Recently I stumbled across an article entitled ‘Don’t Tell Me To Love My Body‘ by Elyse. There’s a lot I loved about it, a lot of things that need to be understood in body-pos circles and a lot of things that people need to synthesize.
First of all, Elyse was brave in admitting that she doesn’t love her body. In most body-positive spaces, that’s a huge no-no (‘No Body Hate!’) The pictures she posted were raw and real and it took a lot of guts to post pictures like that and exclaim that she doesn’t like her body.
There were plenty of things she said that I agree with wholeheartedly.
“Or maybe me loving my body is about you. And how you feel about how I feel about my body. If I tell you that “I love my body. I love my freckles. I even love my sagging ass because it’s on my body.” You’ll pat me on the back and tell me that I’m getting it. And I’m not making anyone uncomfortable by complaining about how much I dislike being held up to fucked up beauty standards and how it fucks with my head.”
“The problem is being told that there is a standard of beauty, and I should ignore it. I should ignore it despite the fact that everyone is still holding me to it. I should ignore it and create my own. As long as it makes me feel pseudo-good, and makes other people feel okay with how I pretend to feel about me. But while we’re pretending the real-world standards don’t exist, the real world continues judging us—It’s okay to be more critical of a woman who’s accepted herself.”
“We don’t have to find ourselves beautiful. Beauty is not the one thing that makes us and our bodies worth loving. We don’t have to distort an already fucked-up definition of beauty, and pretend we fit into it, just to feel like we are people worthy of being loved.”
Powerful stuff, right? While I fully believe the intent of concepts like ‘Love Your Body’ and ‘Stop Hating Your Body’ have nothing but the best intentions, they have (at least) three very, very important flaws. They make people who don’t love their bodies feel guilty about it, they focus too much on beauty, and they simply aren’t inclusive.
The guilt one is a huge one. Sure, you can stare at pictures all day of people who love their bodies, read all the inspirational quotes and stories and anecdotes you want, but for some people, loving their bodies, or even liking, even not hating, is far harder than for others. And when you try and try and it still doesn’t happen, every time you see those images, it feels like a slap in the face. It makes you wonder ‘have I not tried hard enough?’ ‘What do I need to do differently?’ Not to mention, of course, there’s body dysmorphia, there’s depression, eating disorders and other psychological issues, there’s years of abuse from family members, strangers, and media. It’s a huge uphill battle to combat all that. It’s a struggle. And then you see all these other people who’ve overcome their body image issues, and on top of hating your body, you feel like a failure for not being able to just get over it. It’s a double dose of negativity.
Not to mention, it comes off like a command. Almost like a threat. Love your body! (or else!) The message should be more gentle. I know what it’s aiming at is to tell people that it’s okay to love your body, that you’re allowed to, that it’s possible. But it comes off as so demanding!
How many times have you heard some variation of ‘Everyone is beautiful!’? It sounds innocuous, but the fact remains that it’s still leaning so heavily on beauty. And beauty is an abstract and severely overinflated concept, that ideas like ‘everyone is beautiful’ only serve to perpetuate, however unintentionally. Beauty, at the end of the day, is something that can’t be qualified. It means too many different things to too many different people, and it doesn’t matter. Let me repeat that. Beauty does not matter. We get too caught up in trying to make everyone feel beautiful that we forget that to be totally honest, beauty is bullshit. It serves no purpose. It helps no one. On a personal level, I do truly believe that everyone is beautiful. Even if not to me, then to someone. I’ll always believe that. But I also firmly believe that the focus needs to be elsewhere, away from beauty. The power of beauty is one that we need to question and deconstruct, not further fuel with statements like ‘everyone is beautiful!’ I’m just as guilty of perpetuating this line of thought as most people are.
Perhaps most importantly, take a second to google image ‘stop hating your body’ or ‘love your body’. You’ll get thousands upon thousands of images like this. Or this. Or this. (the caption on the last one there actually makes me want to laugh because it does not match the picture whatsoever.) The face of all these ‘love your body’ campaigns feature mostly white women, who are thin (or perhaps a bit chubby at best), white, cis, able-bodied, long-haired, and pretty much exactly what the definition of conventional ‘beauty’ is. It alienates so many demographics of people who, in our culture, have every reason to hate their bodies. People who are fat enough that they can’t shop in regular stores. People who aren’t white, who’ve been told their whole lives that they’re too dark, their hair too kinky, their look too unconventional to ever be beautiful (or else they’re fetishized as ‘exotic!’ or ‘other’) People who are trans*, who are trapped in a body that doesn’t represent the gender they are. People who are disabled, whose bodies literally don’t work the way they’re supposed to. People who want a family so badly, but they’re not fertile. The list is endless! It’s not that easy to just buck up and ‘love your body!’ when you have to worry about whether you’ll be attacked because you used a certain bathroom, or when you’re swallowing pills like candy just to keep your pain at a decent enough level to get through the day. Seeing photos of thin girls writing hearts on their tummies with captions about how you DESERVE to love your body is frankly almost insulting.
All that being said, I don’t think that this article should really make anyone feel secure that it’s okay to hate their body. I’m not saying that this article is encouraging that, but while you can feel any way you want about your body, hating it is so exhausting and sucks so much energy that could be better spent elsewhere. At the end of the day, your body is a part of you, it’s not going anywhere. Hating your body is literally hating a part of yourself. I just can’t condone that. Of course, it’s not up to me, I can either believe that people are allowed to feel how they want about their bodies or I don’t, but it hurts me to see energy wasted on body hate.
Bodies changes. What is considered ‘beautiful’ changes. Moods change. But I think the most important part is to question what any of it really accomplishes, whether it be beauty, body hate, or the opinions of others.