A Letter to the Woman Hating Her Body Right Now
For whoever needs to hear this…
I was on a phone call with a friend, and she was distressed after having been shopping and coming to terms with the size of clothing she now needs to wear. She spoke about herself in a way that you would never want to be spoken to, in a way that you would never speak to a friend. This isn’t uncommon. I’ve done it to myself and I’ve heard other friends talk about their bodies in a similar way. We have been conditioned to hate our bodies.
When we speak to ourselves using language brimming with disgust, self-loathing, and anger, it feels acceptable. Perhaps we feel like we are bettering ourselves through our militant approach. We would be appalled, however, to hear someone talk to another person using the same language. Most of us could never imagine speaking to another human being this way.
Things like “I can’t believe this is my body now. I’m disgusting,” or “I don’t look good in anything. I doubt anyone finds me attractive.” How often do you say things like this to yourself? How often do you say things like this to others? Would you? How do you think it would make them feel?
When I got off the phone with my friend, my mind was cluttered with sadness and frustration for her, but also for myself and other women who endure the same self-deprecating words day after day. It made me think of my own struggles with body image, especially in recent years as my body has gone through many significant changes. In the moment, belittling ourselves can feel like a healthy venting session. But after, not only do we feel worse, those around us do too.
As time went by after our phone call, I felt that I had to write down and send her my thoughts.
Here’s the “letter” I wrote to my friend:
You are more than your body. Your body is a vessel for you to be able to experience life. I love your body, and more importantly I love that your body allows me to have you physically in my life.
The way your body was 20 years ago or how it is today is not a reflection of your value and worth. You and I and all women are on the same journey of learning to love ourselves and how we look, and while it’s not our fault when we speak poorly about ourselves — we have been conditioned by society to focus on and strive toward being unrealistically thin—we need to help lift each other up by focusing on what we love about ourselves. The longer we focus on external things like sizes, weight, etc., the longer we stay in pain and suffering and hating ourselves in this short life.
The human body wasn’t designed to be described by numbers. We were designed to be diverse and unique. And as women we do not want to take up a tiny, dainty amount of space in the world, we want to take up the space we deserve and be strong and stand our ground.*
American women 20 years and older weigh an average of 170.6 pounds (1), and the average clothing size for an adult woman is size 14 (2). So remember too that it’s all relative. I have never in my life been a size 2. The smallest piece of clothing I’ve fit into was a size 4, and this was at my smallest size in my early 20s. And that’s okay. We are genetically designed for our bodies to evolve a certain way and resisting this comes from the way society tells us our bodies should be, despite the fact that our bodies get older, endure major changes and stresses, take in experiences and wisdom, and GROW human beings.
We need to be kinder to ourselves, especially so that the women who grow up after us will love themselves a little more, and the ones after that more as well.
I know it’s hard. I have moments that I feel disgust, frustration and fear about the way my body is. But I try to catch myself and focus on the features that I love, and be grateful for what my body does for me. And I try to focus on taking in the life around me and enjoying every moment. At the end of our lives, it’s not going to matter what our bodies looked like or what size of clothing we fit into. Our experiences and how hard we loved others and ourselves is what will matter.
The female body through history
Throughout the course of history, the way that the female body has been portrayed has varied immensely. Art from earlier centuries portrays women of varying sizes with stocky legs, round bellies with dimples and rolls, and even what appears to be cellulite. And yet, these figures are often depicted in a setting that is meant to render them angelic, like a goddess to be admired.
In the early 1900s, the ideal body for women evolved overall to be thinner, with a small waist-to-hip ratio. In many cases women have gone to extreme, dangerous lengths to create this shape when it didn’t naturally occur in their unique body, from excruciatingly tight corsets, to surgery and starvation.
Needless to say, we are dealing with generations of harmful beliefs about the ways our bodies should be, and the ways that they shouldn’t be. Letting go of these beliefs requires patience and kindness toward ourselves and others. It’s important to start a conversation with other women about how we’re feeling, and to be receptive when we’re opened up to as well. But this conversation needs to be in a healthier form than bashing ourselves, because bashing ourselves is by extension bashing many other women who do not fit the unrealistic thin ideal, perpetuating the culture that is making us dislike ourselves in the first place.
A good place to start is by stopping body comments altogether. Praising someone for weight loss, their curves, their thinness, their breast size or perkiness, their waist-to-hip ratio, their proportions or height, all continue the focus on the physical body and how it compares to other bodies, rather than the more important qualities and characteristics of the person who inhabits the body. Yes, there is a soul in there!
So next time you’re with a friend, or when you’re feeling down about your appearance, try some of these compliments instead:
Other things you can do for yourself and for the greater cause:
Ditch your scales, calorie trackers and other things that keep you focused on external ways of measuring your perceived self-worth, which only work against your body rather than with it.
Know that BMI (Body Mass Index) is a flawed method of measuring health. It was created by a mathematician in the 1800s as a way of measuring the average man’s height and weight. In terms of how it’s used today, BMI cut points are arbitrary. (3) It was never meant to define the so-called “health” of future generations to come, without regard for how the human body would evolve. The system also doesn’t take into account muscle mass. It’s easy for a person of relatively average size to fall into the “obese” category or above, leading them to question their health, attractiveness, and self-worth. A much better indicator of good health are metabolic markers such as blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure. So if you’re concerned, look to a blood test and the guidance of a trusted medical professional (ideally who holds the same values illustrated here) rather than an arbitrary chart of doom. If you feel great, then focus on that! Being in a thin body doesn’t equate to being healthy, just as being in a larger body doesn’t equate to being unhealthy.
Donate your “goal” clothing or past-self clothing—those too-small pieces that taunt you every time that you open your closet, constantly making you feel like you’re not good enough. Having goals and striving for good health is great, but this practice takes a major toll on our mental health and relationship with the body as it is right now.
And finally, don’t delete that photograph. You may be focusing on the way your belly curves or how your arms look in that dress, but I guarantee you no one else is. Focus on the memory of the photo. Focus on your smile and the smiles of others in the photo with you. You’ll be happy to look back at it many years from now.
Above all, we need to nurture future women who will have greater self-love and self-acceptance. It starts with us.
Sources & notes:
*By this I am not saying that being naturally thin is wrong or inferior. Many of us feel the need to unnaturally shrink our bodies down and take up less space, leading to dangerous thoughts and behaviours. Instead, we should strive to embrace our natural size and proportions, taking up and owning the amount of space in the world that we’re designed to.