TW: The struggles are subjective to every individual. This is based on my understanding and experience.
We see more womxn becoming aware of their rights, wearing feminist t-shirts, and advocating their views, then why is it that our outward appearance to this day dictates how competent we feel as individuals?
Our body image has social and historic roots. From Ann Margret and Audrey Hepburn being described as the ‘ideal body type’ for women to all the trends that have existed ever since, they push women to aimlessly strive towards fitting into a pre-determined idea of perfection. This moulds our understanding and establishes control over our bodies. These narratives create internalized feelings that exist despite awareness and this generational trauma causes one to question the very metrics of their worth.
All bodies are different and cannot be moulded into one type. You may fit into a small size at one store, and medium at another for a separate clothing item. Womxn’s bodies are so unique to every individual that it is impossible to narrow them down to one standard size. It most certainly does not define anyone either. Even the person whose body you are idolizing is battling the ideals set by society. This mindset is so deeply ingrained that it is almost impossible at times to identify if it’s you or your systematic conditioning that makes you subscribe to such views. The pattern created by these secondary factors being used to determine one’s ability is very evident in our daily conversations. From the guilt of over-eating to obsessing over sizes, acceptance in this realm is so hard to figure out.
It often manifests in ways that make one feel like they deserve the unjustified treatment. Whether that is someone cheating in a relationship, or just making you feel like you are not good enough, our body image can alter the way we look at ourselves and the world. Moreover, we often see womxn getting somewhat blamed and shamed for being so obsessive over these things. However, one cannot hold womxn accountable when it’s society that views appearances as the hallmark of beauty, desire, and as the essence of being a woman.
As a feminist who constantly decodes patriarchy in a wide avenue of spaces, I cannot help but think about the pressures that womxn bear to fulfill the notions of womanhood set by men. A major element of womanhood according to society comes down to how one looks and whether that fits into the ideal narrative of how a woman should be. The pressures that exist despite being backed by a movement that tries to curb these elements. It’s almost a way of being taken seriously and also trying to fit into this idea to feel safe, away from the standards, and criticisms of society.
Normalcy, when it comes to our bodies is a rather absurd phenomenon. From people thinking it is okay to make fun of someone who is obese, passing judgment on their bodies out of concern for their ‘health’ to commenting on someone dieting the second they start losing weight. This also proves that the relationship between us and our bodies goes beyond the two concerned stakeholders. It includes our peers, family, pop culture, and just anyone and everyone making it harder to cope with the pressures that come with it. It is one of the many complex reasons as to why many resort to coping mechanisms that lend a sense of control, usually leading to eating disorders with long term psychological and physical consequences.
Sensitivity and acceptance of one’s body is viewed as a means of justifying laziness and supposed weakness along with a plethora of opinions. If one does not have clear skin, they do not take care of themselves and so much more. This completely overlooks external conditions such as hormonal changes like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) that manifest in the physical realm. These are factors beyond our control, and require to be viewed through a lens of understanding rather than scrutiny.
One of the ways we can empower womxn and enable them to feel complete amidst all the pressures is by having more vulnerable conversations about this. Of course, keeping in mind the headspace of the individual one is engaging with. It is down to helping ourselves recognize the patterns that have been laid down for us that allow us feel this way. Extending our network and support to understand how everyone is struggling in varying degrees and helping each other put things into perspective time and again is imperative.
Most importantly, encouraging your loved ones to seek professional help to gain access to a safe space where they can explore their feelings and learn to cope as they go. It is okay to feel anything and everything about this. It does not make one vain. All our feelings are valid and we are all figuring it out as we go.