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Generations of Body Battles: How I'm Learning to Be a Peacemaker
 Generations of Body Battles: How I'm Learning to Be a Peacemaker

By Melanie Klein--My body is a battleground. I have spent most of my life waging a war on it. I have vivid girlhood memories of my worth being measured by my waist size and numbers on a scale. I was taught that I must “suffer to be beautiful.”

This troubled relationship with body and self continued into middle school, as I hid my budding curves; into high school, when I combined starvation, purging, and over exercising; and well into adulthood, including during my pregnancy and postpartum experience.

But I am not alone—and sadly, this body hatred is nothing new. I am part of a lineage of women who declared war on themselves, from my great-great grandmother who donned the organ-crushing corset, to my great-grandmother who internalized the Victorian feminine ideal of daintiness and measured each bite meticulously; to my grandmother who cinched her waist with girdles and ate diet pills for lunch; and down to my mother who embodied the emaciated silhouette of the 1970s and aerobicized her way into the 1980s and early 1990s with her food-and-exercise diary tucked in her purse.

This is not just my legacy. This is an experience shared by countless girls and women, beginning at earlier and earlier ages and affecting them well into their later years. This legacy of low self-esteem and self-objectification–punctuated by disordered eating, continuous exercise and abusive fat talk--keeps us stuck in an unhealthy cycle that holds us back and prevents us from being truly empowered. As bell hooks states, these practices are “self-hatred in action. Female self-love begins with self-acceptance.”

Okay, so how do we get to that self-acceptance? As the number of girls and women engaged in these destructive habits increases exponentially, the good news is that campaigns such as Operation Beautiful, Fat Talk Free Week and the NOW Foundation’s LoveYour Body Day are rising up to combat the onslaught of voices undermining our personal and collective self-esteem.

Campaigns like these give us great opportunities to take action for change. I have also found that self-affirming rituals such as banishing self-criticism and honoring my body through reverence and celebration to be rewarding and transformative. In fact, I have felt the most beautiful and whole when I have silenced the critic in my own head, limited my level of media exposure and engaged in loving practices such as yoga that allow me to cultivate respect for my body as opposed to deepening my disdain and disappointment.

Your mother gave birth to you--her body was the vehicle for creating, carrying and birthing a miraculous new life, your life. While we may not always see ourselves as miraculous, stop and ask yourself this question: why not?  When did your body, a source of wonder and magic in childhood, stop being the source of the miracle that is you?  Ask yourself why self-loathing is heaped on generation after generation of women, whose bodies should garner respect and gratitude. Can you switch the conversation in your head? Can you identify two things that you appreciate and respect about your body? Maybe even five? Can you identify one new thing every day?

Respect is the connective strand that binds Carmen Siering's 20 ways to love your body post. If we can learn to respect our bodies, perhaps we can learn to love our bodies over time, and eventually turn that self-love into personal liberation.

Originally posted at Ms. Magazine. Revised for Proud2BeMe.

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Fri, 12/27/2013 - 03:04.
Kristenfli says:
Being a peacemaker is really a choice, never ending challenges and never ending decisions. - Green Water Technologies
Thu, 07/25/2013 - 01:04.
KaylaAr says:
This article really relates to me on a personal level. For the past years I have never really loved my body. I always thought I was a little too fat, or too short, never seeing the beauty in me. I have dealt with different ways trying different diet methods. After taking introductory women studies class and reading this article, I have realized that I am not the only one facing this issue. That this issue has been going on forever and all women somewhat faces it. There is nothing wrong with our bodies; there is something wrong with our culture. I have also came to the realization that I am beautiful and that my body is a miracle. I think it very important, as a group for women to really address this issue of self hate we all face. We must have the conversation and not ignore it like before.
Tue, 05/28/2013 - 23:43.
Zury C. says:
I find it really important and necessary for us to read articles such as this one. Our cultural climate includes the constant critique of our bodies to assure that we are bound to this unrealistic beauty image. It is unrealistic in that the images we see are altered at all times, never reflecting the images of real women. This means that because we can never attain this ideal, we will feel unfulfilled and angry at ourselves for not being perfect. We will look at our bodies and ourselves with disdain and self hate which is detrimental to both our physical and mental health. Most importantly, as hooks and Melanie point out, it does not pave the way to self- love which is necessary to reach self- accepting as well as to set a foundation for other relationships. If we cannot learn to love ourselves then there is no way that we can truly love others- and that is a scary thought. We need to learn to be self-loving and self-accepting in order to be self-actualized. The constant images and messages we're bombarded with on a daily basis will only feed our self-hate. It is teaching us to feel this way about ourselves to keep patriarchy and sexist thinking alive. If we were to be more comfortable in the skin we're in and be self-actualized, we'd get rid of this thinking; we'd truly be empowered.
Tue, 04/30/2013 - 03:33.
JasmineGh says:
The way to attain self liberation is through accepting one's own body. Body image is a body penetrated through the media that should be the standard of beauty. However, none of these images are realistic images of beauty. If we learn to love our bodies for the perfection they truly are, we would be the happiest we could ever be. Life is a true blessing, and hating one's own body creates self suffering. Every body is perfect, and the bodies in the media, they can be a construct of self hatred and extreme dieting and exercise.
Mon, 11/26/2012 - 02:09.
Danny S says:
This article talks about the body image that a women is suppose to look like and how to accept to love yourselve and your body even if your not thin and petite. In my opinion i feel as if the ideal body image for a woman is attainable with hard work and struggle but is simply just unrealistic and hard to attain. Because This ideal image of body type of being thin and petite comes from the media for us to believe that that is what women are suppose to look like but is just unrealastic and unattainable for some. And unfortunately this message does exsit in our society and affects the lives of many people who also beleieve the hype and how they are suppose to look because of the media's messages. I believe that woman should stop forcing themselves to try to look like the media's ideal image of what a women should look like because it could be unhealthy and and dangerous to your health. My best advise is to just love yourselve no matter how much you weight is and what your body looks like.
Tue, 11/20/2012 - 00:10.
JoseB says:
This article relates to one of the videos we saw in class on Killing us Softly. I believe body image, the psychological representation that you have of your own body, can contribute to the development of these disorders. The media displays that beauty knows no pain which increasingly contributes to the development of eating disorders and/or going to extremes. But also in order for women to find flaws they compare themselves to an ideal. These ideals are indeed a flaw because the ideal beauty is not real. I believe it is good for there to be campaigns that encourage self-respect and love. These types of programs can also educate about the influence the media has on them and e man things that we are introduced to in our women studies course.
Wed, 07/25/2012 - 08:32.
Alexander A says:
This was another great article to read. This article talks about the ideal body for a woman. I feel that that ideal body for I woman is frankly unrealistic. This ideal body come from the media. These aspects of the ideal woman affect the lives of many people. Woman try to to strive to leak like that ideal woman. By doing so it force woman to be somebody who they are not and they are striving for something that is not real. Woman should not force them selves to look like that because it is unhealthy and will never make someone truly happy. Beauty like money does not get you happiness.
Tue, 07/24/2012 - 18:10.
Elyzabeth says:
I have learned to love myself, but yet I am still continuing in learning, and I will admit it feels good. I may not have the perfect body image but I sure do feel better than before. I am no longer in war with my body, and I am no longer suffering for beauty. I also grew up thinking that a real woman is skinny but I now know that it’s just a falsehood. My younger sister who is 16 is in that age where she is supposed to be in war with her body. However I don’t see her doing so. I love how she is chunky and doesn’t go on a diet and claims that she doesn’t care if people have call her names. She tells me she likes the way she is, and especially she enjoys all the food that is provided to her. But yet, I fear for her health in developing any type of disease that can jeopardize her life, and that’s why I tend to advise her to have a healthy well balanced diet. Other than that I am proud of her in always being her.
Mon, 05/28/2012 - 05:05.
Mmzsabs says:
Body image has always been an issue for women and it still is reaching exponential lengths. More and more girls have eating disorders and develop body dysmorphic disorder such as myself. I have had it for years and had no idea until I researched it and realized I had all the symptoms and they were consist everyday of my life. I still have it and am struggling with it but through yoga and attempting to eliminate the words "ugly" and "fat" from the conversations I have with myself in my head I'm already starting to see small improvements. I have not eliminated the negative talk completely as it is difficult because it has been apart of my life for years but I am reducing it everyday until at once point it will be nonexistent.
Sun, 05/13/2012 - 19:49.
Ani.shaidzhanyan says:
Great job professor Klein!I feel like you were writing about my, especially the first part explaining the things you did to have the "best looking body". It is sad what women go through to be wanted. Of course I do believe that there are some men out there that want to look their best for their partners, but not as much as women do. I mean I don't remember a single day in my life, that I have not thought about losing weight. Every time I stand on the scale, even one pound frustrates me. I do not even realize how much that one pounds effects on my self-esteem or even my mood. I find myself being angry and rude to the people that I love. However I find myself catching during those times. I try to read motivating books, articles or comments from others, to make me feel better. As I read through the last paragraph of this article, I started answering to the questions that are addressed. Maybe I am really not that bad.
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