(The title is a take-off on Hyperbole and a Half’s “Sneaky Hate Spiral,” which pulled me out of a Sneaky Sad Spiral last week. Credit where it’s due!)
The first draft of this post was a bit of a lamentation about body hate, and specifically how it seems practically endemic among the women and girls I’ve known in my life. It was fueled by a trifecta of events: I took part in a conversation about this very topic on tumblr last week, then I watched “Mean Girls” over the weekend, then I saw a friend of mine post a status update on Facebook in which she referenced a scene in “Mean Girls” while talking about her internal critique.
But as I read over what I had written – and to be perfectly frank, while I was actually writing it – I realized I was saying nothing new, I was contributing nothing of value to the conversation. I mean, we know that women – and increasingly, men – are dissatisfied with their appearances, and that a lot of us feel great pressure to squeeze ourselves into this boring little definition of “beauty,” and that the pressure is so great that we feel as though we have failed as human beings when we don’t meet that standard.
And you know, I really don’t want this to be a space where people come to be reminded of just how shitty we can be made to feel about ourselves, especially about things that are beyond our control. I’d rather talk about what we can do to resist those pressures, to fight back against all of the messages that say the only way a woman can look at herself is with self-loathing and disgust.
Here’s what I’ve come up with.
- Don’t forget all of the cool things your body can do.I can do thirty push-ups, run a mile in seven minutes, body surf and go snorkeling. I can go hiking, do yoga, shoot a basketball and swim in the ocean. I can play with my cats, chase my dog around the house and toss toddlers around in such a way that they squeal with delight. I can do a ton of things, and not a single one of them has anything to do with the circumference of my thighs or the distribution of hair on my body.
Your list will be different than mine, obviously, but the things that will be on your list are no less magnificent and miraculous.And yes, this is advice that is almost always given out in this conversation, but that’s because it works. When you think of yourself as a do-er and an actor in your own life, it becomes a lot easier to stop thinking of yourself as an object to be gazed at by others (oh, hello there, Laura Mulvey!). Your primary worth is no longer found in your value as an ornament, and is instead located in your value as a human being with agency of her own.
- Ask yourself if you would say such things to another person. No? You would never tell another woman that her ass is too big and that her ankles are too birdlike and that her thumbs are weird? Why not? Well, for one, it’s a shitty thing to do. It’s worth asking why you don’t feel worthy of the kindness and consideration you so freely give to other people.
Another reason why you might not say those things is because you don’t actually see the other woman that way. You don’t think her ass is too big or her ankles are too birdlike or her thumbs are weird. You think she’s gorgeous the way she is! Again, why are the standards different for you? Why is imperfection beautiful in others but intolerable in yourself?
(And if you would say such things to another person, then you are an asshole and you really need to check yourself before you wreck yourself. Or at least before someone punches you in the throat.)
- Think critically about the standards by which you are measuring yourself. One of the things that has caused me the most frustration in my life has been my nose. My nose is not small, and it has a bulbous tip, and have I mentioned that it is not small? A plastic surgeon would probably be all, Shave that schnozz down! But why? There’s nothing empirically wrong with it, and there’s really nothing aestheticallywrong with it. I mean, is Anjelica Huston not stunning? And does she not have a rather large nose herself? So why do I think mine is ugly?
I don’t care that there are scientists out there who insist there are scientific reasons why people think Gisele is stunning. They point to symmetry and hip-waist ratios and signifiers of reproductive health and blah blah blah blah blah. Sure, Gisele is stunning, but she’s just one kind of stunning out of billions of kinds of stunning.
And seriously, do we really want a world full of Blake Livelys? I don’t!
- Practice mindfulness.Here is a definition of “mindfulness” that I like:
Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad.
Our minds have a tendency to run wild, and if you are like me and you’ve struggled with anxiety, then that tendency to run wild is less like a kitten pouncing on dust motes in a sunbeam and more like a herd of buffalo stampeding over the grasslands. What makes it worse is that once I start, it becomes hard to stop. One little worry will trigger another worry, then another, and then another, and before you know it, all my dominoes have been knocked over, and I’m a gibbering mess.
Practicing mindfulness – that is, observing my thoughts as they come and go, and declining to attach judgment to those thoughts – has helped tremendously in shutting down my more self-destructive mental tendencies. It’s not easy, though – that’s why they call it a “practice.” It’s something I have to work at, and something I fail at regularly. But success means defusing unnecessary self-criticism, unfounded fears and paralyzing anxiety. Even the very act of trying has helped me understand myself better, which can only be a good thing, right?
Okay, now your turn. What are some things you do to resist self-hatred?