Last week I received a distressed message from a sister in need of support. When I met her, she fell into my arms and cried. Her beloved partner, whom she respects deeply, had shared with her something that had triggered a deep painful hurt – he was unsatisfied with the size and shape of her body. I could empathize with my sister because I had also received suggestions in a past relationship on ways to “improve” my body and listened as my partner voiced his fear of me becoming fat.
The emotions that my sister and I shared are complex and overwhelming…anger and outrage, pity, disgust, contempt, deep sadness, shame and rejection. It brought forth in me the question: When can women’s bodies finally be loved and accepted exactly as they are?
I attended a small alternative school growing up with only two other girls in my class. These girls were thin and willowy and even at a very young age, I began to compare myself unfavorably. My women role models had body image issues of their own. I observed the restrictive eating, frequent trips to the bathroom scale, exercise programs, crash diets and binge eating and absorbed it all. I believed without a doubt that thin was more beautiful and I began to hide my developing body in shame under baggy clothes and constrictive undergarments. I hated my too round face, jiggly thighs that rubbed up against each other as I walked and cellulite (ughh!). I always felt that if only I was prettier and thinner – like those perfect girls in Sassy magazine – I could finally get the approval, love and attention that I so badly wanted. As I entered adolescence, I had already developed an unhealthy relationship with my body and food that seems to be taking the rest of my adult life to unravel.
I know that my story is not unique. So many women struggle with these issues. We blame the patriarchy, the media, pornography, men and our mothers…but most of all we blame ourselves.
The Journey of Self-Love
I sit here 25 years later reflecting on that child and the tears are flowing. And the question comes again: When can I be loved and accepted exactly as I am? And my heart whispers the answer: Now. Only you can give yourself that unconditional love that you want so badly — so go ahead — love yourself that much.
Our men — bless them – grew up in the same environment that we did. As much as we long for their unconditional acceptance, their own programming may limit their ability to provide it for us. Ultimately, it can only come from within.
Love without boundaries is a romantic idea, but some of us need a little bit of protection while our soft tender spots heal from a lifetime of self-inflicted abuse. For me, self-love includes setting healthy boundaries. This meant letting my partner know that it’s not OK with me for him criticize my appearance, weight or food choices (although praise for my healthy choices is always welcome).
This may sound controlling… and maybe it is. I mean aren’t we all supposed to be taking accountability for our own feelings? As a “spiritual” woman, shouldn’t I be prepared to come face to face with my insecurities, doubts and self-loathing? Maybe the answers to these questions aren’t black and white. I do believe it’s important to discover these orphaned pieces hiding in the dark corners – but throwing all the lights on at once may just scare them into deeper hiding. Maybe with enough love, these rejected parts of ourselves will come out and willingly join the wholeness of who we truly are.
With more self-love, my need for this boundary may disappear, but for now, I am honoring myself where I am. I am not suggesting that my partner deny what he feels, but it is possible for him to be honest with himself without sharing his opinions with me on this topic. Most of us don’t go around handing out our negative opinions to strangers about their appearance – does this make us untruthful or is it just that we realize that it’s more important to be kind?
Shine on Sisters
My love and admiration for the Feminine in all of its glorious forms grows daily as I dive more deeply into this love affair with myself. As women we have these AMAZING bodies. They expand to create and nourish all of humanity and we flow with the cycles of the moon. How cool is that?!? Let’s thank them for all that they do for us by showing them some love, nurturing and kindness. As I look in the mirror each day now, I send my body “I love yous,” especially to those areas that have been under appreciated. Perhaps when enough women love their bodies, we will see that change reflected back to us through a transformation in the collective consciousness that will embrace the Feminine in all of its unique beauty.