This comment – a response to my recent post about Glamour’s body image survey – has been rolling around in my brain since the moment I read it:
It’s much less socially acceptable for those of us who love our bodies to express it than it is for women with body image issues to do so. It’s easy for female friends to commiserate about their body image issues. If a girl wants to diet, though she probably doesn’t need to, her friends will sympathize and support her. If a girl genuinely loves herself the way she is, she is probably viewed with spite, derision, or at least suspicion – just like the suspicion that you have about the amount of positive survey respondents. Granted, this survey could be skewed many ways to give those results. But I guarantee there are more body-loving women around you than you realize, and they keep it to themselves because they feel the negative body image crowd will view it as bragging or doesn’t want to hear it.
Initially, I thought, “Nah, that can’t be right. I’m sure the women in my life would feel comfortable speaking up if they felt awesome about their bodies.”
And then I thought, “Well, OK, maybe they would around ME because they know that body image is kind of my deal … but would they feel comfortable lauding their own bodily awesomeness to other women? Coworkers, family members, acquaintances?”
And then I thought, “Hell, would I feel comfortable talking about how good I’ve finally come to feel about my figure to anyone besides my absolute inner circle of girlfriends?”
I’m not sure I would.
I work hard to make this a positive space, filled with support and inspiring messages. But I am still fluent in the language of self-deprecation, and comfortable with the rituals of body image commiseration. I can chat with a total stranger in a department store about frustratingly unflattering trends, or styles that work better on other body types. I feel endless sympathy when I hear women express frustration with their bodies, and boundless compassion for women who struggle to accept themselves. You can BET that I’ll be the first one to cheer when I hear a woman expressing pride over a hard-won battle with weight-related anxiety, or recovery from an eating disorder, or some other intentional shift in self-perception. And although a proclamation of body-love with no mention of overcoming body-obstacles might not prompt the spiteful response that my commenter described above … it would certainly stir up a little jealousy, and maybe some mistrust, too.
Admitting that to myself was difficult.
Admitting it to you is also difficult.
However, it’s one of those lazy, knee-jerk responses that I know I can mindfully adjust merely by recognizing its roots and cultivating awareness.
I have struggled with my body image since I was 11 years old, and although I’ve made great progress, I struggle with it still. So I relate easily to those who also struggle, and feel disconnected from those who don’t struggle. But instead of allowing that disconnect to perpetuate, I can CHOOSE to view those who don’t struggle as beacons of hope.
A woman who has learned to love herself – or who never gave in to self-doubt in the first place – is a woman to be admired and emulated, not derided and mistrusted. A woman who has learned to love herself has beaten back strong, unseen forces that attempt to gnaw at her confident core, or has wisely dismissed those forces as fabricated and unworthy of her acknowledgment. A woman who has learned to love herself could provide an uplifting example to those of us who still struggle, and I’d hate to think of that example being snuffed out by fear and negativity.
We mistrust open declarations of self-confidence and body-love because they are so rare. But they are so rare because social acceptance of self-focused body-snarking makes many women who love their own bods reluctant to express themselves.
But it doesn’t have to stay like that.
Wouldn’t you love to hear more women talking about their amazing legs, fabulous shoulders, and flawless skin? Wouldn’t you feel empowered by overhearing a pack of ladies lauding their superior strength and sensual curves and undeniable grace? If such talk were commonplace, wouldn’t you eventually feel comfortable contributing a comment or two about your own body? We can encourage such talk by supporting women who come forth to praise their own awesome bodies, and by talking openly about our own bodies with tenderness and pride.
A woman who loves and accepts herself should never fear being ostracized for her acceptance. And a woman who struggles to love herself should never see a woman who already loves herself as a threat.
I constantly ask women to cast off their self-focused negativity and accept their own beauty. But it would be equally beneficial to encourage women who have ALREADY accepted themselves as gorgeous beings to say so. Aloud. Declarations of self-admiration and bodily-love are brave and inspirational acts, not indicators of conceit. And we who struggle should acknowledge them as such.
So if you’re proud of your body, speak up. If you’ve cast off doubt in favor of confidence, share your story. If you feel comfortable and radiant in your own skin, tell us about it.
Image courtesy Grevel.