31 Jul 2009
The good body: Beyond gym, dieting and surgery
This week, Sharon Saw ponders on our socially indoctrinated obsession with the gym, dieting and surgery, and challenges readers to change our own perspectives.
A group of friends and I went to see the play, The Good Body, on its opening night in Kuala Lumpur. The Good Body was written by Eve Ensler (a bisexual Buddhist, by the way) of the Vagina Monologues fame. While the Vagina Monologues was about a conversation Eve had with her vagina, The Good Body was a conversation with... her stomach.
The Good Body is about the love-hate (unfortunately, usually more hate) relationship most women have with their bodies. The stomach, breasts, hips - you name it, someone’s got a problem with it. And the someone is usually ourselves.
The play was fabulous, sometimes funny, sometimes heart-breaking. It brought out our socially indoctrinated obsession with the gym, dieting and surgery, and explored how differently we view our bodies in different cultures and environments. Eve carries on the conversation through vignettes of a chubby Indian lady in a sari, a lesbian tattoo artist (my favourite - played by the effervescent Bella Rahim - oh but I liked her as the Indian lady too... and I liked Joanne Kam... and Samantha and Ida… and… oh decisions), Isabella Rossellini , a woman in Africa and many others.
I read a review about the play which said that it was not true that women were really obsessed with their bodies, because if it were, many more women would be skinny and eat one grain of rice a day. I beg to differ. It’s more that women (and men) are obsessed with the fantasy of the imperfections with their body. As a result of women’s magazines, so many girls and women suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, as well as depression and the insidious destroyer, low self esteem. Don’t the darlings know about the 10 percent stretch the magazine puts on the photos? The air-brushing? My goodness, have you seen some of the models when they take off their make up?
I know an extremely svelte, fit and vivacious lady, who constantly says she’s fat! I’m like if you’re fat, what about me - but then maybe that’s a question I don’t really want her to answer.
Buddhism teaches us that everything is about perspective. Beauty is truly skin deep. If you’re not happy about your body, do something about it. Otherwise, just shut up and be happy! I know it’s a revelation but there are issues out there much bigger than our body.
Kechara, the Buddhist organisation I belong to, has a soup kitchen as one of its 12 departments. Kechara Soup Kitchen consists of volunteers who distribute food to the homeless and urban poor. When we give bread, noodles, rice to the hungry, the very ‘carbo’ we - the weight conscious, I am referring to here - see as anathema, is welcomed by the starving as precious and it may be the only meal they have that day.
H.E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche always tells us - true happiness is when we focus on others. When we focus on others, we automatically don’t focus on ourselves and our own problems naturally become smaller. It’s simply changing our perspectives.
H.E. also says that we should contemplate the amount of time and money we spend on our bodies. Our bodies are decaying by the day and are impermanent. H.E. has asked us - when we go on holiday, do we redecorate the hotel room? The answer is of course not, we are only there for a short while. Same with our bodies, H.E. says. Our bodies are temporary while our mind lives on forever - from life to life. Yet we spend more time (and money) on our bodies than on our minds. Buddhism is all about mind transformation.
That said, it doesn’t mean that we don’t dress well and look like crap ‘because we’re Buddhist’! We dress well but for a different motivation. Previously, we dressed well to look good so that others like us, respect us or want to sleep with us. It was all about the ego. With a Dharma motivation, we can dress well to look good so that others, especially people who are least likely to be spiritual, think we are a good representation of the Dharma. Hopefully they will think - wow - they are Dharma students but they look so good! I want to know more!
Some people expect Buddhists to dress in sack cloths and look austere but in our centre, H.E. tells us that as lay people, we can be ourselves, dress as we normally do, but present ourselves well and more importantly, with a higher motivation.
Ascetic or flamboyant, fat or thin - different appearances appeal to different people at different times. Buddha says that there are 84,000 methods to appeal to 84,000 minds. We can never please everyone, so let’s not judge each other, and ourselves, on this irrelevant point of how we look, shall we?
Sharon Saw is a writer / editor at Kechara Media & Publications, which focuses on publishing the teachings of H.E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche, a high incarnate Lama of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. A selection of Buddhist and non-Buddhist related books from Kechara Publications is now available on Fridae Shop. You can follow Sharon on Twitter. This column will appear every other Friday.