trigger warning: light discussion of eating disorders, misgendering trans* people, and self harm; in-depth discussion of body shame and negative emotions
Love Your Body - or don’t
Love Your Body is a sweet, pithy little anthem frequently bandied about in feminist circles. It’s an admirable goal: we would all probably be happier humans if it were as easy to internalize this parcel of positivity as it is to internalize the shame and loathing for our bodies that mainstream media is so adamant about distributing to us. We keep using the phrase because it’s easy and because it’s hard to embrace negative emotions, and because sometimes we feel like the only way to build a culture of body positivity is to shout louder than the media, as often as we can.
But loving your body ain’t that simple. Furthermore, the Love Your Body mantra can be downright alienating and silencing to folks who aren’t feeling the self love right now. Telling someone who is dealing with body image issues, “but you’re beautiful — love your body!” is kind of like telling someone who is dealing with depression, “but you have such a great smile — be happy!” If it were that easy we would’ve done it! We know you’re trying to be supportive, but it would be better for you to take our feelings seriously rather than telling us they are unfounded, unnecessary, frivolous, or trivial, all of which are implied by the statement, “but you’re beautiful, you should just love your body!”
The Love Your Body events I’ve attended tend to be celebratory; they tend to be welcoming to people who have already achieved the task of loving their bodies and not particularly welcoming or sensitive to those who haven’t. Love Your Body discourse tends to exclude and silence folks who don’t or can’t tout that standard at the moment.
Trans* folk often (but not always) experience body dysphoria that makes body positivity pretty difficult. When people are constantly misgendering you because of your body shape or features, then yeah, loving your body might be pretty out of reach for you.
If you self harm, you might feel like it’s not okay to show fresh wounds, only healed scars — that it’s okay to have hated your body once upon a time as long as you have overcome that and love it now.
If you’re living with an eating disorder, you may feel really vulnerable, out of place, and unwelcome at a Love Your Body Week open mic. You might feel like you can’t bring yourself to stand in front of the mic and say what you’re truly feeling about your body and how you’re dealing with those feelings, because it will probably burst the happy bubble of poetry and music about how we used to hate our bodies but now that we’re enlightened we love our body hair and bellies and biceps, and you don’t want to ruin the sheen of collective accomplishment. You don’t want to be told to work harder at loving yourself, or even that you’ll get there one day.
If you’re in a place where you really do love your body, all or most of the time, that’s awesome! But it’s also okay to NOT love your body just yet, or not love all of it, or not all the time. You have permission to feel however you feel about your body. That’s valid too. You have a right to your own feelings. They are part of who you are too, and a part of your body, and that’s yours.
Some emphasis mine.
So, I was totally about to write up a similar post to this one because it’s incredibly true and thank you for writing this, Maisha. So, I’m even guilty of joining in this crowd as well, while subsequently excluding those who are struggling with developing a positive relationship with their body, myself included. Why? Because it sounds nice, it feels nice at first but when you get down to it…it doesn’t go far enough. Not only that there are more problems outlined above. Being body-positive shouldn’t just concentrate on loving your body while inadvertently (and sometimes, intentionally) silencing those who do not, but celebrating our differences no matter what shape or form they may take place. Just because someone holds a possibly negative or discomforting view of theirself doesn’t mean that it is somehow a threat to being able to love yourself.
If the movement has worked for you, that’s great! But I’ve found more and more posts speaking out against people who go through cosmetic procedures and claiming their upholding patriarchal standards of beauty; bigotry towards people with eating disorders and/or thinspo (don’t get me wrong, I don’t agree with thinspo but be reminded that it is the product of people with eating disorders and not the cultural degradation of non-thin people); and generally negative and disgustingly hateful opinions about anyone who do not love themselves, almost as if they are somehow at fault. That’s utter bullshit.
We have enough people fighting against us, why create more? The body-positive movement should be an open conversation that allows for the voices of those who don’t love themselves regardless if that’s permanent or temporary for whatever reason. Because when we exclude these voices we not only hurt other people but also, ourselves. There are people that work within the movement that may not love themselves for whatever reason that is, and I’ve noticed a lot of those who do speak openly about it say they feel guilty or like a hypocrite for feeling this way. When we erase these people, pretend that everyone within the community is perfectly okay with themselves and that people who don’t are somehow wrong, we close off a part of the conversation that deals with disability that is both visible and not, trans* issues or anything else that we want to ignore, but it doesn’t go away. It keeps growing, like an ingrown toenail, digging right in the flesh of the movement. It can start as a slow aching throb but the further it digs in, the more painful it becomes and is like to lead to infection.
I am all for loving bodies in all shapes, sizes, colors, genders, and so on and so forth. You don’t have to look far into this blog to understand that. I’m not saying we should stop that by any means. I am saying, as said above, that we should acknowledge that it is always not so black and white. Not everyone has the ability to love themselves and the people that don’t need to be supported, not belittled or excluded or made felt like their emotions or feelings are somehow invalidated or threatening to us. We should realize that the revolution does not always lie in someone’s capability to love their body inside and out but in simply being themselves, even if that means speaking of their experience in full despite the angst and any possible blatant self-hatred.
Because as a person that struggles with dysphoria, bipolar disorder (which both have become increasingly worse since July) and a number of abuses and personal issues, loving myself and who I am has always been a challenge and may fluctuate, but what I say, do and how I see the world’s many faces of beauty are still important. My experience and self-struggles do not invalidate anything that I do nor does it make me a weaker part of the feminist or body positive community. You don’t have to love yourself to be wanted, desired or even strong. You don’t have to love yourself to give support to other people, or considered a person of value. That’s such bullshit. And you know, sometimes when we feel comfortable enough to speak about it, the simple act of having a discussion about our darkest truths and letting another person know that they are not alone in the way they are feeling is beautiful and grants far more growth than telling them to shut up ever would.