daughters. This is something that I am trying to be very conscious of because I want my daughter to love her body. I want her to recognize what it is capable of, what its strengths and weaknesses are, and what she can accomplish through determination and dedication. I don’t think we should ignore the negative things in our relationship with our bodies, but I do think we should redefine what those negatives are without the help of Hollywood or salespeople. I don’t doubt that Bethany, Ta-Nehisi, and Mirna have all had their own struggles and frustrations with their bodies, but they’ve learned to love and use what they have and their success has shown just how capable and invaluable their bodies are. 

What would you accomplish if you learned to love and trust your body? What would that teach your children? I think we would see some pretty incredible things, and I think we can see glimpses of that in our children because they don’t come to this world with body issues - that’s taught. We need to change the curriculum. 

What we learn:

Our bodies are beautiful, unique, and strong. Our unique circumstances and experiences do not need to have a negative impact on our relationship with our bodies, nor do outside influences. We define what is beautiful about our bodies. Self-love does not happen instantly; it’s a process and a journey, but an invaluable one.

Activity:

  • One thing that helps us to strengthen our relationships with our bodies is physical activity. Decide together what type of activity you are going to do, but pick something that you can do together for at least 20-30 minutes each day, if possible.
    • Try to find a time (either a specific time or time of day, i.e. “after lunch”, “after school”) that can be consistent, as that makes it easier to develop a habit.
    • Some suggestions: walking, playing a sport, jump rope, bike riding, hiking, swimming, yoga, etc.
    • Making physical activity a habit is always easier when you have someone to do it with!
    • Also, one of the best ways to develop a habit is to have an immediate reward after. Some suggestions: having a popsicle or other treat, playing a game together, reading a book, having a dance party, singing together, etc. Something that makes you happy and excited! A way to celebrate your success. The celebration is only needed while you’re establishing the habit, but if you’re enjoying it keep doing it!
    • As you start to make this a habit and as you do the activity, think and talk about what you recognize about your body together. Do you recognize muscles that are working? What about your physical stamina? Does consistent, dedicated physical activity impact other parts of your life?
  • With your child(ren), come up with a list of positive affirmations that you can say to yourself and each other when you’re having a hard time loving your body and/or to say to yourself when you look in the mirror.
    • Some ideas: “I am beautiful.” “My body is strong because it can ______.” “I love _____ about myself.”
    • Positive thinking is powerful, but it can take 3 positive thoughts to overcome 1 negative thought. Arm yourself and your children with positive things you can say when you’re struggling.
    • If you say these things to yourself daily, you will start to believe them. How empowering is that? You can write your positive affirmations on a sticky note or piece of paper to put on your mirror or somewhere that you will see it daily.
    • If your child cannot read, draw pictures together that will remind your child of their positive affirmations.

Discussion:

  • What do you love about your body? 
  • Do you ever feel frustrated with your body? Why? How can you overcome your frustration?
  • What makes someone beautiful? Do you think you are beautiful? 
  • Tell me about a time that you were proud of what your body could do. Why did that make you proud? How did your body make that achievement possible?

We want to hear from you!

What do you think about body relationships? Did you complete this activity? What was your experience like? Comment below! We'd love to hear from you!

 

Want to learn more about Bethany, Ta-Nehisi, and/or Mirna?

BETHANY HAMILTON:

  • Websites:
  • Films/TV:
    • Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable
    • Soul Surfer 
    • The Amazing Race 25
  • Books:
    • Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board by Bethany Hamilton, Sheryl Berk, and Rick Bundschuh
    • Soul Surfer Devotions by Bethany Hamilton
    • Body and Soul: A Girl's Guide to Fit, Fun and Fabulous Life by Bethany Hamilton
    • Rise Above: A 90-Day Devotional by Bethany Hamilton & Doris Rikkers
    • Ask Bethany: FAQs: Surfing, Faith, & Friends by Bethany Hamilton
    • Devotions for the Soul Surfer: Daily Thoughts to Charge Your Life by Bethany Hamilton
    • Be Unstoppable: The Art of Never Giving Up by Bethany Hamilton
    • Bethany Hamilton (She Dared) by Jenni L. Walsh
    • Shark Attack!: Bethany Hamilton's Story of Survival by Tim O'Shei (32 pages)
    • Bethany Hamilton: Riding the Waves by Renee Taft Meloche (32 pages)
    • Bethany Hamilton: Follow Your Dreams! by Michael Sandler (32 pages)

TA-NEHISI COATES:

  • Websites:
  • Books:
    • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
    • The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
    • We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates
    • The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons and an Unlikely Road to Manhood by Ta-Nehisi Coates
    • He has also written some Captain America and Black Panther graphic novels
  • Film:
    • Between the World and Me (2020) - documentary

MIRNA VALERIO:

 

Bethany Hamilton photo by troy_williams - https://www.flickr.com/photos/troy_williams/29490817471/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76422485

Ta-Nehisi Coates photo by Eduardo Montes-Bradley, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41552332

Mirna Valerio photo from https://themirnavator.com/


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