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.