On being a woman in the USA.

Hello, I Hate You

This piece is partly based on a comment I left over at Assorted Mundanities and also inspired by posts from dynamic (r)evolution and Martina Reisz-Newberry. Thanks to all of them for their thoughtful pieces on this topic.


When a friend bad-mouths herself, we jump to her defense, assuring her that she’s beautiful, that her ass doesn’t look too big in those jeans, that she shouldn’t beat herself up because she had a croissant for breakfast. We’re always quick tell our friends not to be so hard on themselves, but when it comes to our own failings, be they real or imagined, we cut ourselves no slack. This is especially true when it comes to body-hate. It’s just too easy to look in the mirror and hate what we see because we simply can’t live up to the standards global media has set for us. And yet we try, and we fail, and we look in the mirror, and we hate.

A recent study by Glamour magazine found that 97% of women who participated had at least one hateful thought about their bodies over the course of one day. That’s…let me do the math…yep, very nearly all of them. Another recent statistic showed that 3 of 4 teen girls felt depressed, guilty and shameful after three minutes with a fashion magazine. And many also learn body-hate from their mothers, who learned it from theirs.

Today I learned from dynamic (r)evolution that a website/magazine called SheLoves is promoting what they call a “synchroblog,” i.e., multiple bloggers writing on the same topic, which in this case, is a Love Letter to My Body. I think this is a lovely idea, and you’ll find two great examples in the links above. I also tripped over a post in which author Martina Reisz-Newberry has an unexpected talk with herself in the mirror and walks away with a new friend.

I’m all about the idea of self-love, but like many people, I’m not that good at it. However, this convergence of body love-hate bloggery today inspires me to jump on the bandwagon and, briefly, talk to myself a bit about how things have been and how I want them to be. So here goes:

Dear Body,
You and I have been through some serious shit together, and you’ve suffered a lot of abuse, not least at my own hands. I started out taking pretty good care of you, but really you have to credit my mom for that. I didn’t appreciate the whole-grain bread, the sugar-free cereals, the no-soda/kool-aid/crap rule, but I know it  gave you a better start than some people have.  That’s probably why you held up like such a trooper for the past 40 years while I filled you with toxins, subjected you to decades of inactivity, and generally treated you like you weren’t the only thing standing between me and the sweet hereafter. And all the while I really never liked you. At times I hated you because you were me, and I wasn’t good enough. I said terrible things about you, and I used my anger at you and at me as an excuse to continue to treat you badly. And I’m here to tell you things are going to change. In fact, they already are.

Photo: David Besa (Wikimedia Commons)

This year I started a garden. That means I’m outside every day moving around in the sun and the air and the dirt and eating whole, live foods that go directly from the dirt to our belly. And when I look at you in the mirror, I see someone who is living the life she wants to live, and though sometimes I see things I want to change about you, I don’t hate the fact that you are what you are. You have changed and changed again and you will change and change some more and we’re in this together, so I’m going to strive to be ok with that.

There’s also the subject of the abuse others have perpetrated against you. This has resulted in a subtler hate that I’ve only recently come to realize has been seething within me. It’s less a mirror thing than just a constant gut belief that you are dirty, bad, toxic…maybe because you’re tainted, maybe just because you’re female. This is the hate I want most of all to overcome because I know it’s not your fault. It’s not my fault. We are ok. I promise to keep that in mind when I think about you and try to turn that hate into love.

Love,
Me

That was utterly off-the-cuff, because if I spend too much time thinking about stuff like this I won’t do it at all. I’ll close with the final part of my comment to Assorted Mundanities:

When you look in the mirror, try pretending you’re talking to a friend. Give her a pep talk. Tell her she’s ok. Because she really is.

Hey, you’re pretty cute!

24 responses

  1. Interesting comment over at Reddit (r/BodyAcceptance). Thoughts?

    http://www.reddit.com/r/BodyAcceptance/comments/wtt6r/hello_i_hate_you/

    July 20, 2012 at 12:23 am

  2. Pingback: love thyself « Note To Self

  3. Linking to a comment on reddit from a guy who says this isn’t just a woman thing:

    http://www.reddit.com/r/Feminism/comments/wkn8r/hello_i_hate_you_what_do_you_see_when_you_look_in/

    July 16, 2012 at 6:06 pm

  4. Baba

    OH, Rosie! You made me cry again.
    I’ve been digging into a LOT of body stuff lately, and its really, uh, uncomfortable! Like excruciating. but I do find myself thanking my body for all it has held me through.

    Dear body.
    You, my dear, are flat-out amazing. You deserve a medal for what you’ve done for me.

    For years and years you held onto secrets I wasn’t ready to face. That would have killed me if I’d had to face them, and you did it mostly without me knowing.
    And you served me well, and were so strong, and held what little self worth I had for a very long time.
    And then, we got to be friends. I treated you well, and you were strong and beautiful and we GLOWED!
    And then we got sick.
    From 2000 to 20009 you took me through:
    A blown disk, missed for a year by incompetence. And yet you got me through everday, even when I thought the pain was too much to bear.
    A fusion in my neck.
    Two major abdominal surgeries (for the endometriosis that went undiagnosed for 7 years because people told us that it was all in our head…it was just a period, after all. “And, dear, are you sure you aren’t just feeling normal PMS. Abdominal pain? Are you feeling stress…??” Bastards.)
    two blood clots, that you didn’t let go to my heart or brain or lungs
    Twins (oh, thank you so much for making those amazing little boys! That is so cool!)
    Neck issues….cortisone shots, nerve blocks, neurotomies…
    Hysterectomy and bowel resection…(And, can I say that you ROCK for all that going so well?? )
    Broken feet. My fault. sorry!

    Cancer. “Barb, you’ve got a 20% chance of being alive in 5 years. And that’s with aggressive treatment.” You never bought into that.
    Chemo
    another blood clot
    unhappy bone marrow
    third degree radiation burns
    mastectomy and lymph node loss
    and, oh, shit, reconstruction
    and re-reconstruction

    And a broken knee.
    And Double Pneumonia

    Through all of it you have consistently healed in ways doctors called MIRACULOUS. And through most of it you held up enough for me to support my family by staying at work, and to be there for my boyos.

    And in that time, while you held me up, I never grieved what was happening. I’m doing that now, and it allows me to be so very grateful at what you did for me.

    While sometimes I look at that battle field of scars and feel less than, I also look at it and say “Damn, we’ve been through some shit together. And considering, we look damn good.”

    And now,. oh, now girl!
    I am so ENJOYING being a female these days. How you could have gone through all of the physical and emotional trauma, and yet be so willing and able to enjoy love is beyond me, but god I’m grateful.

    Body, you rock. And when I grow up, I want to be just like you. Strong. Resilient. Resourceful. Beautiful. Sexy.

    July 16, 2012 at 3:13 am

    • What a beautiful tribute, Baba, to a body that has indeed served you well, and that looks damned good in spite of it all. Love.

      July 16, 2012 at 3:31 am

  5. Eve

    This is very nice.
    I agree with Mandaray about people’s knee jerk reactions when someone says something like, “I look gross”…those comments do come across, (to me anyways), as pathetic and desparate…I am growing to love my body now that I have been taking care of it properly and it is responding positively to that care. I think it’s a good idea to practice positive affirmations and never ever compare yourself to 20 something girls in bikinis…they will always win, because they’re 20! But we are beautifull too, and we need to believe that for real.

    July 15, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    • Yes. I think we all just need to focus on shifting our perspective from one of trying to be someone else to trying to be the best possible us we can be. :)

      July 15, 2012 at 8:59 pm

  6. What a sad thought, that nearly every woman finds something to dislike about her body. This beautiful post — and the work of others that you shared with us — is an important reminder to take a moment to appreciate our unique features, shapes and sizes. So often, what we wish were different may be the one thing someone who loves us finds most attractive. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we should be beholding ourselves with love. Not only for what’s on the outside but also for what’s on the inside.

    July 15, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    • It is sad, isn’t it? It’s also sad that I didn’t find that number at all surprising (although I would like to look more closely at the study for demographic information). I don’t know a single woman who is all the way ok with her body. I know women of all shapes and sizes. I know ones who are physically fit and overall pretty happy with themselves, but they still pick at their own imperfections–ones that others don’t even notice.

      On a trip to Hawaii last year, amidst a bunch of emotional life stuff, so I wasn’t in the best shape anyway, I found myself not enjoying the beautiful weather, the beach, the ocean, but crying because next to the young, tanned, thin, beautiful women in bikinis, I felt like a whale. I’ve enjoyed the beach before and since without having that reaction, but deep inside it’s there lurking. I know it is because even typing that made the lump rise up in my throat.

      On another trip a few years ago to the California wine country, I noticed a bottle on the shelf behind a bar we were drinking at. It was shaped like a woman’s body, but not our cultural ideal–more like an ancient Venus figure, round and curvy and evocative of a mother. I wanted that bottle, and it was nearly empty, so I ordered the last of what was in it (Damiana, made with an herbal aphrodisiac by the same name, and the bartender rinsed it out for me. It’s sitting here in my office now, and I think it’s beautiful. Why is that womanly figure, chubby and not at all like those beach girls, so beautiful to me when my own body, not nearly as round, sometimes seems inferior? More importantly, what can we do to a) change our programming and b) prevent the same programming from taking hold in our daughters and granddaughters?

      July 15, 2012 at 7:04 pm

  7. I, for one, kind of hate it when friends and loved ones rush to people’s defense whenever they say something negative about themselves. It reeks of desperation, and fear, and also of laziness, because it has become the canned response. I can no longer trust that their opinion is real because it’s socially unacceptable to let someone speak publicly against their body. That started out as a helpful thing and has now become a panicky knee-jerk reaction which I find distasteful, and which only causes me to hate myself more when these situations arise.

    I hated my body for a long time. When I was younger, I was gorgeous…thin, healthy, and my skin was perfect. Then I got a little older, got a lot more sedentary, and ate a lot of things that I shouldn’t have eaten. It was also an extremely stressful time for me emotionally. Suddenly I had angry red cellulite marks everywhere, I couldn’t fit into any of my favorite clothes, and was just generally weaker than I had been previously. Then, my acne flared up, and bad. I’m not talking the “omg I have a zit before prom” kind of situation…I’m talking about red shit everywhere, making me look like I lost a battle with a band of miniature wasps who were very, very angry with me. And when they got angry, they stayed angry with me for *months*.

    These days, I’ve kind of reached an uneasy truce with my self-image. I lost some weight, and realized the rest really doesn’t bother me anymore, or at least it bothers me very rarely. It helps to know that there are a lot of people who would kill to be my size. My strength (or lack thereof) does still make me feel insecure, but I know that’s something I can change. My skin and I, however, are still very much at war. Sometimes I win the battle, and sometimes it does. I am forever ashamed of my many, many scars and the fact that, at any time, a flare-up can happen and I’ll look horrible all over again. Not only that–but it *hurts*. I think that’s something a lot of people forget. Honestly, looking a bit funny doesn’t worry me half as much as the constant itching and pain of it.

    I would keep every part of my body the same except for my skin. Oh, how I would switch that out in a heartbeat, and weep with joy after it was done. And I don’t know if that’s body-hate, or a legitimate, honest wish that anyone else in my shoes would make. I don’t know if it’s because it’s an honest thought, or if it’s there because it goes against society’s standards.

    So I don’t really know what to do about the whole body image thing. I genuinely love most of myself…most of the time. And I’m with someone now who, when he says I’m beautiful, I know that he means it. He isn’t just placating me, or saying the expected thing. That has helped a lot. But at the same time, there are things about myself that I dislike, and that need to change. I want to be able to say that and own it without everyone around me getting all twitchy and arguing with me about it because they’re afraid I’m going to throw myself off a building somewhere. I’m not. I just want to be honest, and I want to talk about the things that make me hurt or angry. I want to be listened to, not shushed into “loving myself” by overanxious friends who are just as insecure (or more so) than I am.

    (Also, sorry, this turned into a HUGE comment when I didn’t mean it to. =/)

    July 15, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    • At the risk of repeating myself, you make a very good point here. ;) People should be able to talk about the things they want/need to talk about without everyone getting all OMG don’t say that shut up. But there’s a difference between “I need to eat better, I’m gaining weight,” and “I’m so fat and ugly, no one will ever love me.” One is the opening of a conversation and one is a cry for help. Since someone very close to me is a NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) practitioner, I’m more aware than some of the damage words can do to your psyche, so when I hear people putting themselves down out of what sounds like self-pity and self-hate, I try to counter their statements with loving ones, but I also try to help them understand how those words perpetuate the feelings that spawned them, and that they might feel better if they gave their brains better “commands” to work with. It’s amazing how a little thing like “try making statement more like this” changes one’s perspective.

      As for your wish to change skins, that sounds less like body-hate and more like self-love to me. It doesn’t sound to me like you hate your skin (which, I think, would make things worse). You’re wishing for a body without pain, and that’s something that would actually improve your life, not your profile. I find myself wanting to give you all sorts of motherly advice, and then I think “You can’t tell her anything she doesn’t already know,” but I will say this because I think it’s important. Love your skin. I know you don’t hate it, but I don’t know whether you actually, specifically show/feel love toward it. To me, that sounds like it would be an effort (to love any part of your body that was causing you pain) but it’s the one thing that occurs to me so I’m saying it. <3

      July 15, 2012 at 5:02 pm

      • Ah yes, NLP. My dad has studied that quite a bit, and I’m actually using some of his subliminal “repgroamming” CDs at the moment to help both me and my boyfriend with some of the negative self-talk we’ve gotten used to. They actually do make a difference, and you’re absolutely right about how phrasing can affect a person. I guess a lot of times I do say things like “I’m fat” or “I hate ___”, instead of opening up a conversation. Thinking about it, I believe I do that mostly out of frustration, or because I assume that people are just going to try and shut me up anyway so I need to get my feeling/opinion out as quickly and as directly as possible. Now that I’m thinking about it, though, it’s not rational, and is in fact, rather silly. I think I shall endeavor to change that from now on. :)

        As for the skin thing…you make a good point. I’ve spent so much time thinking of my skin as the enemy, something that will turn on me at any second, that I’ve never stopped to tell myself that “This is my skin. I love it.” I don’t treat it well, in fact most of the time I neglect it, even though I know I shouldn’t.

        Some of that comes from neither of my parents understanding or even knowing about good skin-care regimes. (I was raised with a great understanding of how to brush my teeth and healthy food choices, but skin was only mentioned once, when I hit puberty.) But most of it comes from frustration, and maybe even a little fear. I guess I’ve just made so many attempts at fixing it that failed, that I just got into the habit of thinking “This will never work anyway, why bother?”. Then when I discovered makeup, it just became easier to hide it rather than work on it. (Though to be fair, I do use mineral-based makeup, so at least it doesn’t make things worse.)

        But maybe if I start to view my skin with love and treat it with the respect I try to show the rest of my body, something will change. At any rate, it can’t hurt, right? :) Thank you. That actually helped a lot. <3

        July 15, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    • Finally something I can identify with M! I get annoyed at myself when I have to have those chocolates which aren’t good for me, but when it comes down to paying for them via exercise which is actually great for my well being, I’m unwilling. Nothing comes without a price and if we are not happy to pay for it, we shouldn’t indulge in it.

      July 16, 2012 at 5:49 am

  8. What, I wonder, is the secret of those other 3%? That was a great letter, I should try doing that myself one of these days.

    July 15, 2012 at 2:50 am

  9. Oh, that last photo made me cry. This is great.

    I’ve thought of this before – how it’s so easy to support our friends, yet when it comes to loving ourselves, how hard that seems to be. At what age do we become our own worst enemy, I wonder?

    As I age, I’ve realized I may not like what I see when I look in the mirror sometimes, but I’m my own worst critic. And that’s so unfair. I wouldn’t allow someone with that negative of an attitude toward me in my life, so why am I allowing myself to treat myself that way? It’s helped the way I look at things, actually, looking at it that way.

    And I continue to (of course) support my friends as loudly and vocally as I can. Because dammit, if we’re going to tear ourselves down, that support’s got to come from SOMEWHERE.

    July 15, 2012 at 2:22 am

    • It’s funny when I think that in order to really show myself love, I have to pretend I’m not me. I have to actually pretend I’m talking to a friend so I can show myself the love I’d show a friend. I mean, it’s working, so I can’t really knock it, but what is it that makes us feel so uncomfortable with the idea of being nice to ourselves? When I consider it, the image that comes to mind is kids calling each other “conceited” and a feeling that you just aren’t allowed to ever toot your own horn or even feel like you might be good at something, or pretty, or anything. So yeah, I blame kids. Let’s get ‘em!

      It’s pretty inspiring to go read the posts over on SheLove–not just the letters, but how they’re making people feel to read and write. It really is a great thing.

      July 15, 2012 at 2:55 am

  10. Wherever you go, whatever you do, whatever changes you are able to make, you do it in partnership with your one and only body. Learning to love it doesn’t mean you might not want to change something about it, but this is the body that’ll be making the changes, so a little respect.

    And a lot of love.

    July 15, 2012 at 1:58 am

    • Yes, respect is key. I wish I’d learned that sooner, but hey, better late, as they say. :)

      July 15, 2012 at 2:49 am

  11. thank you for joining in rosie. and for writing ‘off the cuff’. i found that, like you, things went in a much different direction then i anticipated. but it went in the direction it was meant to. this is just beautiful. hope you feel a bit closer to love (or at least like) after writing this piece

    July 15, 2012 at 1:53 am

    • Thanks, Meg! I can already see the ripples of good this is doing, and yes, I feel closer to love. Thanks for the challenge!

      July 15, 2012 at 2:46 am

  12. Beautiful.

    July 15, 2012 at 12:51 am

    • Thank you! It turned out quite different from what I expected. :)

      July 15, 2012 at 1:04 am

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