A friend shared an article on Facebook the other day titled: We Hate Our Bodies, and It’s Not Our Fault. How could I not read it after all the conversations we’ve had on the subject of body image and self-acceptance in recent years? I wondered what women were thinking now? As I read through it, many of my own memories came back to the surface. Even when we make significant steps toward self-acceptance, the damage runs deep and lingers long.
What saddened me was that the post was written by a woman from, what we might now refer to as the “younger generation”. At 37 she still wrestles with body image demons that took root at the very young age of seven. I always thought my most entrenched body image issues arose when I was nine. I think if I dug deeper I would find that they began in very subtle ways much earlier. I was startled, however, by the writer’s admission to such early wounding. Two years may not sound like much, but in developmental years it is significant. Cultural demands on women with regard to their appearance were worse, it seems, for those ten, twenty and even thirty years younger than we are. The conversation has only really just begun.
Like most women, I carry the scars of living for too many years trying to measure up to external guidelines and hating myself for failing to do so. I cry sad and bitter tears for all of the precious little girls who live inside of each of us today, who silently bear similar wounds, and I wonder how many tiny little beauties field daily assaults on their self-image, assaults that will last a lifetime. It is, in my opinion, a very serious problem that needs an army of ambassadors to tackle. It needs to stop and those of us who understand the pain and a bit of the problem can do our part to undo the wrong that has been done by a culture run amok.
WHO’S FAULT IS IT?
Abuse victims often feel that they are to blame for their abuse and the pain it has caused. The admission of innocence by the author in the aforementioned post is one more telling piece of evidence to support the understanding that what the collective thought and action of our culture is inflicting on women is, in fact, abuse. It is not only first hand abuse, but the abused abusing. The mother who herself was denigrated often unwittingly inflicts the same skewed standards on her daughters. Insofar as we do not stop the abuse at its source, we are cooperating with it.
It is true that the victim of abuse is not to blame. However, until she gives up her victim mentality and takes back her power of choice, she will remain victimized by herself if no one else. Yes, it is true we are not to blame for the messages we received as children. It is also true that we alone can and must take responsibility for healing our own wounds and when possible helping others do the same. We alone must take responsibility for what we allow into our space and what we allow to continue around us without objection.
BUT WHAT CAN WE DO?
Things are not changing fast enough to suit me. We still allow big business and the media to have enormous power over us and as long as we acquiesce and purchase the products they push on us, they will remain strong and virulent as they benefit from and prey pray upon on fears, our insecurities, and the self-loathing they helped us create. Every time we step foot into Victoria’s Secret and lay our money on the counter we are reinforcing the body image, not to mention the morality, the company spreads across our planet in images and impressions. Each time we abdicate our responsibility as women to right the wrong, we continue to set up one little girl after another to hate herself for who she is. Every time we go to into a store and buy SPANX, we are supporting an industry that says curves and softness are to be vanquished and that perceived beauty as defined by the fashion industry and supported ad naseum by the media, trumps comfort. Every time we disparage our age, criticize our wrinkles, buy another product to change or hide or cover up who we are, we are passing on the curse of cultural expectations to those who follow in our footsteps.
Our very first step as my friend Sophie Lumen so aptly stated numerous times on her Feed the Beauty website and Facebook page, “beauty is an inside job”. Work on your inside and you will be beautiful on the outside. It’s just how it is. It’s simply the nature of humanity. Get healthy in body, mind and spirit and you won’t need Victoria’s Secret or Spanx. You won’t need a face lift or a tummy tuck. Our bodies are beautiful in all of their little, and not so little, dips and curves and infinite uniqueness. As Dr. Estes reminds us, “Our body is our beloved companion”. Would we treat our beloved in the way we treat ourselves? I think not.
But, what can we do to change such an insidious mindset? Plenty. We have the power…collectively. Imagine if today, this minute, each one of us did one thing internally and one thing externally to attack this problem by taking a personal step of any size toward greater and greater self-love, self-care and self-acceptance, and one public step toward changing the destructive cultural patterns that are continuing to wound little girls and women alike? Imagine the ripple effect?
As we grow in consciousness of what is of true and right and good for all women, our need and desire for, and attraction to, cultural guidelines and expectations will fall away. We may even find that we are repelled by the images that are flashed before us. When we are focused on honoring and respecting who we are we are automatically repelled by anything that debases us or sends a message to pretend we are someone other than who we are.
Each time we refuse to purchase a product that portrays or advocates an unrealistic, culturally devised image of a woman we take a stand for truth and self-love as higher values. Women’s magazines and websites are rife with such images and advertisers. Begin there. Send letters, write posts like this one. When assaulted by an image or an ad that supports the idealization of the female body, call the initiator on it, or publicly announce that you will not be purchasing this product because….and let them know exactly why. If we do not show up to purchase their products, or read their magazines and websites, they will have to change or go out of business. Purchasing power is a mighty sword and we have it in spades.
It’s time ladies. Let’s take a stand to stop the abuse and to take back our power and dignity as women.
“Each one of us is a triumvirate being – at once the union of the body, soul, and all that lies within.” For any that experience disharmony amongst these three vital aspects, Dr. Clarissa Estes reveals a path back to wholeness. Join her with the Joyous Body: Myths and Stories of the Wise Woman Archetype for the third volume of her masterwork on the Wise Woman archetype. This empowering six-session program shares original and old family stories, poems and psychological commentary on the challenges, remedies and ancient knowings of the female body, “that which is not a dumb servant but a divine human traveler and consort.”
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