My entire adult life I’ve ranged between feeling a little uncomfortable in my own skin, to completely loathing my body. So, I’ve been doing a lot of internal digging over the last year to figure out why I hated my body for such a long time. Where does it come from? I’ve been trying to find the ‘me’ hidden underneath all of the layers of societal and gender expectations and pressures. So that I can love myself better.
Unfortunately this is not isolated to me. I think most, if not all women start getting uncomfortable with ourselves as soon as we start losing our childhood sense of freedom and start caring what other people think.
Here is some of my story. The story of why I began hating my body for such a long time and why I am now, as an almost thirty year old, only just starting to realise that my body is mine. Not societies, not my partners or the strangers in the street. MINE.
I remember being on holiday with my family at nine years old. I was in America, and we were diving into the American experience; eating in all the greasiest American diners with huge burgers and pancakes and syrup and ice cream and a lot of Coca Cola. We always ate healthily as a family, home cooked food and lots of veg so this was a real treat.
But I remember so clearly because it was the first time I ever had a real negative thought about my body.
It was near the end of the holiday, I was sitting on the sofa in the apartment we were staying in, with my feet up on the coffee table. My shorts were baggy so they had risen up and I remember so clearly looking down at my legs and noticing how fat my thighs were. I must have put on a bit of weight over those two weeks from eating so differently, but instead of just enjoying the moment like children are supposed to, all I felt was shame and disgust in myself. At nine years old. – By the way, I was always an average sized child. There is no way I could have been considered overweight, but it’s how I, as a young female, had been programmed to feel already.
And from there it began.
An where did I learn that thought process/behaviour from? From society. From places like television adverts, music videos and the top shelf magazines that used to be a thing when I was a kid. Where women are scrutinised and labelled and degraded and given a number out of ten for how ‘hot’ they are. I remember looking at those top shelf magazines and feeling deeply uncomfortable.
I just didn’t understand why I felt so uncomfortable back then.
I remember at age ten a lot of the girls in my school year started becoming aware of their body hair. We would talk about it during playtime and compare leg hair. Some of the girls were allowed to shave or their mums did it for them, but my mum said I was too young. It felt so unfair at the time, I didn’t understand why my mum wanted me to be ‘ugly’ rather than happy. As if leg hair and happiness are even related.
Of course I didn’t realise that leg hair was just the start; that even if I removed it, society will immediately replace it with something else for me to change or hide. My mum was just trying to hold off the inevitable for as long as possible.
I started secretly cutting my eyebrow hairs to try and shape them so I at least had that one-up on the other girls, even if my legs were disgusting. (And here we have the germination period of me pitting myself against other women; something else society teaches us to do from so young.)
I became so conscious of my leg hair that by age eleven or twelve I had started buffing away the hairs with a pedicure foot file I found at home so that no one could see how disgusting my hair was. You only rub that on your skin too hard once!
At age thirteen my boobs started growing. I remember almost instantly I got these purple lines across them; three symmetrical lines on either side of both boobs. I had no idea what it was and I was too afraid to ask or show anyone because all I felt was shame that I was not ‘normal’. I felt shame that my body was doing it all wrong and I had no control over what was happening to me.
I’m not sure when I realised that they were stretch marks but it wasn’t for quite some time. I just spent years covering myself up, wearing tops to hide myself and vowing to never let any boy see them, ever. That was just the start of my lifelong obsession with how much I hate my breasts. This hatred was fed by years of padded bras, photoshopped images, some awful boyfriends and to top it off, a breast augmentation consultation where I left thinking my boobs were not only too small but also the wrong shape.
Next comes the fear, hatred, shame or trauma too women come to develop. This shame I found in my vulva.
By the way, have you ever looked your vulva in the eye and really got to know her? Or have you avoided truly seeing her and actively disconnected from her your entire adult life? Looking at her only to check if something is wrong or to maintain her hair?
I was always a curious child, I knew my vulva very well throughout my childhood. I didn’t understand why she was there back then, other than knowing that’s where pee came from; but I remember always having this ‘knowing’ that she was important. I had a great relationship with her. Until puberty hit and she changed.
Why do we separate the boys from the girls in school and teach the girls nothing but the bare basics of their menstrual cycle? How to use period products and how to not get pregnant?
I remember giggled rumours going around school about the boys and how their balls ‘dropped’ when they hit puberty. It was expected and known that their bodies would change. Our bodies changed too! But who was talking to us about that? No one fucking was.
So when my labia changed and my vulva looked and felt different to before, I thought I had somehow broken myself. I thought something was wrong and I was distraught.
I cannot be the only woman who went through this?
We don’t talk about it as women. Ever. Men talk about their dicks and balls all the damn time. So why don’t we talk about our vulva’s? Why don’t we tell our teenage daughters that their bodies change in more ways than periods and boobs. Why is that such an icky topic?
Our vulva’s are are our place of magic! They bring us so much in terms of the experiences of life and what it is to be a woman. They are the core of all it is to be a powerful bad-ass woman. And yet as soon as mine came into action, I was instantly disconnected and shut down from her. As most of us are; this is why we don’t talk about our vulva’s. We actively avoid them because of shame, fear and trauma. And I am not talking about sex here, there is much more to our vulva’s than just sex.
All these messages about my body, what I should look like and what is considered beautiful or ugly were just training me to ultimately sink into a place of self hatred alongside a deep feeling of being uncomfortable in my own skin. But the one thing that really stands out to me as I write this, is that I was never once uncomfortable because I didn’t like it, or that I didn’t like me. Every single time, I was uncomfortable because I thought other people wouldn’t like it.
Let me just say that again, because it’s important.
My ‘fat’ legs? I was embarrassed other people would think I was obese and greedy.
My hairy legs? I was ashamed because all the other girls were shaving and I wasn’t.
My stretchmarked boobs? I was terrified boys would think I was deformed.
My ‘different’ vulva? I was scared that no one would ever love me because I was different.
And not one of those things is true.
Why as young women, is it so ingrained in us that our bodies are for other people? This message is so deep that we don’t even recognise what it is to have a relationship with our own body. It automatically becomes about fitting in, about being desired and ultimately about being love by people outside of ourselves. As if they are more important than us.
We feel that unless our body is worthy to others, then we are not worthy of others.
And this all happens before anyone else has even said a word to us directly. Just by absorbing how other women are treated, we shame ourselves. Before we find a partner who we think loves us, who then just puts us down too.
I am only just starting to see all of this and unravel all my pain and shame and fear and start to see myself underneath it all. I have started digging into where this shame comes from, where this uncomfortable feeling stems from, so that I can try to look at myself differently.
I actually sat down today intending on writing about how I am currently reconnecting with my body to heal all of this trauma, but sourcing the roots of my trauma came out instead. I think actually, it’s important to connect with the WHY of what you don’t like about yourself and where that originally came from first, before doing any conscious healing toward it.
You don’t need to learn to love yourself, you always did. You just need to undo all of that conditioning and remember who you are underneath it all.
Perhaps if you’re ready, take some time over the coming days and weeks to really see yourself. Hold the places you don’t love, give them time, attention and space and try to take yourself back to the first time you felt any negative feelings towards that part of you. Because you sure as hell were not born that way.
And I’ll be back to talk a bit more on then building a relationship with yourself again, once you understand why you began to feel that way in the first place. One step at a time, that’s what healing is.
In the mean time, please do reach out with your experiences of body shame if you would like to share. Sharing really does help you to call your power back in. The more women I hear talk about this, the more empowered I feel that change really can happen. The more I hear that women are starting to demand respect and give themselves permission to do what feels right to them, the more hope I have that I can too. We just need to stick together.
So please, do reach out if you’d like to share.
Much love, Gina