You Already Have the “Perfect” Body
I’m not going to tell you your body’s “perfect” because it’s functional, it shuttles you to work and happy hour, or because it lets you have great sex or puts up with you when you smoke that occasional cigarette or overdo it on whisky. Let’s talk about the stuff we’re not supposed to—that “perfect body” we’ve dreamt up in our heads that’s a collaboration of celebrities, the girl we thought was beautiful in sixth grade, the girl our first crush dated instead of us, and all too often the woman we’ll never be no matter how much restriction, workouts, and cosmetic procedures we sign up for. (No matter the subject, we want what we can’t have).
I was 35 years old when I learned I had the perfect body. After spending three decades hating almost every part of my body, abusing it by putting on 100 pounds in college, nearly killing it with anorexia and exercise-induced bulimia in my early thirties, and undergoing one hell of a nine-hour surgery in a developing country just to get rid of all that saggy skin, it was three seconds after a yoga class that clued me in.
I had just finished teaching a woman in her late forties. It was her first yoga class. She was complaining that she thought her butt was too big. As someone with a notoriously flat “Indian butt” (seriously, my butt was concave even when I was obese), I’ve always been amazed at women who don’t have to work tirelessly for what passes as a “normal butt.” And yes, I hear the self-loathing, too, even as I write this.
Because I’m terrible at giving forced compliments, and because I wanted to deflect her own self-deprecating statement, I told her to be careful what she wished for. At least she wasn’t doing three hours of just weighted squats, lunges, various leg raises and adductor raises with ankle weights per week just to have a “regular butt.”
She looked at me in total disbelief. “But your body’s perfect,” she said. It wasn’t a shrugged off compliment. She really meant it, and with no ulterior motive. It wasn’t even to be nice—it was simply her shocked reply. To me, to a woman I’d never met before, my body really was perfect.
I could push it aside and tell myself, “Well, she didn’t see all the scars under my tank top and the crepe-like skin thanks to a lack of elasticity and severe weight swings.” I could make all kinds of excuses for why she was wrong. But she wasn’t wrong. Not for her—and, maybe one day, maybe not for me, either.
Here’s the truth: There are people, probably a lot of people, who would truly think your body’s perfect just the way it is if they saw you. But they won’t tell you that. Why? Because it seems weird, they don’t want to come off creepy, and it’s just not something you say to a stranger or, sadly, to a friend. We’re all supposed to love our bodies, and we’re supposed to be focusing on what really matters, and when we do compliment others we’re supposed to say of course they’re perfect even when it doesn’t sound genuine, but the fact remains that there are incredible lots of people out there who would say, to them, that your body is perfect.
Now. Isn’t that something to think about the next time that scared voice in your head pipes up? Or just when you happen to catch your reflection? So many people think your body is just so amazingly perfect and you can join them in this consensus any time you choose—because this, it is a choice. Self-love is a choice.
Jessica Mehta is an indigenous woman and citizen of the Cherokee Nation, much of her work reflects place, space, ancestry, and lineage. Recent accomplishments include the 2020 Birdy Prize by Meadowlark Books (for what will be her 14th book), a 2020 gold award for her poetry collection Savagery, and her solo exhibition “emBODY poetry” at Open Signal New Media in Portland, Oregon.