Loving Your Body in the Age of Patriarchy

I’ve 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 the same traps. Patriarchal standards of how my body was supposed to look like crept into my mind early on and dug themselves deep — and it has been an intentional and daily process to remove them.

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 can’t stress enough how much I hated my body and how I didn’t 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 at war, lacking a middle ground or central meeting point, possessing only turmoil with no space for love to exist.

Internalized patriarchy affects men and women, and though policing each other (and sometimes ourselves), we help patriarchy succeed by acting as its co-conspirators. From our disgust with women who refuse to shave their legs to our vocal discomfort with women who don’t 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 this patriarchy is a radical and revolutionary act. Especially as a woman of color who does not fit into Western Eurocentric standards of what is conventionally attractive, every day that I step out and love myself is an act of resistance. And while it’s still baffling to the 16-year-old insecure girl in me when strangers tell me I’m attractive, their vocal affirmations can’t sustain me. I’m 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’s an intentional process. I didn’t 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’ve been deconstructing self-imposed sexist, racist, and heteronormative notions of what the body is supposed to look like and who it it’s supposed to look like that for.

I am learning what it means to love my body, each and every day.

Originally published on Hollalujah.wordpress.com. Republished with permission.

Originally from New Jersey, Sam currently lives in Minneapolis where she is a youth worker and graduate student at the University of Minnesota. Also known as the girl with the FRO, she can be found talking about intersectionality, dreaming of the day she is a contestant on the greatest show of all time (Jeopardy!), and baking vegan cupcakes.

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  1. “while it’s still baffling to the 16-year-old insecure girl in me when strangers tell me I’m attractive, their vocal affirmations can’t sustain me.” Yup. I still never know how to react to or internalize compliments, even when they come from close friends.

    • It has always been an uncomfortable thing. “Thanks” feels like I am agreeing but really do not feel that way. My usual response to date is “whatever” in the friendly tone. Funny that I can never take a picture that I look at and like but I always look at pictures from a previous year or two and see what I could not at the time. Much more secure with myself now, but I wonder if that is just the “I don’t give a crap attitude”.

      • I don’t think “thanks” needs to imply your agreement to the compliment; it’s acknowledging kindness. “whatever” could come off as dismissive. I suppose it depends on who the other person is too, but it’s something I’ve had to learn for myself – dismissing other people’s compliments can sometimes mean I’m insulting their intelligence or perspective.

        • This is very true. I have a friend that has a lot of trouble accepting compliments, and while I’ve learned to respect that it’s just hard for her and not take it personally, it felt really uncomfortable and disconcerting at first. I also have a lot of insecurities, but I love receiving compliments because it makes me feel better – it took me a long time to understand that some people didn’t feel that way. Saying “thanks” definitely doesn’t have to mean that you agree, it’s just the polite response. However, I’m sure if you’re really uncomfortable with that your friends will understand. Hopefully you can learn to believe them though!

        • Yes, dismissing or insulting is the last thing I want to do. I still feel my face burn red as I say “thank you”. I love complimenting others though and am still getting comfortable seeing theirs as it should be.

  2. Oh yes, is it ever an intentional process.

    I love this. As a wise human once said, “Well, the patriarchy isn’t gonna fuck itself.” You’re doin it.

  3. thank you. i am still learning all of this and trying to teach myself new ways to love my body and myself every day. it is so hard. words like yours help. thank you, really.

  4. “Your body and self become two separate entities at war, lacking a middle ground or central meeting point, possessing only turmoil with no space for love to exist.”

    This is such a great description.

  5. Umm, vegan. FRO. Jeopardy. Fighting the patriarchy. Body-love. Still learning.

    Can I just give you a giant hug?

  6. So wonderfully written! It has taken me a while to fall in line with the radical body/self love I preach. I can now truly say: I love my tummy! And my butt and my legs! Hell! Naked pictures of myself remind me of the beauty that is my body. Without my wonderful body, I would not be able to Zumba, or hug, or kiss or do anything of the things I love so much! Thank you, thank you for sharing your story! <3


  7. It doesn’t need to start with loving yourself. Many of us have ambivalent-at-best relationships with our bodies for various reasons; loving anything, including your body, is a continuous gradual process.

    My own judgement or feelings about my body should not determine whether I deserve respect or not. Hint: I deserve respect, just like everyone else, at the very least because I’m here and I exist.

    Every time I exist, whether I step out or stay in, love myself or hate myself, fit conventional beauty standards or defy them, politicize my body or not – every time I exist is an act of resistance.

    (Your article is great – I just wanted to add another perspective since I know a lot of us struggle with the love-yourself part and it could come off as “if you don’t love yourself you’re doing it wrong”.)

    • This. I think it’s okay to love your body, but also absolutely okay to have an ambivalent or hateful relationship towards your body. I hate an aspect of my body due to being genderqueer and that isn’t going to change anytime soon, and I’m okay with that.

      Whenever I think of body love, I always think of this post: http://onegirlrhumba.tumblr.com/post/24580327473/on-loving-your-body

      This is not to say that this article isn’t great – it is. I think for some people it’s very important to love their bodies in the age of patriarchy. You do you. :)

  8. This is so great, thank you! It’s hard to say “I love my body” and mean it all the time. You’re right when you say it is a daily battle and a revolutionary act! (God, I love that).

  9. I’ve been reading Autostraddle for more than 3 years now, and this is the first time i’ve felt like I needed (mostly dared tbh, stupid right?) to comment. Thank you for your words, it truly means a lot. I relate so much to this right now, and it was just what I needed to read today! <3

  10. I’m laughing at this. Why? Because you haven’t done crap. You contradict yourself enough times, you blame patriarchy for things that women do (which if you have any power at all it isn’t patriarchy, stop blaming a term you think allows you to gain ‘victim points’.)

    The people commenting are delusional carebears, thinking this article did anything. All she did was love her body… so….the…eff… what. She didn’t do anything like go model her ‘loved body’ for a magazine and tell a story about how this is beautiful, which even if she did it’d probably be drenched in nonsense like “PAtriarchy tells us what’s beautiful and it brainwashes men into thinking some of us aren’t” which isn’t how attraction works. Women control what attraction trends are set in the media. Women are the ones most critical of others (both male and female) appearances.

    Patriarchy, please. You just hate men. Love yourself, since you can’t love guys. Or go love other ladies. Nothing wrong with that.

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