So I want to start this off by saying that when it comes to body image, I am a work in progress.
Here are some things about me: weigh myself every day. I complain about my breasts, arms, and skin on a weekly basis. If I had the money for a couple cosmetic procedures, I think I would get them, despite my disdain for the plastic surgery industry. I wear make-up and get my eyebrows threaded. I’m hardly a content EarthWomynGoddess speaking from up on high down to the unenlightened rabble. So please bear this in mind as we continue—I'm not trying to femsplain here (that's the feminist version of mansplaining—and if you don't think we as a group are capable of that... oh my).
But, that said, when I say work in progress, I would like to testify to “progress.”
Over the past few years, I have made it a point to stick to these numbered points (most inspired by amazing feminists) as best I could. As a result, the space these “problems” take up in my head has shrunk significantly. It’s been the most fulfilling “weight loss” of my life. I really don’t know that I’ve ever felt better about myself. I want to pay forward the lessons that I’ve gleaned from others. What I’m going to talk about is likely nothing anyone here hasn’t thought of themselves. But hearing it from someone else, I think, has power.
1) Accept compliments
This one is from my friend Anne. When I made a joke after she paid me a compliment, she scolded me. I internalized that. (This initial interaction wasn’t actually connected to compliments about appearance, but I’ve applied it there, too.)
So if someone* says “You are so pretty!” resist the urge to stick out your tongue and roll your eyes, direct them to a part of your body you find inadequate, or accuse them of being blind. Say, “Thank you.” (*this certainly does not, of course, apply to creepster street harassers, but rather friends, family, and loved ones from whom compliments are not weird.) It’ll feel strange not to qualify or try to offset the compliment at first, but you’ll get used to it. Pro-tip: if you’re really super uncomfortable taking a compliment, “offset” your acceptance of the compliment by paying one back.
2) Do not call your assorted body bits anything other than what they are*
*Or at the very least by terms that are neutral for you (example: boobs, gams, pussy, etc.)
A few years ago, I complained to my husband about my “saddle bags.” “Your what?” “My saddle bags,” I replied, pouting, gesturing towards the backs of my outer thighs. He scowled a little. “Do you mean your legs?”
I can’t express how that disapproval, not of me, but of my language, really affected me. It made me realize that the words I had used to describe my legs, a part of me, were dehumanizing. As someone who worked for years at Holocaust memorial museum, and taught extensively about the insidious ways dehumanization can harm individuals and society as a whole, it had a pretty profound impact on me. It had never struck me before that thunder thighs, saddle bags, batwings, rolls, cottage cheese ass, crow’s feet, etc. were not just mean, but a problem.
3) Be comfortable saying something nice about yourself
Here is one from Mama Bogwitch, though for her it takes the form of the oft-repeated phrase "Modesty is for suckers." She has it tattooed on her arm.
It’s not vain to say “I look good” or “I’ve got nice arms” or anything positive about your physical appearance. Why is it okay to be self-deprecating but not self-appreciating? Start appreciating. You don’t have to be over-the-top about it (life isn’t Drag Race, where you have to prove your fabulosity and ability to work it… though I do hope that someday it will be), just a simple confirmation of your own positive attributes will do nicely. You will feel good about yourself and hopefully inspire others to follow suit.
4) Find more than two things you love about your physical self
Anecdotally, it seems that when asked what their favorite physical features, most women I talk to default to one or two of three things: hair, eyes, smile. These seem to be the only areas where many women feel they are “allowed” to praise themselves. It is somehow safe. I don’t know why these things are acceptable and others aren't, but there you have it. This is not to say, of course, you’re wrong to like these things. Like them! But just think about other things you like as well. You don’t need to necessarily “flip” a feature—going from hating something to loving it—though that would be great! But maybe notice your really nice nails, or your elegant wrists, or the curve of one of your toes. Even appreciating a lot of little details can have a positive effect on your overall attitude.
5) Stop talking about the parts of yourself you don’t like
This one comes from a bunch of conversations here on Jez over the years.
Just stop. I’m not saying you have to magically and overnight be okay with 20 “extra” pounds, or the shape of your calves, or the scar below your right eye. I’m just saying Stop. Talking. About. It. We tend to flock together over our imperfections—it’s that mirror scene in Mean Girls. “Ugh. Look at my gross jelly belly!” “Oh my god! Don’t even! You’re so skinny! Look at my thighs! I wish I had a thigh gap!” “You have great thighs!” Blah, blah, blah.
It may seem like a good idea at the time to talk this shit out, because your friends will allay your fears and tell you that what you see and hate doesn’t exist. But does it ever allay your fears for more than a day? If it does, you are unique. But what this talk does do is confirm that, yes, these things are important and that we need the validation of others to feel okay about ourselves.
Eventually, after you have successfully resisted the urge to join in talks where you metaphorically pick over your own carcass long enough, you will find that the taste of sad human flesh really doesn’t do it for you anymore.
6) Don’t apologize for your appearance
This one is just a personal pet peeve.
“Please ignore the fact that I didn’t do my hair! LOL!!!” “Sorry, I’m not wearing make-up!” This sort of goes along with “Stop talking” point above, but in the Facebook hellscape Zuckerberg hath wrought, where I see this every day, I think this deserves its own point. I get it—you want people to know you know that you don’t look perfect, so you say so to their faces before they can say it behind your back. A) You’re probably drawing their attention to something they wouldn’t even notice or care about B) You are apologizing for not appearing in a way that you are under no obligation to appear C) You’re upholding the idea that you and others should look a particular way.
It’s hard for everyone, but especially women, to NOT apologize. Not apologizing will probably leave you feeling vulnerable at first, but you will get used to it and it will be awesome.
7) When you feel tempted to diminish yourself, or when you feel diminished by others, remember: the only way to win this game is not to play
Now everyone hug…