November 11, 2011

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

Self-Love Can Be 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 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.

Reply to Doreen C cancel

You must be logged in to post a comment. Create an account.

Doreen C Nov 18, 2011 4:50pm

It is very unfortunate that women do not learn from their past mistakes. History tends to be repeated, and we are all victims of allowing it to continue to repeat. Putting a stop to history should begin somewhere. Weight, size, and the way we look have a great impact on us–and this is due to the media. Almost every girl (4/5) has disordered eating, We are constantly thinking about weight. Throughout the day, many women think about food, weight, the fear of food, and feel guilty when they eat. We should begin to focus on what is healthy rather than the number on the scale. The media constructs images of beauty, and it cultivates into our head beginning at a young age. History needs to change instead of repeating itself.

Avital S Nov 17, 2011 3:29pm

I think it is so sad that, yes, we litteraly wage war against our bodies. Yet we should protect our bodies and keep them safe because they are vehicles for creating. Women's bodies bring new life, we must protect them not hate on them. For me this point really drives this idea of loving your body home. There is something bigger out there other than the way our bodies look. I think people really need to see this more and appreciate the incredible things our bodies can do.

Samanta K Nov 15, 2011 9:07pm

It's amazing how our mothers, probably without knowing it, (just wanting "the best" for us), put us up for failure when it comes to loving our own bodies. My mother turned 49 this year. She has an exceptional figure for a woman her age. Thin, petite, with long lean,legs. She diets a lot. Most of the time unsuccessfully (YoYo-dieting) and unhealthy. It's depressing for me to think, that in 20 years from now, I will still obsess about the way I look, even though I am "old"… Constantly comparing myself and competing with other women, sometimes even with my own mother!
I do not want to be defined by looks alone. I would like to become the kind of person who brings more to the table. Whose value lies elsewhere, without being called "ugly" by our modern society, with its unrealistic beauty standards. I think it is important for women to find new ways of developing self love and a positive outlook when it comes to ones own body!

Read Elephant’s Best Articles of the Week here.
Readers voted with your hearts, comments, views, and shares:
Click here to see which Writers & Issues Won.

Melanie Klein

Melanie Klein, M.A., is a writer, speaker and professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Santa Monica College. She is a contributing author in 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice and is featured in Conversations with Modern Yogis. She is the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery + Loving Your Body, and co-founder of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition.