Remember when I talked about my year-long bird-training project last year? (Yeah…that went so well…) Well, every student in my grade did this, and at the end of the year, every student had to give a presentation about their project. A lot of people created RPG video games. (I think that’s what they’re called. You know me, oh-so-knowledgable in the field of gaming; MMORPG looks like a weird onomatopoeic snort to me.) During his presentation, one of these game designers said something that really resonated with me. Yes, this was over three months ago–I’m not sure why I’ve sat on this idea for such a long time and deigned to post it–saving the topic for a rainy day, perhaps? (If that was the case, I shouldn’t have waited this long. It’s Washington, for cryin’ out loud…) I think it was probably more along the lines of lack of conviction in what I would be saying. My knees and the ensuing weight gain have made it tough to really have a positive body image lately, especially when I’m around the horserace-sleek cross-country team (no one tell them I described them as horses) or with some of my friends. A lot of my friends are just naturally skinny. They don’t starve themselves, think about it all that much, or even eat a particularly healthy diet. 😉 It’s just their physiology–so, good for them!
Bad for me.
As you guys know (since I tell you about it fairly regularly!), I’ve always been on the heavier side. Being woefully vertically challenged doesn’t help matters. And yeah, now that I can’t exercise as much or as hard as I would like to for fear of reinjury/stabbing pain, I’ve outgrown even my curvier frame and should probably nix with the desserts. (Which I have been doing! Saving my treats up for a big splurge on Friday, a la Carrots n’ Cake) And living in a location and zeitgeist obsessed with thinness, this is hard on me sometimes. Probably because of my perfectionistic tendencies, my lack of ability to say “What the heck, no one’s judging me!” and let lie. Body image (and “face image”, for that matter, if such a thing exists) has never been exactly one of my strong suits—but, back to RPG-guy’s quote! I promise this all relates somehow!
Describing the creation of the characters in his video game, which are called “sprites”, RPG-guy (who will be referred to thusly henceforth for privacy reasons) said something along the lines of this: “The basics of creating a sprite are this: first you choose the physical body for the sprite, the attributes and combat skills, general appearance, et cetera, and then you design a personality for the sprite—whether they’re hostile or docile, smart or…not-so-smart…skilled at forgery—you get the idea. That’s really what’s going to determine how they navigate the game, how they get out of tight spots, once you program them into the storyline.”
Wow, you ask, how can this quote possibly relate to body image? It doesn’t—at all—really, except I have this habit of chronically overthinking every single message my brain receives, and I was able to dig deep enough to find some metaphorical resonance within this.
This was the quote that made me realize exactly what my body image problem was. It wasn’t that my body was too big or didn’t look like everyone else’s—it was that I had a problem separating my sprite’s appearance from my sprite’s personality, mentally. Body shame doesn’t result from a fear that people are going to judge our bodies, but a crazy irrational insecurity, a genuine terror that people will judge our personalities, our selves, based on the exterior we present to the world. Up until this point, I had a definite problem realizing “body” and “self” are two totally different things! I really like this quote from the novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, (not that I’ve ever read the book, but it’s a pretty famous quote):
“You don’t have a soul, Doctor. You are a soul. You have a body, temporarily.”
So why do so many women (and men, for that matter), forget to take this into account? Your sprite’s appearance might determine how easily it shoulders a bow, but it says absolutely nothing about how slyly it can negotiate a dangerous deal. (Just stick with the RPG theme here—I’m on a roll.)
Most importantly, you actually have the power to change your personality, though it takes work. If you decide you’d like to be kinder, more perseverant, or mature, eventually you’ll be able to become that person you’ve always imagined yourself to be. While you do have the power to change your body, to some degree, there’s a certain max-out point—the Sprite-creator in the sky, if you will, determines the basics of how you will look. And most of us, given the choice, would probably gladly trade in the hand we were dealt for a different figure. But we forget to recognize the most important part of our sprite –the personality, all the wonderful memories and talents and kindness crowded up into our skulls. Don’t overlook your skill with forgery! You are not your body. Your sprite is two happily independent parts that happen to be in a mutually beneficial relationship; the physical exterior of the sprite is simply the container for the personality, how the sprite is going to navigate in the virtual game world. Of course, you can always choose to be proud of your sprite’s appearance, further enhancing said mutually beneficial relationship, but please, sprites everywhere, remember your programming. You’re part of this convoluted storyline for a reason, and your role in your preprogrammed Valiant Quest has nothing to do with your appearance. Have fun discovering what said Quest is.