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 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.