March 24, 2008

Why Care if Women Hate Their Bodies?

This is a guest post by Karly Randolph Pitman--she's a writer, speaker, and mother of four. Be sure to visit her at her website First Ourselves for more information and tips on positive body image and other important topics.

Who cares if you love your body? Why is it important?

These are good questions. After all, loving your body isn't on par with feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, or fostering orphans. It's not like we're ending violence against women.

Or are we?

When we beat ourselves up for not being physically "perfect," however we define it, we are committing violence: violence against ourselves. And because we're all connected, we are also committing violence against other women: our peers, our daughters, and our granddaughters.

For years, I avoided my body hatred, justifying my behavior with, "It only affects me." But it doesn't just affect me; it affects everyone. In her book Like Mother, Like Daughter, Debra Waterhouse writes about how a mother's negative relationship with her body can be passed down to her daughter. But this pattern doesn't just occur between mothers and daughters: society as a whole is bequeathing a negative body culture to the next generation.

I look at my daughters, one a beautiful little girl; the other, a beautiful young woman on the cusp of adolescence. They are fortunate, and blessed to live in modern times. Their foremothers have paved the way for them, clearing the obstacles that hindered earlier generations: They can vote, they have a voice, they can own property. They will witness the first woman in the Oval Office.

So what will prevent my girls from pursuing their dreams? If they buy the lie that they have to be superthin and youthful to be beautiful, that they have to loathe and control and try to shape their female form into something unnaturally unattainable, that will hold them back. The other freedoms won't matter, if they aren't free in their mind: free to love and accept themselves.

I have the power to change that. You do, too. That is why, as a woman, loving your body is some of the most important work that you can do.

It's important because if it remains unaddressed, it will sabotage anything else you try to do. It's scary to put yourself out on a limb, to offer your pearls to the world, and hope that it appreciates their value. It's even scarier if your confidence is undermined, if you're thinking of all the ways your body doesn't measure up.

It's important because you can't separate your body from the other parts of yourself. You can't love yourself while you hate your body.

It's important because you can't be free and clear to love and accept others unconditionally, if you're not loving and accepting towards yourself.

It's important because you can't be the woman, daughter, mother, wife, friend, or woman you wish to be, if you're consumed about thoughts about your body.

It's important because hating your body keeps you stuck. It keeps you in bondage, just as surely as violence, sexism, and injustice does.

It's important because the world needs our sacred femininity.

It's important because we can't fix the "big" problems - war, hatred, genocide, or violence - until we first heal these issues internally, in our battle with ourselves. They come from the same soil. And those problems can't, and won't, get our full attention if we're not healed of our own, personal hatred, first.

In loving your body, you release love into the world. You release courage. You release forgiveness. You release compassion. You release acceptance.

That sounds like important work to me. Love your body; love yourself. Love your body; change the world. Love your body: it matters.


  1. I know what you're thinking -- that's a pretty neat trick, Miss Crabby posting a blog while driving down the freeway!

    Okay, the truth has to be told: I posted this, but Crabby did all the work of formatting and Karly did all the work of writing it.

    This is a good topic -- I get mad when I read about young children declaring that they're "fat" and need to go on a diet. These views are taught to them by the adults around them. I think we should be more positive toward the girls and boys around us.

  2. Wow. That's really profound! I work with adolescents, and this is the exact type of thing I see all the time. This hits home in a lot of ways... excellent post!

  3. Carolyn, this sort of thing seems more natural with adolescents -- they're at a time when all the hormones are pinballing through their systems, and every physical or metaphysical part of their selves that is less-than-perfect seems magnified into a Horrible Flaw. But I'd expect (at least in theory) that this sort of slanted thinking would start at puberty and end sometime in the twenties. It troubles me that girls as young as 5 or 6 are disparaging their physical shapes, while women into their 30s are starving themselves.
    And what about men? Do they go through this self-distortion?


    especially your point about not being able to fix the BIG STUFF till we heal ourselves.


  5. awesome, awesome post. I wish I'd had someone to tell me this when I was younger, and being taught to hate my body instead.

    And yes, men go through this too. I remember my little brother, in elementary school, having a breakdown one morning because of the number on the scale. He became fitness obessessed, and while is thin and gorgeous now as an adult, he confessed that he still doesn't think he's good enough, and won't be happy until he sees six-pack abs staring back at him from the mirror. My fiance also struggles with body image and eating issues. It's just not discussed to the extent it is with women, I think. It's assumed men are okay with how they look, no matter what, because looking thin and young doesn't hold them back to the same extent in society (look at Drew Carey, and the guy from King of Queens - you can be overweight, and not handsome in the traditional sense but still have your own TV show if you're a man. You're reduced to the joke, if you're that way as a woman - Think Mimi on Drew Carey.)


  6. Yes. I'm glad someone has given voice to this, and so eloquently.
    How we feel about ourselves is reflected in all we do and all we influence.
    Excellent post.

  7. A-freakin-men (apologies to my religious peeps) but seriously!

    I'm in a healthy weight range but constantly see imperfections in my body and sometimes find myself striving for something that isn't healthy, really.

    It's only recently that I'm realizing I need to love the shape I'm in now and appreciate how healthy I am otherwise I'm only working against myself.

    Great read and it does start with the kids.

  8. Excellent post! It's so true. Loving your body and self-acceptance are so much bigger than ourselves. Our positive examples could change the way young women see themselves and their bodies. I just wish it were easier for me to overcome all that negative conditioning...

  9. Great post - so very true.
    If we liked ourselves as we were, we'd move forward to positive change and be more positive to those around us too.

  10. Good post. I would add that for some personality types, having a bad body image could lead to overall bad self-image (I'm stupid therefore don't deserve better)and lead them into a physically &/or mentally abusive relationship.

    This has to stop. I am glad to see you getting the message out there.

  11. Karly, thank you for posting this! Looks like this was a message a lot of people were ready to hear.

  12. Yes, excellent topic choice and a very serious subject. I will note that I turned 51 yesterday, and I look in the mirror and have to not only be resigned to where I have some stubborn fat, but also havoc the aging process wreaks on my body, It's not going to get better, because if I'm lucky I will get to be even older. If you're in your 20s and 30s and 40s, celebrate that and make peace now, because it just gets harder! ;D
    Then it's not only the physical, but regrets about past life choices and living situations and job disatisfaction and how little is stashed away for "retirement" that will drag one down if you cannot find peace with the person facing you in the mirror. That person needs kindness, compassion and understanding first and foremost, now and every day for the rest of your life.
    If we can't be kind to ourselves, and if we can't forgive ourselves first, we can't truly be kind to or forgive others.

    And Merry, some men do go through the same thing, but it's been proven that overall men actually rate themselves as MUCH more attractive than they are! :D

  13. Oops, that was me under my other assumed name...

    I did want to add that my hubby looks in the mirror and sees a handsome fellow, not a skinny geek with thinning hair and a pot belly, though he does have a cute rear. That's an example of guys viewing themselves much less critically than women do in general. We need to be more like that. ;)

    I love him so I see the fine mind and the good heart and that makes him very handsome to me too. I need to do that more for myself, and the rest of humanity likewise. We'd probably be a LOT nicer to each other.

  14. I'd never really thought about how much body image and self-esteem are linked to our confidence and effectiveness in the world. Great post!

  15. What an eloquent post! Your daughters are lucky to have such a grand role model - and they will be sure to pass their confidence on to others. Think of what a great ripple effect you are generating!
    The earlier we teach our youngsters to appreciate their bodies and their inner talents, the better prepared they'll be for adolescence when they start questioning themselves. Starting with a solid foundation is essential!

  16. your significant other better care... if u hate your body it could lead to potentially harmful things, like bolemia and such.


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