October 21, 2010

(Self)Love is a Battlefield

Originally posted at Ms. Magazine.My body is a battleground. I have spent most of my life waging a war on it. I have vivid girlhood memories of my worth being measured by my waist size and numbers on a scale. I was taught that I must “suffer to be beautiful.” This irreconcilable relationship with body and self continued into middle school, as I hid my budding curves; into high school, when I combined starvation, purging, and over exercising; and well into adulthood, including during my pregnancy and postpartum experience.

But I am not alone. I am part of a lineage of women who declared war on themselves, from my great-great grandmother who donned the organ-crushing corset, to my great-grandmother who internalized the Victorian feminine ideal of daintiness and measured each bite meticulously; to my grandmother who cinched her waist with girdles and ate diet pills for lunch; and to my mother who embodied the emaciated silhouette of the 1970s and aerobicized her way into the 1980s and early 1990s with her food-and-exercise diary tucked in her purse.

But this is not just my legacy. This is an experience shared by countless girls and women, beginning at earlier and earlier ages and affecting them well into their later years. This legacy of self-hatred and self-objectification–punctuated by disordered eating, continuous exercise and abusive fat talk–inhibits the path to personal liberation which begins with self-love.

As bell hooks states, these practices are “self-hatred in action. Female self-love begins with self-acceptance.” As the number of girls and women engaged in these destructive habits increases exponentially, campaigns such as Operation Beautiful, Fat Talk Free Week (which began on Monday) and the NOW Foundation’s Love Your Body Day (October 20) are more important than ever to combat the onslaught of voices undermining our personal and collective self-esteem.

While it may all sound simplistic, in my own personal experience I have found that self-affirming rituals such as banishing self-criticism and honoring my body through reverence and celebration to be rewarding and transformative. In fact, I have felt the most beautiful and whole when I have silenced the critic in my own head, limited my level of mediation and engaged in loving practices that allow me to cultivate respect for my body as opposed to deepening my disdain and disappointment. The greatest personal shift occurred with the birth of my son and the understanding that my body was the vehicle for creating, carrying and birthing this miraculous new life. Staring at my new son’s beautiful little body, I wondered why I didn’t regard my body in the same way–miraculous and perfect. I asked myself why I heaped self-loathing on a body that should garner respect and gratitude.

In fact, respect is the connective strand that binds the 20 ways to love your body that Carmen Siering offered in her Love Your Body day post. If we can learn to respect our body, perhaps we can learn to love our bodies over time, and eventually turn that self-love into personal liberation.

Photo from Flickr user crimfants under Creative Commons 2.0.


  1. It is wonderful to know that I am not alone. All my life I have been struggling with body issues. I have suffered anorexia that resulted in facial paralysis and I exercised to death as a teenager because I was always teased for being overweight. I too learned to love and respect my body after the birth of my twins because it is not a lie that our bodies are temples–and in this case a temple where wonderful little miracles happen.
    Self-love is the most difficult battle we have to fight and having the media as our enemy only makes it to the millionth degree harder to achieve it. Thanks Melanie for such an awesome post.

    Comment by ElizabethP — October 21, 2010 @ 11:48 pm

  2. Great post. Self acceptance is something that all of us must come to terms with. Keep up the awesome material.

    Comment by N. — October 22, 2010 @ 3:40 pm

  3. I truly appreciate this post. Really Cool.

    Comment by Clinton Stubblefield — February 17, 2012 @ 6:25 pm

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