(Art by Rue Tuesday)
I would love to write an inspiring piece preaching self love and telling you all how beautiful you are inside and out, I’d love to take you with me on my journey from insecurity to confidence and declare that you can do it too! But, a) you can find those articles elsewhere, probably written better and by more interesting people, and b) I don’t like lying.
My body and I have a dysfunctional relationship. You might even say it is abusive. I am controlling, critical, neglectful and sometimes violent, I blame my body for things that it is not responsible for and blame it for the way I treat it, I threaten it, I set impossible expectations for it, constantly change those goalposts and am angry when it inevitably falls short. If another person were treating my body this way, I, and any one that noticed I’m sure, would be horrified, angry and disturbed. We don’t tend to frame our relationships with our bodies as relationships and so we struggle to identify when they are becoming sour. Of course, my relationship with my body is not like a relationship with another human being because my body and me are indivisible, one and the same, and so I am both victim and abuser. The critical and the criticized, the neglector and the neglected, the controller and the controlled. But I think it is interesting that the way that I (and many of us because my relationship with my body is not so unusual) treat myself is so much worse than I would ever even consider treating someone else.
Let me see if I can make this clearer. My chief qualm with my body is the size of my thighs. I know the thigh gap craze seems a bit démodé now but in the privacy of my room, I am still striving for one and beating myself up for not succeeding in my doomed endeavour. And, before you say it, yes, I know that genetically some people just have thigh gaps and some people don’t, and yes, I have watched that buzzfeed video of men saying that they neither understand nor care about thigh gaps, and yes, I do know that targeted fat burning is not possible and so there is no regimen that is going to make my legs thin but leave my tits as they are. I know that desiring a thigh gap is irrational but rationality has never figured much in my emotional and psychological attitude to and relationship with my body. (Impossible expectations? check.) As I walk through my life, I am constantly comparing my legs to other people’s- magically, only ever spotting women with thinner legs than mine- and telling myself that I am not as good as that woman, not as pretty as her, not as sexy as her. So there I am, someone who considers themselves a feminist, objectifying women and linking their value as people to their legs. I hate it about myself and I wish I could stop, I have tried, but self-hatred and competitiveness is addictive and, as a woman in this society, I have been conditioned to compare myself unfavourably to other women- whether they are strangers, friends, celebrities or models on billboards. So angry and repulsed am I by my thighs that I can stand in front of a mirror, naked, for hours squeezing and kneading and pinching and scratching my thighs until they are red and sore (sometimes violent? Check.), I call my thighs, call myself ugly, disgusting, horrific, monstrous, fat, fat, fat, fat (critical? Check.). No one wants to sleep with a girl with legs like yours. I hate that when it comes to my own body, all the fatphobia that I try so hard to reprogram myself out of, rears its ugly head and suddenly fat is the enemy even though, rationally, I know that I benefit from thin privilege, that fat has little to do with health and that thin does not mean healthier or happier or prettier. I then set myself tasks and plans that will in theory make my legs thin. Some favourites include: “no lunch today”, “never eat ice cream again”, “gym”, “buy weight loss pills”, “make myself sick.” When I achieve these plans, I feel lethargic and miserable and disappointed by the lack of instant change. If I keep them up for a while, I feel more lethargic and more miserable and more disappointed that the change has not be great enough. When I fail, I feel lethargic, miserable, guilty, ashamed, disgusted and angry. Happiness is not part of the equation. Both paths lead to more anger, more shame, more criticism and the cycle never ends.
Now, read that paragraph again, but every time I do something to my body, make it a partner doing those things to my body. Setting an impossible goal to make my body more attractive to them, comparing my body unfavourably to other people’s bodies and suggesting that I am less valuable because of the way I look, staring at my naked body for hours, pinching and scratching it even though it hurts while criticizing and ridiculing it, and then setting rules and restrictions that whether I meet or don’t meet will endanger my mental and physical health. I would be concerned.
Perhaps we need an adaptation of the golden rule here. Treat your body as you would like others to treat your body. And, in turn, yes, treat other people’s bodies as you would like them to treat yours and, more importantly, as they would like you to treat theirs. Maybe that would be the self-love guidance this article would offer if it was one of those articles, but I am in no position to tell people how to love themselves and its patronizing and trivializing to suggest that such problems can be solved by a clever little soundbite or one rule to fit everyone. Of course, it’s infinitely complicated and I still haven’t figured it out. Maybe I never will. But I can live with that. I can live with that because at least now I have identified that my attitude to and treatment of my body is not ok and is not justified and that is at least a third of the battle. We are all self critical but perhaps if I, and I will not pretend to speak on behalf of any else, can turn that critical lens on my self-hating and self-abusive tendencies, I can start to work out how to get rid of them.
Quite honestly, I fear that we will never live in a society where all bodies are valued and praised equally and there are no mythical beauty hierarchies and bodies can just be bodies and don’t have to be the be all and end all. I am sure that like all the women, indeed all the people of all gender identities, I know, I will probably never be fully at peace with my body or my self. Total, unconditional self-love seems to me to be another impossible expectation but maybe it is a useful one. If in striving for it, I achieve even a modicum of it, that is not nothing, that is important. I will not feed you the fairytale bullshit that one day you or I will wake up and suddenly be so in awe of our own beauty that not a single critical thought can worm its way in. It feels like I have a mountain to climb, but before I can even start, I have to climb out of a 20 foot ditch and swim across a river. And I’ll probably never get to the summit but, as I’m ever the optimist, maybe I’ll get out of the ditch.
This article may not be relevant to you at all. You may be angry about how I have framed it and disagree. You might wish you’d just read an actually positive, optimistic, empowering self-love article. You may read it and think that I am just a self-indulgent, self-pitying, teenage angst ridden wannabe, and you may be right. In fact, you probably are. But I will never be able to write an article that perfectly reflects your relationship with your body, or that understands your experiences, or that provides exactly the support you need because ultimately, we all have different bodies, different minds and different relationships with them and our collective experiences are infinitely diverse and infinitely complicated and infinitely nuanced. And I can only tell you about me and my thighs.
By Vida Adamczweski