Are we all destined to hate ourselves? I work in the care industry as an agency carer, and part of my job involves visiting many different care homes and hospices and interacting with a large selection of individuals. Individuals primarily consisting of women. During my time working with these incredible ladies, who go to work daily and selflessly care for vulnerable people, I realised that I kept having the same conversation. The conversation sometimes came up multiple times a day and involved every women in the vicinity at the time, and was always about the same subject: their appearance.
I have listened to women tell me about their children, how they love and adore them, how proud they are, and then within the same conversation they look at their own body with disgust and distain because they are not what toxic gossip magazines would consider beautiful. And yet I look at these women, and I see selfless and kind people that have created life inside of them, something that for some women would be a miracle. I do not see the disgust they feel, I see love and kindness, but only given to others and not for themselves.
Talking about weight in a negative way may seem harmless if we are talking about ourselves, but imagine sitting next to a friend that was half the size that you are, and they look down at their stomach and say ‘I look disgusting, I need to lose weight’. How would this make you feel being twice the size? Would you think that they might think of you as disgusting? This sort of comment, although the negative aspect is directed at the self, can be incredibly damaging to the friend sat next you. The way we talk about our own bodies has power over others even when we may not even realise, and surprisingly it can go the other way as well.
So we can establish negative comments directed at the individual, or yourself are damaging, that’s a bit of a no brainer, but what about positive comments? Is it okay to comment on someones weight if we are going to say something positive? A lot of people, and myself included once upon a time would have agreed that it’s a compliment or an ego boost, but my experience over the last few years has really shown me that this is not the case. Of course we all deserve to be given compliments and should be able to feel amazing and be happy, but ultimately when we comment on someones weight, we are commenting on a physical aspect of that person that has an unachievable beauty standard for all except celebrities (who lets remind ourselves have the time and money to have surgery, personal trainers, personal shoppers and hair and make up artists).
The typical question ‘you look great have you lost weight?’ appears at face value to be a compliment, however by commenting this way, we are subconsciously indicating to that person that they are seen more when they are thinner. Fast forward two weeks and this individual has put the weight they lost back on, is most likely internally hacking at their self esteem and is replaying all of the ‘positive’ comments that were said when they had lost the weight. These comments stay in the mind subconsciously and enforce damaging thinking habits towards ourselves and can make people feel worse when they revert back to previous weights.
Being small and society’s idea of attractive will not make you happy or successful and we really need to stop glamourising having a small waist. It saddens me when I see women denying themselves of food or a type of clothing because of their weight, you deserve what makes you happy regardless of what size you are. And if I am being totally honest, I am tired of listening to people talk about my weight when I am not even included in the conversation.
Why is it acceptable to discuss someones weight? I remember being at work one day and listening to 3 women openly discussing my body, I was not included in this conversation, but because the women considered what they were saying as compliments they deemed it acceptable. Most people probably wouldn’t think that when they say to someone how nice it must be to be skinny, or how they wish they were there size, it can again be damaging. Last year I wanted to die. I did not want to be on this planet anymore, I was dealing with 20 years of unprocessed trauma and a complete lack of self esteem. It was the hardest period of my entire life, I stopped eating and lost a concerning amount of weight. Comments praising the size I am creates toxic thoughts whereby I think it is better to be smaller, that I am more accepted this way.
I urge you next time you go to comment on someones weight, even if you are doing so in what you think is a positive or complimentary way, just don’t. We all have our issues with our bodies, and we all need to recognise that these issues come from external influence. These thoughts come from years of imaging and language we see and read in media and advertising, they are designed to make you feel that way about your body. We must also acknowledge that when these toxic or negative thoughts are reinforced by a comment made by a friend or a work colleague it can be really quite damaging.
If we were all truly happy with who we are and the way we look, then capitalism would not work. Advertising works solely on the principle of ‘you need this product to be a better you’ or ‘you need this product to live the best life’ and convinces us that we are not good enough just as ourselves. So when someone wishes they looked like me it frustrates and upsets me, not only because I am battling the war of negativity in my own mind, but because people don’t understand that I am this size because I was mentally very ill and am now in the process of recovering. Being this small is not healthy, and it is not something that is achievable in a healthy way. Let me repeat that:
Being this small is not healthy, and it is not something that is achievable in a healthy way.
It also won’t make you happy. I was the smallest size I had ever been and I felt the worst I ever had in my entire life. The correlation isn’t there, skinny does not equal happy so stop torturing yourself and glamourising something that is not naturally achievable. Behind the face of ‘beauty’ there is so much pain and suffering, inflicted on ourselves by ourselves because of subliminal messaging we receive from external sources, or as some might call the patriarchy.
Popular culture encourages the idea that in order to be happy and successful you must be attractive, and in order to be attractive you must adhere to society’s ‘standard’ that we see constantly in media. When over the course of our lifetimes we are subject to this imagery of ‘attractive and successful’ people, it is natural for our brains to assume that is what we must achieve to be happy and seen as successful in the eyes of society.
I regularly day dream of a world where women realise that we are more than what we look like. I imagine a world where all the hours and money that women spend on their appearance, was spent on personal growth and achieving their true goals in life. Imagine how many more women in places of power we would see.
In todays social climate we are bombarded with advertisements and images containing a narrative that is meant to subconsciously warp our perception of what we are and what we should be. Materialism has led us down a pathway that reinforces the belief that in order to be happy (and each persons definition of happy should be their own) we must be beautiful and successful. Capitalism is the system that creates the belief that we can achieve happiness through being more beautiful or owning more stuff. That we are not good enough unless we have perfect skin, luscious hair and are a size 8 and have the newest trends. Being bombarded with a beauty standard that isn’t even achievable for models without airbrushing or surgery is toxic, and we women need to recognise this. We have allowed a society to manifest that holds a persons entire existence based on their appearance, when we are all so much more than that.
So next time you have that feeling of not being enough, or dislike to towards your body, just remember that even if you did achieve that perfect body, you will still not find that feeling of inner peace and happiness. There will always be something we can find in ourselves that we do not like, we must all learn that those negative feelings are a product of the conditioning we have been exposed to for our entire lives. Appearance and materialism will not fill the empty feeling inside, that comes from accepting who you are, and loving yourself despite your flaws because you deserve that.
As human beings we seem to love destroying ourselves. We now live in a world where almost half of children have mental health issues, low self esteem is rife, consumerism is the main drive of society and we continue on these self destructive pathways that we seem unable to stop repeating. Perhaps this all stems from the same root cause, that we are made to feel inadequate in some way by eyes of society from a young age. Be this by expectations from parents, the media, our education system – who knows, but what I do know is we must all recognise that feeling in ourselves and understand that we are allowed to exist on this planet as our most authentic selves.
By Amy Junnonen