Why I Need Feminism: Overcoming My Self-Loathing
As a kid I was very chubby and sturdy, but that all changed once puberty kicked in. People wondered if I went on a diet to lose weight when I was younger, but my eating habits hadn’t changed. This complacency didn't last for very long, though. As I entered high school, I realized that I began to look at my body a lot and focus on my weight more than before. These percolating thoughts soon impregnated themselves deep into views on my body and self-esteem.
In October, I was already considered thin for my 5'5" frame, but by the end of December, I made it my New Years' resolution to lose 10lbs. In my head, I was just going to cut down on what I ate. Of course, this easily turned into skipping breakfast, lunch, and then satisfying myself with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when I got home. People didn't really take notice of my eating habits because I would play it low and make up excuses (I'll eat when I get to school, or I can't eat right now, I have work to do, or simply I'm just not hungry). I only planned to change myself physically, but I didn't know how much doing so would affect me mentally.
Every single time I put something into my mouth, I'd feel guilty without fail. I began to feel guilty for feeling full, which I hated. I was content with myself when I didn't eat and began to see it as a success each time. This mental plague began to affect my self-esteem, and I started to despise and loathe my body. My definitions and standards of beauty had changed. Whenever I looked at myself in a mirror--which I absolutely hated to do-- pure hatred and toxic thoughts would be directed towards the image. I hated not seeing someone beautiful, attractive, and most of all, skinny. I wanted to see someone with a small waist and a flat tummy, and yes--even a thigh gap.
Eventually I did begin to draw attention to myself because people started noticing a change--especially my teachers. Two teachers I'm very close to gave me a special talk one day. But while I listened to what they had to say, their words didn’t impact me – their concern and hopes for my body were the complete opposite of my own. Another teacher also ended up noticing a change and expressed concern that I wasn't focusing in class any more and resembled a zombie because my eyes looked much darker and bulging. Again, I didn’t take the true concerned intention of those comments to heart and just decided that I needed to use more concealer.
As somebody recovering from an eating disorder, let me just say that if you notice such behavior in others, explicitly stating that they need to eat and/or look unhealthy only perpetuates the cycle of self-loathing even more. I was adamant about conforming my body into what I saw all around me; I was going to be beautiful and thin no matter how much it affected me mentally. In my mind, if others had that body then I was going to as well. This became something I thought about every day to the extent that it interfered with my daily life. Of course I knew from the Miss Representation statistics that 78% of girls are unhappy with their body by the age of 17, and that 7 out of 8 million people with an eating disorder are women. But I maintained cognitive dissonance and never thought about these facts in terms of my own life.
In mid-March I came across poet Staceyann Chin's video, Feminist or a Womanist as I was trying to remember a poet I had once heard at a conference. This instantly this sent me into a feminist frenzy. I re-watched the Melissa Harris-Perry and bell hooks talk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche's and Rachel Lloyd's TED talk, and looked at other feminist blogs. Suddenly, I didn't feel so alone.
What really topped it all off, though, was checking out Ileana Jimenez's blog, Feminist Teacher. Ileana teaches a class at my high school called “Fierce and Fabulous: Feminist Women Writers, Artists, and Activists” that samples different facets of and issues surrounding feminism. I took the class my junior year and it changed my world. It turned out to be the first step in changing my own views about myself and helped me realize exactly why I need feminism: without it I would not have been pulled out from the trap of this body image disorder created and sustained by society.
Through the lens of feminism, I learned how to look at myself in the mirror and appreciate my body for what it is. Although I do still sometimes feel the urge to not eat and to hate my body, I know that this is a trap that created by messages imparted through the media and society and that as a feminist I’m too strong to fall into this trap again. I need feminism because I simply cannot exist without it. I know for sure if I didn't have it I would be deeper into this trap, in a place in which it would be harder for me to get back to being myself again.
So this is my message for girls and women who have experienced or are experiencing the plague of an eating disorder or negative body image: Realize that this is a mental trap that transcends the physical and that you are not alone. Love, appreciate, and own your body because absolutely nothing and no one should tell you anything different. We need to collectively combat the messages and ideas that the media bombards us with every second in order to stop this cycle of self-loathing that plagues so many young girls and women with toxic ideas and views of our bodies. We need to reject these messages and embrace those who have become trapped in this web, and the only way we're going to achieve this collectively is if we first realize this individually.
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