A Conversation about Body Image and Self-Esteem
This is an excerpt from an online conversation that developed into the “Relationships” chapter.
Kali: It is painfully easy for us, as women, to find reasons not to like our bodies. Because of my disability, I’ve had joint problems since I was twelve. Hating my body is something I have struggled with for as long as I can remember. It fails, it breaks, it betrays me. Add to that a few periods of sudden weight gain due to hormonal problems, and let’s just say that me liking my body is a very touch-and-go sort of thing.
The thoughts about my body and relationships aren’t pretty. “That guy must like me in spite of my appearance.” “What is wrong with him? How can he like this?” “When he finds out how easily and how often I get injured, he’s going to get fed up with this and leave.” “I wish I could hide my bulges!”
It may seem odd, but I’ve found that what helps me with my body issues is creating my own comfort with my body and pushing societal expectations aside. Standing naked in front of a mirror and looking at my body as a statue, with graceful and interesting lines. Finding clothing that actually fit, especially clothing that felt flirty and feminine, or bold and dashing! The less it mattered to me what other people—especially prospective partners—thought, the more confident I was about how other people would perceive my body. It seems utterly paradoxical and I’m not sure why it works, but it does.
Jordan: It really is frustrating how much perceptions of our bodies play into our perceptions about worthiness for relationships. I’ve definitely experienced that “I’m so lucky to be with someone who isn’t repulsed by me” feeling and I’ve also had that exploited; people have used me secure in the knowledge that I won’t protest because I am afraid of the consequences. And, for the most part, I like my body! I am just aware that the social constructs which surround it make other people think that it is less than acceptable.
Danielle: I want to echo what Kali is saying, about how easy it is to assume someone likes you in spite of something. Just last night, I was talking with my therapist about an ex. I was saying that it was really easy to imagine that the relationship had fallen apart because I’m trans, because transitioning was so hard on both of us, because of my body issues. My therapist asked, “Okay, but what if you’d been together because you were trans? Maybe if you weren’t transitioning when you were, you never would have been together in the first place.”
That had honestly never occurred to me. All women are bombarded with media indicating why our bodies aren’t perfect enough. But I’d say trans women (and trans men, to a lesser extent) are additionally laden with messages that our bodies can’t be attractive. That my very existence is “naturally” repugnant and repulsive.
I’d agree with Kali, too, that finding things to like about your body is incredibly important. (And clothing that you actually find happiness and comfort with.) Likewise, I think doing something physical is really useful. I feel much better about myself when I’m able to say, “Yeah, I just biked those miles” (or whatever). And exercise endorphins are awesome, even if I don’t exercise as often as I’d like.
Cody: Kali, I love what you’ve written here about creating bodily comfort for yourself and pushing those ugly societal voices out of the way. This has been true and incredible for me as well! I have moments of discomfort in my body, wishing I was smaller or shaped differently, and one of the things that feels best in those moments is to look at my naked body in the mirror and appreciate what I see: broad shoulders, muscle-y arms, strong thighs. Hips that keep the frame of my body grounded and competent, rough hands.
I have to love this body because it’s what I’ve got, and it’s healthier to love my body for what it is than to wish it looked different. If I don’t love my body, appreciate my contours, find myself sexy, how can I expect anyone else to feel this way about me? Sometimes I just need to remind myself that I’m hot and perfect and it’s an act of bravery and defiance to think such things, in the face of this misogynist culture that wants me to hate myself. Then loving my body becomes political, and so much about me and so much not about anyone else or what they think of my body.
For more from this conversation, check out the “Relationships” chapter.
Excerpted from Chapter 3, Body Image, in the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. © 2011, Boston Women's Health Book Collective.
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