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.