I’ve been thinking lately about a comment an overweight client made in an offhand way that seems to capture the intense emotions women have about their and other women’s bodies. She mentioned that while shopping she’d seen a middle-aged woman with a “good figure” who was wearing short shorts. Her first reaction was envy that a woman in her 50s still looked so trim and “like a teenager.” However, when my client looked more closely, she admitted to experiencing “enormous satisfaction” that the woman had some cellulite on her highly visible thighs.
My client went on to say that she felt terrible wishing cellulite on someone, but that that emotion was better than the self-hate that overwhelmed her looking at the woman’s seemingly perfect legs. In that moment of “satisfaction,” my client could finally quash the hate she felt toward her body by finding fault with that of another. I would like to say that hate is too strong a word to use against a body, that maybe dislike or dissatisfaction are more appropriate terms. But that wouldn’t be true: women hate their bodies for being imperfect and other women’s bodies for appearing perfect.
Because we are not born as body-haters, the response must be learned—from our families and from our culture. We absorb body hate when we flip through magazines and yearn to be like the ultra-thin women on their pages, when we constantly check out other women’s bodies and judge them, when we rigidly restrict eating and destroy our bodies to lose 2 or 10 or 50 pounds, when we incessantly look in mirrors or store windows to make sure we’re looking good or to confirm our physical flaws. Or when we can’t bear to look at ourselves. Too often, it’s not fat that is killing us, but self-hate.
Now, hate is never a useful feeling because it puts stress on our cells, but if we’re going to feel it, let’s at least aim it in the right direction—at publications who use ultra-thin models, at TV and movies which don’t show enough average-looking women for us to identify with, at men who ogle, at designers who maintain their clothes look better on stick-thin female hangers, and on the diet industry that insists we can always be thinner than we are if we just work harder or try something new.
We are so used to hating our bodies and those of other women that many of us don’t even realize it. The animosity is so ingrained in our thinking and unconsciously embedded in our language, that we may need to stop and reflect to notice it. So let’s do that. Let’s all make that extra effort to change our thoughts and feelings and end body hate.