The other day I was standing in the elevator in my building, heading out for the day. In the elevators, the walls are all mirrors.
I glanced over and had a negative thought about my body — a reflexive, critical thought I’ve had a thousand times before.
I don’t remember if it was a hips thought, or a stomach thought, or a general weight thought. I can’t remember because what caught my attention was the stunning thing that happened next.
Before that familiar, mean thought ended, another one jumped in right on top of it. That one said,
“Tara, that’s the patriarchy, inside your head. Are you going to allow it to be there?”
And something in me said back, with utter solidity, “No. Out.”
With that, I bounced the thought right out. I flicked it back into the atmosphere.
It’s no coincidence that at the very same historical moment when women are gaining power — when we can lead, earn, and decide when and if we want to have children, a huge alternative force is arising to distract us from joyfully and fully claiming our power. That force is our society’s worship of thinness.
It seems to be working. Most women are occupied by this in one way or another – whether extreme body dissatisfaction or subtle insecurity, whether constant dieting or occasional, vicious self-critique.
Think about how perfect this force is for keeping women from our joy and our power. It keeps us in an endless, unquenchable pursuit. It causes us to stop supporting ourselves at the most fundamental level of our beings – our very flesh, our very selves.
I’m sad to say it, but a woman who can’t love her arms or legs or belly seriously compromises her power, because she’s turned against herself. She’s draining her own wellspring of energy.
Part of the illusion we’ve fallen into is that body image issues are our own personal struggles. They are not. This is just old-fashioned oppression of women taking up residence in our heads because it’s illegal for it to stand elsewhere.
What has become illegal has gone under the surface, where it can abide in a more slithery, difficult-to-trace form.
So darling, let’s do this. When you hear a negative body thought echoing in your mind, see it: this is a cultural pollutant, invading sacred territory inside you. You can flick it out. Bounce it.
The forces that made this cultural pollutant aren’t evil – they were just afraid of the unbridled, gorgeous power of a liberated you – because she is so holy, so sacred, so wild and so close to Life itself.
We don’t have to demonize the forces that would love to keep you dissatisfied with your body. We can even relate to to them – because we all have a part inside of us that feels just the same way: terrified of our enough-ness, afraid of our beauty, afraid of the radical fullness of Life uncontrolled and celebrated.
The only thing to do is blow a kiss to the fear and then sail off toward something better.
This fear is force that wants to turn all your energy toward inward critique, so that you never step onto the real stage of your life. This is a force that would love to distract you from sensual delights of the body, from your real work, from your brave choices.
It will distract you till the day of your death if you let it. Don’t. Call it out, boot it out, and then party with the gorgeous suit you got for this round.
Be the woman who didn’t listen to the dominant lie of her time.
Join the discussion 24 Comments
“Be the woman who didn’t listen to the dominant lie of her time.”
Powerful, liberating & true.
AMEN! This is SO up for me Tara. Those voices really are lifetimes of oppression. I will NOT listen to that party line. Years of shame from my ancestral lineage – it’s time to cut that chord to liberate myself and my daughters. Yes.
This is wonderful, and so true. How I struggle to see myself, how I struggle with my dysmorphia, and how I hate to watch myself doing it. What a waste of time and energy!
I’ve often thought that mirrors (of any kind) are women’s downfall. Without mirrors, I think we’d have a lot more peace about our appearance — weight and aging. You are young. Just wait till you start to see the sagging skin and the widening waist. Ugh. That’s some serious mental shifting to refuse to let that bother you.
YES! This is such a perfect example of the personal is political — thank you!
I love that you mention your daughters. Liberating them from this limiting message is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give. Bravo.
I was in a swimming pool change room with my 6-year old daughter the other morning when I overheard a time-pressed mum speaking to her similarly-aged daughter. Her daughter wanted to get changed in privacy in a change room and the mother was imploring her to just hurry up and get changed in the open with everyone else. When the daughter insisted, the mother said’ Why do you need to go in there? Why are you hiding? What have you got? NOTHING!’. I almost cried. Rather than an empowering statement about being proud of her body and not needing to hide it away, she was shamed by not having a body worth sharing x
This is a powerful, lovely, inspiring post. Following menopause I suffered a relapse into increasingly acute anorexia, which is now nearly as bad as the first years of the eating disorder in my teens. It has taken a dreadful toll on my body and life. In the last few months I sense some flickers of hope returning that I might at least manage to reverse some of the progressive downward spiral. And it is about self-acceptance and celebration and faith in one’s gifts of love, beauty, energy, work, creativity…that terrifying “potential.” Yet I’m so afraid…of what?
Hooray! thanks so much for saying this – we all need to hear it. And my daughters need to hear it from me too.
While I do agree with banishing negativity (of all sorts not just the type associated with self image) if you seem to focus on a particular area continuously, exercise combined a sensible diet is actually more foolproof way of eliminating the problem and the mental negativity caused by it.
More specifically for people with eating disorders, advice on ignoring the problem is one of the most dangerous responses you could give, advice on seeking an understanding therapist would be better.
My whole life I struggled with being an outlier, even though it seems like that was just my perceptive. I will admit that I had a hard time doing the things needed to fit in and that probably made it worse.
One thing that I do know is that I hope that all women learn to embrace that terrifying potential that Donna mentions. I will admit that realizing that I had it has given me a run for my money, but it has been the best adventure of my life. I have chosen to love who I am, the body that I have on this round, and have taken the responsibility for keeping it healthy and happy. The last day of our lives… that last moment in which we close our eyes Donna, we should feel like we loved ourselves enough, for our own sake, to be worthy of the opportunity that we had to be alive.
My hope is that all of us learn to be as accepting of what we see in the mirror as we are of the imperfections in the things that we find to be beautiful.
Fabulous post Tara. I work with the eating disordered and I plan to add this post to my notebook of inspiration!
@theperfectnose mentioned a few interesting ideas and as I see it those with ED are usually well aware of their issue.They are not ignorant of it, on the contrary they are often extremely educated on diet, nutrition and ED itself.
Advice like “exercise combined with a sensible diet” is no answer to body image issues… it drives it!
Weight stabilization is a very complex hormonal and individual process. By accepting ones body in the shape and place it is frees up enormous energy to show the world the “unbridled, gorgeous power of a liberated you”.
Thank you Tara!
Yes! Yes! Developing more and effective ways to get these thoughts our of our heads is the key topic of the second half of the book The Woman in the Mirror. I present several strategies to empower women to take control of these thoughts and replace them with healthier alternatives.
Exactly!!! A waste of time and energy, I am just coming to grasp this!
As a big believer in physical fitness, I am also known for statements like “it doesn’t matter what you look like, it matters what you can do with your body”. I’m a firm believer in this. I’ve gotten my power and inclusion in life from my ability to play sports and participate in lots of activities. Because of this I have a great love for my body, even more now since becoming a mother and battling a life threatening disease. I too feel sad for anyone who doesn’t love their body, but I know better than anyone that all you need to do is spend some time using your body in all the ways that make you happy and you’ll gain more appreciation for it. Yes, there is a deeper message that we have to deal with. As women we have to stop perpetuating the stereotypes and comparing ourselves to other women, we have to encourage one another to use our bodies to do what makes us happy because it is then that we will be truly free and strong.
This message came on the perfect day: Thursday – or Thankful Thursday, as I have come to call it. So rather than hating my flabby upper arms I will instead give thanks for them and all that they can do. And there is plenty! For instance, several days back they allowed me to “cajole” home a huge crate with shelves which I had salvaged from a warehouse in my neighborhood. This “find” was painted and re-purposed as a bookcase courtesy of my arms. Getting it into my office required removing the door from the hinges – my strong arms were again pressed into service.
So each time I retrieve a book or project from my new “one-of-a-kind” possession,
I will give thanks for it, my powerful arms and my self.
And thank you,Tara, for this message.
Another perspective from someone a generation older(me)is that all the pressures to undermine women were there from my own earliest memory and that the thing so different for this (your) generation is the huge rejection by women such as you describe and for which there is unbelievable support throughout the internet for rejecting perfectionism and marketed body image messages. I’m glad I’ve lived to see this.
[…] Our society’s obsessions with thinness can be very influential. But it doesn’t have to be. “Be the woman who didn’t listen to the dominant lie of her time.” […]
When I catch a glimpse of my body with dissatisfaction i am not quick to dismiss it as the patriarchy. I am quick to listen.
My body is happiest when it feels fit, healthy, and when it is these things it not only looks good, it sings.
When my body is fit and firm and fabulous, when I look in the mirror I feel joy.
To hear negative voices is a sign of imbalance. Lack of health. I would never lay the blame at the foot of “The Man” for my dissatisfaction with my mind, my body, or my spirit.
If I hear grumblings from my body I take full responsibility. I help myself. I don’t shut out the voice. I listen to my body and my heart and my mind.
I know the Truth.
Oh yea. I am totally on board with this:
Be the woman who didn’t listen to the dominant lie of her time.
I was just thinking this thought the other day. How many people, how much money, how much energy is caught up in this crazy thought about bodies needing to be a certain way? It is truly exhausting and so unnecessary. Thanks for taking a stand!
Yes!! Add to this the idea that we will easily do for our girls what we can’t always do for ourselves. So for women everywhere, especially our daughters, I will now stop the madness and LOVE MY BODY. : )
I love this post. When you respond kindly and firmly with, “No. Out.” you also do it on behalf of women and girls everywhere. Thanks for writing and sharing this, Tara!
Tara, this is amazing! I was traveling and got behind on your posts so this is a bit late. Finally read this and it was EXACTLY what I needed to read after 3 weeks on the road eating out and what that can bring with it – more hips, more thighs – a slightly bigger suit. I love that – thank you!
I love what you write, Tara: “We don’t have to demonize the forces” of patriarchy, internalized or external. That would only sustain a battle we don’t need to fight.
What’s so important, I believe, is cultivating and directing the phenomenal power we hold within our bodies–the pro-creative power concentrated in our body’s center. Then, rather than suppressing our life force, we can apply our sacred power with intention within any dimension we choose.
author of The Woman’s Belly Book: Finding Your True Center for More Energy, Confidence, and Pleasure