My freshman year of college, my mom and I talked on the phone almost every day. Her calls usually came around 5 o’clock, right after Oprah.
One afternoon she called me, her voice shaky, and I could tell she’d been crying. The show she’d just watched, “Healing Mothers and Daughters,” featured extreme cases of young girls, ages 3 and 4, engaged in body shaming and practicing self-harm. They didn’t think they were thin enough, pretty enough, or good enough.
A doctor on the show explained that mothers unconsciously hand down their insecurities to their children. “I call it the passing through the womb wound,” she said. “As you were birthing your child through the birth canal, what is passed on are your wounds.”
“Am I the reason you doubt yourself and your beauty?” my mom asked.
It was a heavy question, but I knew the answer without hesitation. Yes.
Growing up, it wasn’t unusual to walk into the bathroom and find my mom in front of the mirror pinching her stomach, commenting on her fat thighs and saggy breasts, pointing to her stretch marks, and vowing to lose 10 pounds.
My mother constantly bad-mouthed her body. To me though, she was beautiful. I loved her soft skin and giant boobs. She was strong and independent with a great sense of style. After her body-shaming bathroom scenes, I would tell her, “Mom, stop! You’re beautiful! You are so not fat.”
But her dialogue became my dialogue. I, too, was soon squeezing my body rolls, buying cellulite creams, and skipping lunch to get thin. If my mom thinks she’s fat, then maybe I am, too; if she’s ugly then maybe so am I. We were both desperately trying to craft our bodies to look like someone else’s and shaming ourselves along the way.
We learn how to view our bodies based on how other women view their own. The conversation is so common: I hate myself. I’m not good enough. As we hear women judge themselves, we usually counter their negativity and encourage them to see the beauty that we see: You are beautiful! You are NOT fat. I would kill for your legs.
We cheer and praise, yet we’re deaf to hear praise ourselves. We rally our female family to see their beauty, yet we diminish our own.
ONE SMALL STEP TOWARDS CHANGE IS RESISTANCE.
2017 is a tough climate, but it’s also a fiercely exciting one. In our refusal to comply to outdated patriarchal demands, we must also redefine how we talk to ourselves. We need to be the resistance to the ingrained self-loathing that we’ve learned. Because, sadly, over 11 years later, that Oprah episode is still relevant. The negativity hasn’t stopped.
But we know better. We need to stop shaming our bodies. Now is the time to consciously practice self-love, acceptance, and gratitude.
If we can learn hateful speech and so deeply integrate it into our perception, then we can most definitely unlearn it.
Even though there are still many days that I’m hard on my body, I’m learning. When I’m naked and feeling insecure, I try to be thankful—for all the miles my legs have run, all the hugs my arms have given, all the places my body has taken me. I try to think it and say it out loud: I love my body.
Something Rihanna said recently has made this practice easier for me.
Umm, did she say pleasure? Never once had I thought of my fluctuating body type, one in which I’m rarely the same weight or the same size, as enjoyable. Her simple comment brought so much to the light: We can like our bodies at every shape and weight. Can we say that again? We can like our bodies at every shape and weight.
I needed to hear another woman proudly accept and love herself. We can unlearn negativity by loudly sharing the love. We all need to hear the message that we, too, can love ourselves and are worthy of it.
Can you say it with me this time?
I love my body.