Why We Fear Our Bodies

Content warning: this article discusses sensitive material, including body image, eating disorders, sexual repression.

It isn’t exactly a secret that all women experience body image issues throughout their lives — we see it in the tortured teenage girls on TV, who can be seen spending their days obsessing over magazine cutouts of supermodels and harshly restricting their calories. We see teenage girls denying their partners pleasure in the backseat of their car because it’s much more fun to be a tease. If you’re anything like me, you loathe these fictional simplifications because you know that isn’t how it really happens. Body image issues not only stem from countless triggers throughout our lives but are also linked to our confused sexual expression. While gorgeous celebrities’ red carpet photos and thigh gaps certainly don’t help, any woman understands that the path towards fearing our bodies starts much earlier, and much more subtly.

Kristen Bryant-Bodies

It can start as early as five years old, when a girl in your kindergarten class tells you where babies come out. You’re immediately suspicious of "Down There" and decide to ask other women about theirs, which leads to their gasps and a harsh talking-to from your mother. Suddenly, you’re afraid of your anatomy.

It gets worse when your body starts to change. You outgrow your clothes more and more quickly these days — it feels like your jeans get tighter every morning and it’s getting harder to breathe. You refuse to look at yourself naked, even though the bathroom mirror is directly in front of your shower. Boys in study hall start to cackle about girls’ upper halves and boys’ lower halves, and suddenly everything becomes more confusing. That weird week in health class where you have to bring in a permission slip to watch cartoons about growing up doesn’t clear anything up, but instead makes it even more uncomfortable. It becomes a looming warning: Everything Is About To Change. You cry when you accidentally see your body in the mirror and understand the evidence.

Oval Brown Wooden Framed Hanging Mirror

Just like the last time, you get in trouble for your questions, so you learn to stop asking. Sometimes you’re brave enough to Google some squirming details or to watch R-rated movies at sleepovers. When you whisper to someone that you think you might have an eating disorder, she kindly tells you that you aren’t fat enough to have one. You learn to stop whispering, too.

You think it’ll get better when partners start to touch you, but that elation only lasts a moment (if you get it at all). Sometimes all you can think about is what your parents would say if they knew. You don’t touch yourself because you have a partner now — not because of your lasting fear of "Down There" — of course not. Your partners’ desires pose a terrifying question: Do you love yourself enough to show yourself? And it’s in that moment that you realize you don’t love yourself enough, not at all.

body hairWomen feel this way because these are the messages we’re given from the age of five. We feel fear and shame because we’re told that we have to hide, even from ourselves. We’re rendered incapable of looking at our reflections or fully enjoying intimacy, and as such we struggle to properly see our beauty. Women’s comfort falls below our need to appease the world.

Only now is the conversation around this issue gaining traction, and thank God for that — body positive activists and sex educators will really save us all. They tell us the things that seem so simple, but aren’t: We are beautiful and free. We have the right to be ourselves, no matter our shape, size or sexual activity. We, readers and writers of Her Campus and women all over the world, can voice our support by following these positive social media activists — a small task, but one that can be crucial to becoming comfortable with our existence. That comfort is the key to all of us uniting in a profound truth: We should not be afraid. We should not have to be.

Women in jean jackets with flowers

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, you are not alone. The National Eating Disorder Association provides free, confidential help at 1-(800)-931-2237.