I wish I could have gotten this phrase tattooed on my arm when I started the serpentine journey into womanhood. Like most of us, growing up, all I ever saw in media were thin female bodies with impossible proportions. As one article put it:
Although body size and weight perception differ across race and ethnicity, women in western society are subject to images of women as not only thin, but also athletic and toned, with small waists, large buttocks, and large breasts, a body type that is largely unattainable. Because of this ideal, all girls and women typically have weight concerns that ultimately shape body image, satisfaction, and appreciation.
Not only does this article articulate the struggle so succinctly, it also addresses the challenges that women of color face in consuming media that typically reflects thin white female bodies. I want to pause here for a moment and say that thin white female bodies are not wrong. Goddess figurines from across the world show us that the feminine form can be beautiful thin or corpulent in all variations of skin tone.
The issue is that most girls and women (and all genders, really) are typically exposed to the kind of beauty quoted above. The majority of the time the images we see are edited, filtered, curated, photoshopped, and cosmetically enhanced. They are distorted images of reality, whether in social media or media in general. But, in our hypnotic state of scrolling, we forget that what we are seeing (and comparing ourselves to) is not actually real. In the article, “Instagram: Becoming a Worldwide Problem,” researchers show that the excessive engagement with appearance-focused accounts increase body dysmorphia, disordered eating, and body dissatisfaction. Moreover, women and girls become subject to self-objectification, which means that we view our bodies as objects that are only valuable if they are perceived as sexy, beautiful, and thin. Naturally, these variables lead us to have a negative emotional attitude towards our bodies and can cause anxiety, depression, unruly insecurity, and the relentless need to be validated by others.
In the midst of this self-loathing and fear, we women forget about the narratives and images that actually do support us (read anything by Marija Gimbutas for scholarship on ancient Goddess-worshipping cultures and how they positively affected women and men, read Brené Brown to understand how shaming/hating ourselves never works, and read “Why Women Need the Goddess” by Carol P. Christ to understand how the Divine Feminine affirms female power). We can transcend ideologies that objectify and devalue the feminine (and all other oppressive beliefs) if we are willing to pay attention to (and absorb) content that serves us.
In the midst of being at war with our bodies, we forget about the ancient statues, figurines, drawings, temples, and cave paintings that celebrated the diversity of women’s bodies. We forget that in prehistoric times, most civilizations saw God as a woman in all different shapes, colors, and sizes. We forget that some traditions still revere the wide-ranging beauty and strength of the Divine Feminine (Hinduism, Buddhism, Wiccans/Pagans, Yogis, Yoruba Religion, Native American Spirituality, Native Hawaiian Spirituality, New Age Beliefs).
When I’m in the midst of teaching a challenging yoga class and we are struggling to hold a pose, I often remind my students that we have a choice for how we show up to our practice: we can hate ourselves through it or we can encourage ourselves. We can grow from a place of patience and devotion to our self-worth or we can drown in self-judgment and lies of not being enough.
I feel the same is true when we look in the mirror or when we scroll or when we [insert anything you’d like here]. We have to make the choice to remember our value, beauty, and worthiness without question (as the wise author Tosha Silver states). We have to devote ourselves to befriending our bodies and stop the pointless war of comparison. We have to take care of our bodies from a healthy mindset of self-care; not from, “I have to be thin to be loved” or “I have to look like her to be accepted so I’ll do whatever it takes to get there.” We also cannot shame women who do decide to cosmetically enhance their bodies. I do believe you can make a choice to modify your body from an empowered space, and of course, that opposite is true as well. We have to remember that beauty is a vast energy that has room for all colors, shapes, and sizes. Just like there are thousands of images of the Divine Feminine that reflect the array of the feminine form, the same is true for female bodies.
The next time you find yourself treading the rabbit hole of comparison, self-judgment, self-objectification and the entire painful mess that it brings, ask yourself:
Does this thought or behavior lead me towards more fear? Do I truly desire to feel more anxiety, insecurity, depression, and pain? Where does that ever really take me? To more disordered eating, destructive behavior, body dysmorphia and dissatisfaction. Do I really want to continue this war inside that can never be won?
Or, do I devote myself to thoughts, behaviors, and content that cultivate peace, self-acceptance, and self-love? It may take a lifetime, a dozen books, healing sessions, counseling, and limited time on social media to get there, but I’d rather focus my mind, body, and soul on things that don’t destroy me. It’s a path where I can actually feel victorious and good enough.
Vanessa Soriano is a 500-hour registered yoga teacher who completed her yogic training in India. She also has a PhD in Women’s Spirituality (an interdisciplinary, multicultural, female-centric approach to the study of spirituality and religion) from the California Institute of Integral Studies. Given her educational background, she has discovered helpful (healing) content that empowers the mind, body, and soul. As an empowerment educator, Vanessa guides you on how to integrate beliefs and practices that invigorate and support you.