"Body Image Disorder"

At some point in recent history the stance of “I Hate My Body” became a public statement encompassing an entire gender rather than a private thought held by few on particularly bad days. Somewhere along the line, women have lost control of their bodies in the name of society’s glamorization and expectation of self-deprecation. But, as I have learned over the years, loving your body is possible, even for the most self-loathing of us all.

Freshman year was a difficult one for me (a unique story, I know). Though I had been aware of my body in middle school and had brief yet unfortunate love affairs with both my hair straightener and Abercrombie and Fitch in attempts to make my body look the way I thought it should, I had ultimately accepted it for what it was. It wasn’t until I hit high school that I began to spiral into self-hatred. I gained weight (thanks, puberty) and reached a point where I refused to look at myself in the mirror unless absolutely necessary. I was torn between feeling miserable, obsessed with my flaws, and self-loathing because I realized how self-absorbed I was being and how insignificant my problems were in comparison to the rest of the world. Incidentally, this mix of emotions was the perfect gateway to becoming a self-identifying feminist.

Feminism was the way that I gained control after feeling as though society had sucked me into feeling like I had to hate myself. Losing control over the way I felt about my body truly felt like I was being sucked into a state of  being without my consent. Even while I looked at the mirror and loathed my reflection, it was an emotion I knew I had to rid myself of because it had occurred without my consent. My feelings of self-hate held me back, as my complete lack of self-confidence made putting myself out into the world in any way a serious challenge – something I in no way felt comfortable with.

Reading books like Full Frontal Feminism and Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters helped me realize that I wasn’t alone. In fact, though I didn’t know this until later, body issues (eating disorders in general) are not a western, or even a white, middle-upper class issue, though that is how it’s normally portrayed. Body projects in every range of severity reach across borders of race, class and culture (how’s that for sisterhood?). With feminism on my side, and a clear and confident understanding that I was empowered and was allowed to love myself, I thought it would be a mere matter of time before I was able to look in the mirror – at any size – and love what I saw. But despite gains I made in my confidence and willingness to put myself out into the world, I still struggled with my appearance.

Eating disorders are based on patterns. They are devised as a manner of control and as such, the afflicted will develop routines in order to help maintain that control. I have never had an eating disorder, but I do believe I had a body image disorder – something I think many, many other girls suffer from as a result from simply existing in this society. During my period of body-image disorder, I had developed routines that developed and maintained my self-loathing. I avoided shopping at all costs, lest I have to try on the size 6 after having been a size 4 for years. I avoided getting too close to boys, fearing rejection because of my appearance. I even avoided looking in the mirror. Essentially, I avoided living the way anorexics avoid food. The way I viewed my body interfered with my daily life. And though feminism was a major factor in helping me overcome these patterns, the fact remains that like alcoholism, body hate seems to be something that just always stays with you to some extent: my mental battle scars. Though I'm a self-identifying and active feminist, and therefore "know better," there are still days where I look in the mirror and inwardly groan.

Though I was able to overcome this for the most part, and though I realize this is not a universal experience amongst teen girls, I believe that this experience should not be overlooked. It points out the disturbing fact that while not all girls have eating disorders, we all live in a society that promotes such behavior. The reason the lines between living in America, and possibly many other societies, and having an eating disorder are to be determined at the discretion of a doctor rather than general understanding of what the disease entails is because we live in a society that promotes these life-interfering routines as being as normal as waking up, brushing your teeth and washing your face. Obesity and anorexia may be diseases on the opposite ends of two spectrums – the extremes of the same vein – but which is more stigmatized? The truth is an anorexic person would easily be revered while an obese person would be ostracized.

So what’s the solution? How do we gain control? I do believe that feminism, or else really, truly coming to the conclusion that we are allowed to love ourselves and that self-love encourages other people to love us as well, is a solid first step. But it’s not a magical solution. We need to combat the societal norm of self-loathing. The media always seems to be the scapegoat for promoting terrible body standards, and while it is massively culpable, there are other roots. Girls use their body projects as a mode of competition with each other; we need to end such volatile comparisons and realize that bodies are an individual experience. Mothers need to stop weighing their daughters and forcing their own insecurities onto their offspring.

All of these are lofty goals, yet necessary ones. Just combating them in our own lives – rather than waging war against Vogue and all of its glossy mag friends – is a huge step. Take it from someone who knows.

More articles in WMC FBomb by Category: Body image and body standards, Feminism, Girls, Health, Media
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Julie Zeilinger
Founding Editor of The WMC FBomb
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