(Self)Love is a Battlefield

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.

Cross-posted at Feminist Fatale

Photo from Flickr user crimfants under Creative Commons 2.0.

Comments

  1. Ask a guy why he looks at porn and he’ll likely say men are just naturally attracted to women. But the images in porn don’t look too natural. Neither do the fashion mags women read. I think it’s pretty sad that we’ve created a culture in which men feel naturally attracted to unnatural women, leaving women starving and mutilating themselves to fit some crazy ideal – and often left still frustrated. http://broadblogs.com/

    • Excellent comment. Thanks for sharing, BroadBlogs.

    • Monica Shores says:

      But I think the misconception that men only want a certain type of woman is part of what compounds the body-hatred of heterosexual women. It just isn't true. Every man I've ever been with has been infinitely more forgiving of my "flaws" than I am. We do a serious disservice to men when we assume they're all so alike and so malleable as to only want Maxim cover models. I think men (boyfriends, lovers, etc.) can be great allies in the healing process of learning to love our bodies, but we have to be willing to give them a chance.

      • Monica, I agree- men can be great allies and I have met a lot of men that are much more forgiving than I am and then I have also met (and, sadly, dated) men that are a huge source of my insecurity and are not forgiving at all. I think you bring up a great point but I didn't take Broadblogs comment to imply that all men are that way. It was specifically addressing and generalizing (we know there are always outliers) about men who consume porn. I'm so happy that people are sparking dialogue.

  2. krystalimage says:

    Thank you for this both lyrical and analytical post :D

  3. loving yourself is one of the most beautiful and revolutionary acts we can do. <3 to everyone!

  4. Great post. I've always had a love hate relationship with my breasts. I love them and think they are great but the culture thinks they are too small. Who am I to believe? Is it possible to have an accurate reflection of self? No. But, wait, the plastic surgery people just want my money. And around and around the argument went in my head.
    Then one day I heard something, can't remember where but it went something like, "Envy is a job that's never done, so it's best not to start at all."
    So true.

  5. We point out our flaws, when no one else even notices . Its weird, the most beautiful people can be insecure.

  6. I often think that if I combined all of the hours, days, weeks, and years that I have spent on my life trying to "fix" my body (and by fix I don't mean going out for a nice walk-but obsessing in journals and diet/exercise planning) I perhaps could be do all of the things I have wanted to do, but don't, for I don't have that perfect body yet. "Only after I have that body can I conquer the world!"..(my critical ego boasts). But it will never be good enough-for if it could be-then I would have already been doing the things I have dreamed of doing. Every day is a journey though-and everyday I try to look in the mirror and tell myself I appreciate my body. ( As corny as it sounds-it feels good to here my own voice say it).

    As always-thanks Melanie for a refreshing blog to remind ourselves of our self-worth and beauty.

  7. Beautiful post! "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." This is so true. It's such a toxic, destructive cycle.

    I actually wrote about my own body battles just last week: http://www.cakiebelle.com/body-image/make-love-no… Thanks so much for sharing your story xo

  8. Thank you for a wonderful post, Melanie. As a woman who has weighed around 225 lbs. for decades, who dances and performs, (and never would have had I 'waited' to be slim), I appreciate your struggle and your victory. The conditioning is there, we have all internalized it to one degree or another and it may pop up again and again, and the only antidote is, as you have expressed, self-love and self-acceptance. How our body loves to be loved! I would say to women, including myself, when/if the conditioning pops up after you think you worked through it all, be loving to yourself, don't think you didn't do something right. It's just another opportunity to heal and listen/feel with love to yet another "voice", another layer, that desires our loving acceptance.
    @ Monica–Yes! Men can be quite loving and accepting, beyond the media BS about women's bodies.
    And, there are many men who love full-figured women–prefer them! My husband is one.

  9. Sharlene G. (wmst30) says:

    Great Post!

  10. Joanne S. says:

    I think its amazing that the struggle you've had with bodyweight runs in your lineage. Similarly, I feel can relate. The petite genes runs in my entire family, especially my father's side. My mom is taller than my dad. My dad is 5'1 ft. My aunt is much shorter than I am. I'm the youngest of my siblings and apparently the shortest of all at 4'11ft. Growing up, I was teased a lot about my height and I felt that I wasn't good enough to play sports like basketball or run track because of my short legs. Finally I had enough with all the disparaging comments and tried out for the basketball team anyways. I didn't make the team, but after the final roster was posted the coach of the girl's basketball team came up to me personally and told me to try out again in the following year. I felt like he was hinting something positive to me. And that was enough for me to realize that I was appreciated too. After that day, I began to love my petiteness and my body a little more each day.

    I'm happy to see that even a confident and beautiful woman yourself have the guts to admit your struggles of self-esteem in your past. I feel more confident as a woman from reading your post. I think that confronting our fears and self-hatred is the first step to becoming a new person. Just like falling in love with a man or woman who could be your soul mate. This journey is the first step to falling in love with a whole knew person inside of you that you never acknowledged. That person is you.

  11. Joanne S. says:

    I think its amazing that the struggle you've had with bodyweight runs in your lineage. Similarly, I feel can relate. The petite genes runs in my entire family, especially my father's side. My mom is taller than my dad. My dad is 5'1 ft. My aunt is much shorter than I am. I'm the youngest of my siblings and apparently the shortest of all at 4'11ft. Growing up, I was teased a lot about my height and I felt that I wasn't good enough to play sports like basketball or run track because of my short legs. Finally I had enough with all the disparaging comments and tried out for the basketball team anyways. I didn't make the team, but after the final roster was posted the coach of the girl's basketball team came up to me personally and told me to try out again in the following year. I felt like he was hinting something positive to me. And that was enough for me to realize that I was appreciated too. After that day, I began to love my petiteness and my body a little more each day.

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

  13. Charlotte B says:

    Great post ! I love how you incorporated your family lineage in relation to self acceptance. Looks do not define beauty.

    By the way, great writing style. Flows very well :)

  14. I think that it is a great and meaninngful post. We need to have the idea that we are the most beautiful and important for ourselves. I love me.

  15. Great post. Last year I had a miserable time with my 2 roommates and about half-way through the year I realized part of the reason was our constant remarks about our weight, eating too much or forcing ourselves to go to the gym. I realized it needed to stop one day when my roommate made a comment about how jealous she would be if the pants I was wearing were a size smaller (they weren't). I felt offended because it was a backhanded complement that put down both of us! Finally aware of the need to shed this negativity from my life, I decided at least I would stop making these comments. It was much harder than I expected. I hadn't realized how often I slipped snide remarks about weight into my conversations or my internal dialogue with myself. I feel much calmer now that I've stopped obsessing about that part of my life.

  16. I totally get it. Our society no matter where we came from is best friends with our mind. It is amazing how they become bodies and language is not barrier. If we could only step out of our bodies and or minds for a minute, and reassess the situation, I am sure that we would not be here giving our testimonies. Besides, the media makes sure that, we stay put while it cultivates us even further, so that we can create and pursue the perfect image of who we think we should be. Again, if we could step out for a moment, than we could just be ourselves, who we truly are, and be proud humans walking on the streets.

  17. I have struggled with my weight as well, as a child i was always a little chubby, and i just had to deal with it even when i went into my junior high and high school years. I always had to accept that i will never be that size 2 my friend is. We are all born with different bodies and we have to learnhow to embrace it not hide it. and Yes our bodys are miraculous, as women we bring a new life, a new soul and a new body into this world to live on our legacy as human liberators.

  18. I completely agree and most of this is caused by our culture and media. However, according to Hooks, we need to accept ourselves first in order to slowly change the ideal body image found in our culture and society.

  19. Juneyoung Yun says:

    I think that eating disorders and just obsessing over body image is a major problem in America. Definitely the media is a major cause of this problem, and I do not think that they will stop what they are doing anytime soon. This includes advertisments on T.V. with Kim Kardasian eating a Carl Jr. Burger, sending a message that eating their burgers will help you to get sex or get sexy or McDonalds portraying themselves as child friendly restaurants, when really these fast food industries are just leading millions of people around the world to obesity and disease.

    The media will not stop any time soon with their relentless advertisments, so I think people need to start loving their bodies by taking it step by step. One of the best things anyone can do for themselves is to get into healthy eating, and to love themselves enough to feed their body with these foods that the body thrives on and eventually getting rid of the junk food that are the cause of so many bad things like depression, obesity, heart disease, insomnia and the list goes on.

  20. Gay men can be extremely vicious about body image. I've actually encountered men that walked right up to me and called me ugly and worthless because I don't live up to the standard of male perfection that saturates the GLBT media.

  21. Megan Popiel says:

    Extremely inspiring, and happy to say, this gives me more hope that not ALL women are being brainwashed by the crap in the media we see on a daily basis. Loving the skin your given should not a burden that we have to worry about constantly, rather a source that brings you comfort, stability, and individuality. I really hope to see more posts like this one.

  22. Leora S. says:

    It's amazing that as you go from culture to culture the same ideas are taught, that you must suffer to be beautiful and that being skinny is being beautiful/attractive/what men want. -Leora S.

  23. Danielle G says:

    I love this! My mom has always had a self-hatred that I have been able to recognize since I was little, but luckily no one else in my family is like that. You are so right, self-love is the only way to personal liberation!!

  24. I completely agree. I just caught an episode of Kourtney Kardashian and Lamar Otum's reality show and there is a part where Kourtney breaks down crying due to overwhelming comments about her being "too fat" from family and the public. She's not necessarily the perfect role model out there but what she said really hit me. She was basically saying that she tries so hard acting like she doesn't care about her weight because she wants to be a good role model, but deep down she feels "fucking fat". I think it's rare that the media shows this side of a woman who is trying to stay strong against media scrutiny. I know these types of shows reach great number of audience, and really hope that she can stay strong and show young girls that being a stick figure is not the only form of beauty.

    Not directly related to this post but I also really wanted you to take a look at this video I found of three little girls criticizing Little Wayne for promoting drugs and disrespecting women, if you haven't already. I think it's something our class should definitely take a look at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-T-FVR0WZw&fe

  25. I am understanding that there are 2 aspects to this one is the personal relationship w have with ourselves which I have come light years from where I was when I was a dancer! However I am learning from you that women have to band together because individually taking responsibility only takes it so far and publicly there needs to be an expression of this self love in media. I can imagine this would have a very positive and strong impact on women and how men see women which could create a much healthier paradigm for us to relate to one another. On another equally, maybe even more, important note is women would start to relate to each other from a more loving place because we wouldn’t be so consumed with tying ourselves into pretzels for men and women’s approval for looking a specific way but more relating to each other from our inner selves of what we care about and enjoy in life, not what we look like! This sounds to me like more freedom!

  26. Too few women respect and love their bodies. Eating disorders and self mutilation is becoming all too common among women of all ages. This is an indication of a huge problem in society caused by a mix of media and societal expectations of women, a burden causing us mental and physical pain.

  27. Myra Flores says:

    I’ve been at war with my body for approximately ten years. It was only recent that a knight in shining armor appeared in my life and has gradually been the sole force and strength that has encouraged me to love myself. Through experience: acts of kindness, maturity, sincerity, honesty, selflessness, consciousness, as well as sensuality, romanticism, sexuality, unity and devotion…I have learned to love through being loved. Before i was so relentless to even think about allowing anyone into my life because of my insecurities.But when i finally allowed myself to feel; i found beauty in the man who came into my life unexpectedly. He has shown me beauty i had never known existed, always reminding me that i am beautiful in every manner despite my efforts of achieving the idealistic beauty. To him, i am the only face of beauty and it is then when i realize that a person like he, is able to see through the foundation and through my skin’s pores that i obsessively try to hide and beyond. This loving man sees my inner beauty, he sees a natural beauty that i was too blind to notice. The little compliments i receive from him , that aren’t aesthetic but rather about personality and character, have encouraged me to respect and love myself. The more love and respect i have for myself and my body image, the more i allow myself to love and respect my partner. And that’s when i truly discovered happiness. A happiness that has penetrated and healed the fractures of a wounded spirit. I became conscious of the beauty and power of mutual love. Self love is no longer a battlefield. I have won my own battle all with the positive reinforcement of my sweetheart. -Myra F.

  28. Joshua Beroukhim says:

    People underestimate the damage they can do to their own self esteem. A person’s self criticizing voice is one of the most destructive things if it gets out of control.

  29. Natalie H. says:

    While reading this article, I felt really emotional, because I have felt the same way all my life. I get pressured from everyone in the family, literally everyday, and find it so stupid and rude. Recently, through class discussions I’ve began to realize to what degree I have been receiving this minipulating abuse, and became really dissapointed by my family for lowering my self esteem so much. Then I realized that it wasn’t just me who was targeted, they were targeted themselves, leading to a reflection of their distorted image of “beauty” onto me. This never ending cycle created by the mainstreem media is doing more than just lowering self esteem, like it did for me. It’s ruining relationships, causing clinical eating disorders, causing mental/physical/emotional cost of health, and even causing people to commit suicide. Reading your experience with the image of “beauty”, really opens my eyes to how worldwide and dangerous of an epidemic this has become.You’d think that these horrific effects of advertised beauty would make the media stop and think about what their doing, but, unfortunately, that will never happen.

  30. Bridget T. says:

    I like the quote you used in this article and in another article, “suffer to be beautiful”. It pretty sums up the fact that women are constantly at war with their own bodies; fighting for the self respect that’s been hidden away in them for so long. Women don’t know that they can respect themselves for the way they are. Instead, they are constantly trying to match up their body image with those they see that are desirable.

  31. DeAngelo H. says:

    Isabella Barrett the 5 year-old little model that won toddlers and tiaras was in a nightclub signing the popular song by LMFAO “I’m sexy and I know it,” to a late night crowd. I hope she is able to outlive the image of her beauty in a society that encourages her elated self-esteem through objectification that sets women up for an identity crisis with them selves in the future. The words of feminists like Bell Hooks, address internal self inflicted issues women have conjure when they believe in the ideal of a patriarchal society. Campaigns like (Fat Talk Free Week) help open the dialogue of the pressures the health and beauty industries put on women and change the conversation. I hear women all the time say beauty is pain. That’s the reason for buying expensive shoes two sizes two small. This can all by reversed allowing women to find freedom, free from the chains that linked them to a history of believing in low self-esteem and inferiority.

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