‘Trim that tum!’ ‘Banish those bingo wings!’ ‘Beat your body into shape!’ ‘Tone those pins!’- I could find you unlimited phrases from Hello!, Cosmo, Grazia et al that refer to our bodies at ‘the other’. And this isn’t a weird coincidence, or a strange turn of phrase.
The patriarchy, along with its warped ideas of what beauty is, and the Western beauty standard, is waging a war on our bodies. Not us , it tells us in a kind, matronly manner, just our naughty, flabby, slightly too podgy bodies.
Because you see, reader, your body isn’t you, it is this badly-behaved thing that makes goo and smells and doesn’t match up to this diagram or airbrushed image that is what a woman should look like.
By treating our bodies as this ‘other’ thing, this object, the media and the world can wage a war on it without us noticing that the fight is against us and our self-esteem.
If our body isn’t ‘us’, it’s an extension of ourselves that needs to be tamed, it is perfectly alright for someone to tell us that it is wrong without telling us that we are wrong.
If our body isn’t ‘us’ and it is this awful, wrong ‘other’ then it is perfectly alright for the media to ‘advise’ us to hack away at it and pay to have someone break our noses and staple our stomachs and it is perfectly okay to give us 10 ways to starve it silly.
If our body isn’t ‘us’ then there is nothing wrong with hating it.
But we forget, because of this image that is sold to us, and that we buy, page by glossy page, that our bodies are us. We forget that the hatred that is given to our bodies and that we accept and hold in our hearts and in our fridges and ‘workout regimes’ is actually hatred of ourselves.
You can’t think of ‘you’ without thinking of your face or body. Sure there is more to you, but we are at the end of the day, unless you believe in a soul, homosapiens. Living, breathing, fucking, eating homosapiens. And our body does all these things for us. I am not going to get into dualism and open that philosophical can of worms just now so just accept for the moment the bare bones of what I am saying- We are our bodies and to hate our bodies is to hate ourselves.
I have looked in the mirror and cried at what I’ve seen. I’ve hurt my body and starved it and tried to change it until it was damaged and sore and I still saw a white, podgy, wrong mess with a big wonky nose and too-small, puffy eyes and hair that wouldn’t go right no matter how many chemicals I poured onto it or how many times I fried it with bleach and straightening irons. I’ve looked at my gangly, too tall legs that don’t work properly and make me run funny and fall over and get called names and fantasised about hacking a bit of them off to make me a normal height.
I’ve held the soft fat of my hips and tummy in my hands and wished I could just chop it off.
I’ve hated myself, the self that I thought was under, not part of, this doughy, ungainly mess that I called my body, for being too lazy to change and be the way that everything about our society tells us to look like.
I still hold the mental and physical scars from that and if I can help other people to see that the view of our bodies as an ‘other’ isn’t valid, then I didn’t go through that for nothing.
Sure, eat more healthily and go on diets and get fit if it is through self-love. Love is such a bigger motivator than hate. I eat vegan at University and fill my body with fresh fruit and vegetables and grains and delicious, natural food. I painstakingly prepare healthy, delicious food to nourish my body because I am in the process of learning to love it-me! I go on walks and fill my eyes with sunlight and my lungs with fresh air because I am in the process of learning to love my body, not to make it smaller.
I’ve stopped wanting to make my body go away.
Going to the gym because you love your body and want to be able to make it work to the full and keep it as healthy as you can is such a better motivator than going because you hate your body and want it to change. Your body will never look the ideal way that you want it to and when you fail you will hate it even more.
Eating pizza or skipping the gym one day isn’t a huge deal when you do it out of love, but it is a massive deal when your motivator is hatred because it will just make you hate what you perceive to be your lazy lump of a body even more. I know, I’ve been there.
So please remember, this summer, that you don’t need to do what society tells you to do with your body, yourself. Remember all the good things that your body can do, that youcan do and if you want to change it, try to do it from a perspective of self-love rather than self-hatred.
Helena Horton is a Philosophy student at the University of York. She is a feminist blogger who also writes for Independent Students and the Huffington Post. You can find her on Twitter (@helenashead).
This article was originally posted on Helena’s blog Feminism on a Swivel Chair on 26th July 2013.