A recent NY Times article really hit home. It was about females engaging in self-deprecating comments with others and themselves about their body. How familiar is that?! Looking back on my own struggle with accepting myself, and now listening to my two adult daughters struggle with their own issues, I feel a cascade of emotions. Anger at a society that teaches us to be so judgmental, frustrated that the women’s movement has made so little progress in this area and sad when I see my daughters and students in my classes criticize themselves or others for perceived physical defects.
Where did I get that inner voice that was constantly judging other women’s bodies and especially my own? I was brought up with a mother who never made comments about her body (except she hated her straight hair) or her three daughter’s bodies (except that I was too talkative and loud). But, I do remember her and my aunt mocking people of a larger stature seen in public eating ice cream. “Well, they certainly don’t need that!” was a frequent comment. As a young woman I was thin, fit and had a successful career as a teacher. Yet, every bite I took, every time I didn’t exercise, I chastised myself. I’d complain about my body to males I was dating. They never seemed to have any complaints and must have chalked my comments to insecurity or it just being a girl thing.
Giving birth to two daughters made me determined to never make negative comments about my body or theirs to them, no matter what was going on inside my head. I always stressed being healthy and the importance of being active and strong. They both have struggled with obesity and finally as adults are coming to terms with their genetics (Italian peasant stock on father’s side, German on my mother’s side) and a sensuous nature where eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
When I divorced their father, I was determined to find that authentic self and exuberant youth that somehow got lost in a long marriage and parenthood. I vowed to stop the negative self-talk and celebrate my freedom and newly revived sexuality. I met a delightful man on a blind date and 13 years later we’re still going strong! One of the things he said attracted me to him was how comfortable I was with my body and my sexuality despite stretch marks, saggy breasts, post-menopausal spread, and spider veins (my words not his!). I guess I did a successful performance convincing him that I was confident and comfortable. Even though I was anxious, I kept reminding myself that if he couldn’t accept me for the wonderful woman I knew I was, then he wasn’t the one for me. Now if a negative thought pops into my head, I just think how exceptional it is to be healthy, sensual, and loved. I will never go back to that sad, self-doubting person I once was.
My advice to all is to stop that voice as soon as it starts and turn it into something loving and positive. People will love you even more if you love yourself first. I guarantee it. I remember an interview with a woman on her 100th birthday. She was asked if she had any regrets and she said, “I should have eaten less beans and more ice cream.” Love that one! Check out Planned Parenthood’s website for more on body image.