Sometimes I Think I’m Ugly: Body image and making better feminisms.

I do feminism.

I do feminism. I really do believe that the personal and political are inextricably linked, and I try to live in a way that takes that into account.

I believe in body positivity. I believe- I know– that all different kinds of bodies can be beautiful. I mean, there’s people of many shapes and sizes who I’ve found hot as hell in my time, and I’m just one person with one reasonably-narrow set of preferences. Bung in the rest of the world, and you’ve got a hell of a lot of people appreciating just about any kind of physique you can imagine.

I believe in appreciating our bodies for what they can do, not just what they look like. I know that this can be problematic in its own way- especially given our ableist views on what that means- but one of the things I’ve grown to love in the last year and a half is seeing my body as a tool for learning, developing and doing. Bodies aren’t just for looking at. They’re how we interact with the world around us, and that is incredible.

I believe in the understanding that even though health, abilities, competition and joy are far more positive reasons to exercise than looks, they still don’t apply to everyone. Nobody owes anyone else prettiness or fitness. We get to set our own priorities based on our own circumstances, abilities and desires, and they’re nobody’s business but our own.

I think that the very idea of “everyone’s beautiful” has its own problems, because so fucking what if you’re not beautiful? So what if you’re not symmetrical and skinny and young and whatever the hell beautiful is supposed to be these days. It doesn’t make you less important. Or less interesting. I want to get the hell away from the idea that there’s one thing- one anything– that everyone needs to be. Unless that one thing is just plain respectful and kind.

I believe that the ways society tears us down are toxic. We live in a constant state of negative marking- not pretty enough, not skinny enough, not fit enough, not rich enough. We can never be enough, and that destroys our enjoyment of all the things that we are. I want to be part of a different discourse to that.

And yet..

And yet I looked at some photos of myself recently and although I’m obviously having an epically good time in them (I do that a lot these days. It’s the derby) all I can see is those things I’m supposed to call imperfections. My tummy: sticks out. My face: red, sweaty, puffy. My whole body: too short, too wide, too squat. My photo face: seriously I have no idea what is up with the expressions I make in photos.

In those moments I feel so ashamed.

And in those moments I feel ashamed of feeling ashamed. I feel like I’m a Bad Feminist because I let all of these horrible expectations get to me. And right then I just don’t know what to do with all of it. Because I don’t believe in denying what you feel- shoving down insecurities and emotions rarely serves a person well. But I don’t want to indulge those feelings either, or let them get more of a foothold in me than they already have.

And then there’s this:

I think there’s something impossibly messed-up about the idea that to be strong means being invulnerable. I despise the idea that because we’re feminists (or anti-racists, or LGBTQ+ activists, or..) that we must somehow not have internalised any of the crap we’re working against. Of course we internalise it. We live in a society that has made a science out of feeding it to us every damn day of our lives. It takes more than reading a few books and bonding with your femmo friends to dig through that. We still have to put the book down, put the phone down, and live our lives in the same spaces that screwed everything up in the first place.

I also think there’s something impossibly messed-up about the idea that to talk about a problem, you have to have a solution. I don’t have any, you see.

But I do have some ideas of where that solution might lie. I think it lies somewhere where we can learn to feel our feelings without believing them, to sit with them without shoving them down or indulging them as truth. Somewhere where we really, really understand both that the personal is political, and that our politics must be one of kindness in the places where we are most vulnerable. Somewhere where our answer to “I feel ugly” isn’t “don’t be silly, you’re beautiful”, but finding something more to tie our sense of self to, and working to know that beautiful isn’t the same as loveable or worthwhile. That beautiful isn’t even the same as beautiful, for feck’s sake.

I think it lies somewhere there.

One thought on “Sometimes I Think I’m Ugly: Body image and making better feminisms.

  1. I think that you just took one of those days that I was having and kind of turned it on its head. I think that you are absolutely right and that we take those days in our stride, confront those feelings without trying to ignore them or push them down and rather than trying to refute them, maybe try to accept them as what they are – bad days.

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