By Sam White
I have always had a particularly complex and sometimes volatile relationship with my body. I grew up exchanging “I hate my body” stories, running to the bathroom to reapply makeup, feeling frustrated by my thick hair, and tip toeing on the scale with a pit in my stomach. Old habits die hard and even as a self proclaimed unapologetic feminist who loves her body, I still fall into some of the same traps. Patriarchal standards of how my body was supposed to look like crept into my mind at a young age, dug itself deep and it has been an intentional process to remove them, one that I have to work at each and every day.
I grew up having some very dangerous eating habits, removing every unwanted hair off my body, chemically damaging my hair to make it straight, and being horrified by my eczema. I cannot stress enough how much I hated my body and how I did not feel beautiful until my late teens/early twenties. When there is a disconnect from your body, it is easy to forget how to nurture it. Your body and self become two separate entities. The two are at war and there is no middle ground, there is no central meeting point, there is only turmoil and difficulties and no space for love to exist.
Internalized patriarchy runs rampant in the lives of both men and women. Through policing each other (and sometimes ourselves), we all make the job of patriarchy a bit easier by acting as its co-conspirators. From our disgust with women who refuse to shave their legs to our vocal discomfort with women who do not have petite bodies, our shaming is damaging. It creates limitations on how people live their lives and keep them from being their best human selves.
Loving myself in the age of patriarchy is a radical and revolutionary act. Especially as a woman of color who does not fit into Western Eurocentric of what is conventionally attractive, every day I step out and love myself is an act of resistance. And while it is still baffling to the 16 year old insecure girl in me when strangers tell me I am attractive, their vocal affirmations cannot sustain me. I am filled with gratitude when it comes from strangers who mean well, frustration when it comes from strangers who harass me on the streets when I walk home, and anger when it comes from strangers who want to exoticize me because I am a woman who is black, but not TOO black in their eyes. I need to love my own body. I need to make sure I have ownership of my own body. It is an intentional process. I did not wake up one morning in love with my body and all its scars and inconsistencies. I did wake up tired. I woke up tired of not loving this body which was supposed to sustain me throughout the rest of my life. I woke up tired of double standards and internalized sexism. I woke up tired of talking about radical love and how I did not practice that on my own body. I love my body, in the age of patriarchy, on the days where I have stray hairs or extra weight and eczema patches. I have been deconstructing self imposed sexist, racist, and heteronormative notions of what the body is supposed to look like and who it is supposed to look like that for. I am learning what it means to love my body, each and every day.