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"...another reason I'm intrigued with the hanged of Salem, especially the women, is that a number of them aroused suspicion in the first place because they were financially independent, or sharp-tongued, or kept to themselves. In other words, they were killed off for the same sort of life I live right now but with longer skirts and fewer cable channels." Sarah Vowell, The partly cloudy patriot.


It's almost swimsuit season

Not that it feels like it ... but the stores sure seem packed with them, which can often cause severe body anxiety and depression in women.

Screed today posted a great... well screed, on women and their bodies. She has a youtube video on there that is really worth watching. it's 7 minutes long, so set aside that time and watch it.

And to celebrate this season, I am reposting an old post of mine in which I suggest a new way for women to approach their bodies. If you want to read the comments, the original post is here.

You body is Donald Trump's hair

I've been reading a lot of posts on others' blogs about bodies and image and sense of self - and the inevitable inextricability of these. I in no way have these things sorted out for myself - but I thought I might go a bit shrinky on all y'all and talk a little about how I attack these issues with my clients.

One of the most insidious issues related to negative body image is that it is severely related to beliefs about the self (and this is obviously reinforced by American culture). That is weight becomes commensurate with inherent worth; I am fat, ergo I suck.

This can cause severe problems in many realms. For example, I once posted about a study in which college-aged women were primed (by having them try on a swimsuit) to feel badly about their bodies. Those who tried on the swimsuit did more poorly on a math test. Between both conditions (swimsuit or sweater), those who had the most internalized body shame did the most poorly.

For those who have body shame, the cognitive resources it takes to feel badly about our bodies and worry about how others' see us is enormous (and one might argue in a patriarchal country - in a country where people feel ambivalent about women having equal rights, this is fairly useful. As long as women are worrying about their bodies, they can't really gain power. This may well lead to some conspiracy theories ...).

So here's the thing - women have to accept that their bodies are their bodies. Fat, bulges, thickness, jiggling, are not in and of themselves inherently had. They have just become laden with emotional weight (ha ha). As luckbuzz noted in her post on this topic, most of us have no issues with excess weight on other people. I know I often see women who are my size or bigger and think they are adorable. But, when it comes to us – we cannot have that kind of objectivity.

In order for women to make any kind of peace with their bodies, they have to accept them. Now, I will in no way endorse affirmations or try to force anyone to try to believe their bodies are beautiful. I think that kind of doesn’t work. Plus, that kind of stuff makes me want to hurl. I used to have a friend who would squeeze each part of her body in the shower each morning and would say, “Hello stomach! You are beautiful and wonderful and I love you.” Uh, no.

No, what I would argue is that instead of affirmations, we need to just accept that our bodies are our bodies. These legs are mine. This is what they look like right now. So fuck it. They are what they are and who cares.

This is the kind of thing I encourage clients to think – and that I try to too. This is especially important in summer because I will often not wear things that might be more comfortable because they are “too fitted” or because the skirt is “too short.” But you know what? I look like what I look like. Wearing something longer or baggier isn’t going to change that. If I like it – if it fits well, then who cares! No one is going to see that it clings a little to my tummy. And if they do, who cares? I’m me.

Because look, there are huge dangers in not accepting ourselves as we are. First of all, if you are dead set on losing weight, you’ll never do it healthily because you will be doing it out of hate rather than out of acceptance. Thus, you will be more likely to restrict, eat unhealthily, punish yourself, deprive yourself, etc. If you accept your body – you are more likely to take care of it – feed it when it’s hungry, feed it what it wants/needs rather than what your emotions dictate, and eat to fill up rather than eat to obliviate/dissociate.

Second, you are likely to not be very nice to yourself – to say mean things, to use nasty names (I had a friend who would “moo” when she looked in the mirror), to make spurious linkages between feelings about appearance and other events or to inherent worth. It’s almost like you are living with an abuser in your head. No one can do well under such circumstances.

And so I would like to pose this question to each of you: What would change – or have to change – if you truly accepted your body as it is? What would you have to start doing? Stop doing?

And this is where the Donald comes in. Think of your hatred of/denial of your shape as being Donald Trump’s hair (or any bad toupee or comb over). Well, let’s think about a bad comb over instead – it’s too early in the day to think about Trump. You look at a man with a comb over and the first thing you think is how bad it looks, right? And then you think that if he just accepted his baldness and cut his hair in a way that made the most of his head and face, he’d look a lot better. Plus, he could stop worrying about whether or not a strong breeze was about to come – or if others could tell it was a comb over. And this would likely free him up to do things he might be afraid to do like swim or go on a swing, or go dancing. Further, this would free him up from the shame of the bald spot. If he truly accepted his baldness, he would no longer have to worry about others finding out he is bald, and the shame that comes with holding such a secret.

Similarly, worrying about our bodies and not accepting ourselves keeps us stuck and worried and keeps us from doing things. When we torture ourselves with what we used to weigh or look like – or keep waiting to lose weight – we live in a different time than the present. We hold off on things until we lose the weight. Or we punish ourselves for not weighing what we did years ago.

Here's another analogy (and I will answer a question someone posed to me in comments a few days ago here too). One way in which I think we can kind of clearly see the grave dangers in not radically accepting reality is in our current administration. Bush seems to not want to accept a lot of realities - teens will have sex; welfare and poverty; women cannot be tied to their reproduction; gays and lesbians exist, etc. This causes him to keep making programs and legislation that deny reality, right? I mean, abstinence-only sex ed courses don't solve anything because they fundamentally deny reality. Instead, they really create significantly more problems (less protected sex, more anal sex, more stds, higher pregnancy rates, etc.).

Now, I'm not going to pretend like this next dude is a good guy or did any good in his regime - but say what you will about Saddam Hussein, he at least seemed to practice a little radical acceptance (now, don't get too tied to these examples - okay - I am clearly pulling this out of context and being provocative to make a point). Under Hussein's administration - he created programs and legislation to support women who worked. For example, women were give 6 months of paid maternity leave - and then could take another 6 months of 1/2 paid leave. He also made it so that childcare was *heavily* subsidized by the state. Imagine, accepting the reality that women with children work. What a concept!

Accepting things allows us to not react out of denial, allows us to be more proactive, and allows us to actually deal in reality. It may also be better in the long run.

So, today here is your affirmation (okay, so I lied - I have an affirmation for you): “Fuck it. This is what I look like.”

Can you imagine the freedom that would bring?


At 5:07 PM, Blogger Tiruncula said...

Shrinky, I've been meaning to post and thank you for this, but I was stranded with very intermittent wifi. Thank you! Excellent post.

You know, many years ago I tried to assimilate the message that "fat is a feminist issue" as a way of taking control of the psychological tyranny of body issues. And while all the arguments made sense to me - yes, I am oppressed by unrealistic societal expectations, etc., yadda yadda blah blah - I was still left thinking, "But what about meeee? I don't like the way my clooooothes look!" The message just didn't get inside. And then about five years ago it dawned on me: Fat is a feminist issue because I am devoting every brain-moment I can spare, and many I cannot, to obsessing about my body image, other people's body images, etc. What, I asked myself, would my life be like if I made all that brain energy available for something else? Bingo: that did it. Somehow when I realized that claiming my body was about reclaiming my mind, it all clicked. And now I have a closet full of clothes I'm happy to put on and head out and think about other things in.


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