Feminism | Posted by Julie Z on 10/6/2010

“Body Image Disorder”

Bodies are different for a reason. Embrace it.

Bodies are different for a reason. Embrace it.

At some point in recent history the stance of “I Hate My Body” became a public statement encompassing an entire gender rather than a private thought held by few on particularly bad days. Somewhere along the line, women have lost control of their bodies in the name of society’s glamorization and expectation of self-deprecation. But, as I have learned over the years, loving your body is possible, even for the most self-loathing of us all.

Freshman year was a difficult one for me (a unique story, I know). Though I had been aware of my body in middle school and had brief yet unfortunate love affairs with both my hair straightener and Abercrombie and Fitch in attempts to make my body look the way I thought it should, I had ultimately accepted it for what it was. It wasn’t until I hit high school that I began to spiral into self-hatred. I gained weight (thanks, puberty) and reached a point where I refused to look at myself in the mirror unless absolutely necessary. I was torn between feeling miserable, obsessed with my flaws, and self-loathing because I realized how self-absorbed I was being and how insignificant my problems were in comparison to the rest of the world. Incidentally, this mix of emotions was the perfect gateway to becoming a self-identifying feminist.

Feminism was the way that I gained control after feeling as though society had sucked me into feeling like I had to hate myself. Losing control over the way I felt about my body truly felt like I was being sucked into a state of  being without my consent. Even while I looked at the mirror and loathed my reflection, it was an emotion I knew I had to rid myself of because it had occurred without my consent. My feelings of self-hate held me back, as my complete lack of self-confidence made putting myself out into the world in any way a serious challenge – something I in no way felt comfortable with.

Reading books like Full Frontal Feminism and Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters helped me realize that I wasn’t alone. In fact, though I didn’t know this until later, body issues (eating disorders in general) are not a western, or even a white, middle-upper class issue, though that is how it’s normally portrayed. Body projects in every range of severity reach across borders of race, class and culture (how’s that for sisterhood?). With feminism on my side, and a clear and confident understanding that I was empowered and was allowed to love myself, I thought it would be a mere matter of time before I was able to look in the mirror – at any size – and love what I saw. But despite gains I made in my confidence and willingness to put myself out into the world, I still struggled with my appearance.

Eating disorders are based on patterns. They are devised as a manner of control and as such, the afflicted will develop routines in order to help maintain that control. I have never had an eating disorder, but I do believe I had a body image disorder – something I think many, many other girls suffer from as a result from simply existing in this society. During my period of body-image disorder, I had developed routines that developed and maintained my self-loathing. I avoided shopping at all costs, lest I have to try on the size 6 after having been a size 4 for years. I avoided getting too close to boys, fearing rejection because of my appearance. I even avoided looking in the mirror. Essentially, I avoided living the way anorexics avoid food. The way I viewed my body interfered with my daily life. And though feminism was a major factor in helping me overcome these patterns, the fact remains that like alcoholism, body hate seems to be something that just always stays with you to some extent: my mental battle scars. Though I’m a self-identifying and active feminist, and therefore “know better,” there are still days where I look in the mirror and inwardly groan.

Though I was able to overcome this for the most part, and though I realize this is not a universal experience amongst teen girls, I believe that this experience should not be overlooked. It points out the disturbing fact that while not all girls have eating disorders, we all live in a society that promotes such behavior. The reason the lines between living in America, and possibly many other societies, and having an eating disorder are to be determined at the discretion of a doctor rather than general understanding of what the disease entails is because we live in a society that promotes these life-interfering routines as being as normal as waking up, brushing your teeth and washing your face. Obesity and anorexia may be diseases on the opposite ends of two spectrums – the extremes of the same vein – but which is more stigmatized? The truth is an anorexic person would easily be revered while an obese person would be ostracized.

So what’s the solution? How do we gain control? I do believe that feminism, or else really, truly coming to the conclusion that we are allowed to love ourselves and that self-love encourages other people to love us as well, is a solid first step. But it’s not a magical solution. We need to combat the societal norm of self-loathing. The media always seems to be the scapegoat for promoting terrible body standards, and while it is massively culpable, there are other roots. Girls use their body projects as a mode of competition with each other; we need to end such volatile comparisons and realize that bodies are an individual experience. Mothers need to stop weighing their daughters and forcing their own insecurities onto their offspring.

All of these are lofty goals, yet necessary ones. Just combating them in our own lives – rather than waging war against Vogue and all of its glossy mag friends – is a huge step. Take it from someone who knows.

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  • A @ at 11:08 pm, October 6th, 2010

    This has reminded me of a post that I meant to complete and send in a while ago… I’ll try to get to that.

    I had similar experiences but I considered myself a feminist at age 10, before I had experienced body image issues. Those really started when I was 12-13.

    I tried, after lots of loathing, to “love” my body… And I couldn’t do it. So then i tried knowing I wasn’t pretty, but not caring. That was awful. I’m still working on it all now.

  • blakerivers @ at 5:17 am, October 7th, 2010

    I struggled with feeling like I was ugly or not right during elementary school and some of middle school. The body is a very carnal thing (obviously) and the reality of that is sometimes difficult to accept. However, as I got a bit older my body image issues mitigated, and nowadays I am in a great place of feeling perfectly fine with the way I physically am. Because of this I am probably not the most helpful person when it comes to giving advice to those whose struggles persist. But maybe I can offer a couple ideas:

    Firstly, I have been seriously injured in my life, which sucks because I am a very active (even athletic) person. Having my joys in life taken away from me for long periods of time due to injury has made me humble. When you are finally able to be functional again, little things like body appearance become trivial. When you can run, jump, do a backflip, climb a tree, who gives a shit about vanity and body image? What minor blemishes? I have gnarly scars from falls and surgeries…and I couldn’t care less. When every step I take hurts because of a long-past ankle injury, I really don’t have time for body paranoia.

    Secondly, I accept that I am what I am. My body isn’t perfect and it doesn’t have to be. It works as is. There’s no reason to feel angry about it. People don’t go running and screaming and vomiting when they look at you, do they? Then you must be all right. Sometimes it seems like the prettier people are, the more they worry about being pretty. What a waste of time.

    Honestly, why do you even care if you’re pretty or not? As long as some people out there think you’re pretty, that should be enough. I mean, you don’t date yourself, do you? And, unless you look like a baboon, there are ALWAYS going to be people that think you’re pretty.

    Hope that helps in some way.

  • Toongrrl @ at 12:06 pm, October 7th, 2010

    @blakerivers
    Good point, but it’s hard if there are some people commenting on your “ugliness.”

  • blakerivers @ at 6:05 pm, October 7th, 2010

    @Toongrrl,
    Yes, it is hard. I know it. But some people will always be haters. One must have tough skin.

  • Emily @ at 1:41 pm, October 8th, 2010

    One thing that annoyed me about the Dove “real beauty” campaigns is that there’s still a beauty standard at work. All of the women in that ad are maybe sizes 4-8, around the same height, have flawless skin, and are in their 20′s or maybe early 30′s.

    In that ad full of “real women”, there aren’t women who are size 0 and size 24, who are 4’5 and 6’2, who are 19 and 59, who are in wheelchairs, who have stretch marks from pregnancy or scars from childhood tree-climbing incidents or cellulite or freckles or glasses or imperfect teeth.

    Even this “positive body image” campaign only marginally expands the definition of what an attractive woman is.

  • Rose @ at 9:24 pm, October 24th, 2010

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKPaxD61lwo

    just making sure youve seen this video! i think you are right in that feminism really is one of the ways out of this body- hate.
    Thanks for sharing, Julie.

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