November 17, 2011

Generations of Body Battles: How I’m Learning to Be a Peacemaker

Filed under: Body Image — Tags: , — Melanie @ 11:01 pm
 Generations of Body Battles: How I'm Learning to Be a Peacemaker

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 troubled 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—and sadly, this body hatred is nothing new. 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 down 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.

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 low self-esteem and self-objectification–punctuated by disordered eating, continuous exercise and abusive fat talk–keeps us stuck in an unhealthy cycle that holds us back and prevents us from being truly empowered. As bell hooks states, these practices are “self-hatred in action. Female self-love begins with self-acceptance.”

Okay, so how do we get to that self-acceptance? As the number of girls and women engaged in these destructive habits increases exponentially, the good news is that campaigns such as Operation Beautiful, Fat Talk Free Week and the NOW Foundation’s LoveYour Body Day are rising up to combat the onslaught of voices undermining our personal and collective self-esteem.

Campaigns like these give us great opportunities to take action for change. I have also 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 media exposure and engaged in loving practices such as yoga that allow me to cultivate respect for my body as opposed to deepening my disdain and disappointment.

Your mother gave birth to you–her body was the vehicle for creating, carrying and birthing a miraculous new life, your life. While we may not always see ourselves as miraculous, stop and ask yourself this question: why not?  When did your body, a source of wonder and magic in childhood, stop being the source of the miracle that is you?  Ask yourself why self-loathing is heaped on generation after generation of women, whose bodies should garner respect and gratitude. Can you switch the conversation in your head? Can you identify two things that you appreciate and respect about your body? Maybe even five? Can you identify one new thing every day?

Respect is the connective strand that binds Carmen Siering’s 20 ways to love your body post. If we can learn to respect our bodies, perhaps we can learn to love our bodies over time, and eventually turn that self-love into personal liberation.

Originally posted at Ms. Magazine. Revised for Proud2BeMe. Cross-posted at Elephant Journal.


  1. Growing up I have always encountered problems with my body. I was the one that stood out from the rest and not in the way I wanted to. From my peers I was the only tall, dark skinned, and thick girl. I would often ask myself, ” why me? I would cry and always feel ashamed of my body. It became a bigger issue once I started middle school when we had to dress for p.e I HATED IT!! There was often times where I would change in the bathroom. I met another young girl who also changed in the restrooms and she felt the same way I did. Honestly, she was bigger in size than I was and she would tell me you are little. Of course I was smaller than her yet we had the same views about ourselves. That allowed me to feel that I was not alone there are many girls who I can connect with. All in all you are not the only one going through what you may think are misery’s. Other’s may have it worse and it’s a matter of wanting to grow out from that stage and do something productive for yourself.

    Comment by Angelica Oseguera — April 19, 2012 @ 11:29 am

  2. This post made me think of the works of bell hooks I recently read. She says that women are seen as being more loving than men, but that can’t be true because of the way we hate our own bodies. Until we learn to self-love, we will not be at peace with ourselves or be able to truly love others. I have recently come to a more positive self-image and respect for my body. I used to weigh about 50 pounds more than I do now and I never realized how self-conscious I was then until now because I feel pretty confident and at peace with myself. I still have body hating moments, but on a daily basis, I try to find the things I like more than trying to rip myself apart. I try to have a positive attitude at all times and that would be impossible if I were constantly criticizing myself. Even people who I see as having the perfect body have self-doubts, so it is impossible to be free of that, but the best I can do is try to love my body and myself as a whole. When I play sports and do physical activities, it leaves me feeling proud and amazed at what the human body can do. I know I move so much quicker and more confidence to play sports at my new body, and I continue to work out to try to be strong. My roommate lets her insecurities stop her from doing things because she feels like they are embarrassing or stick out. I tell her all the time and now really believe it myself that things that I make a big deal about and think everyone will notice will rarely actually be detected by anyone else. We worry way too much about what others think, but when I stop and actually think about it, I know that I am overreacting and people aren’t going to be as harsh to me as I am going to be on myself. I am not at complete body peace, but I am at a good place and as long as I try to always stay positive and love the things I can’t change, I am closer and closer to feeling completely confident.

    Comment by Samantha H — April 30, 2012 @ 4:40 pm

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