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.

February 10, 2010

Do these shoes look good with my knee brace?

Whether we’re discussing the legitimacy of cultural traditions as in the age-old examples of Chinese foot-binding & the corset or the modern use of elective plastic surgery, the Muslim head scarf or the burka – fashion is a contentious and contradictory place for a feminist to find herself at play. I’ll admit to owning more than a few pairs of heels despite my knowledge about their not only misogynist, but classist and racist, history. They make my legs look long, lean and pretty. What’s the problem?

Well, according to your doctor, there are many including: osteoarthritis, knee injury, bunions, hammertoes, and let’s not forget one “health risk” listed on the always veritable Wikipedia (please note sarcasm ;): “they render the wearer unable to run.” Wow. I am compelled to write a blog simply based on why that is a health risk for women.

In an interview with the Australia based “Today Tonight” supermodel Abbey Lee Kershaw dismisses the interviewers’ questions about the industry standard of thinness. However, she does note that the excessive and dangerous use of extremely high heels has to change. Kershaw herself had to have knee surgery at the age of 21 due to a fall in a pair of these . The theme for the last couple of seasons has been an architectural design which has lead to some pretty outrageous and, needless to say, impractical footwear.

Despite my love of the illusion of long, fabulous legs & the art that is involved in creating said illusion, I think that it’s time we call for change in the use and abuse of the women in fashion. Even if that’s simply by choosing a nice pair of ballerina-style mary janes…..