Why Learning to Like Your Body is a Radical Act

I am writing this post because at this time of year we are bombarded with images of gluttony and slinky party dresses and they will soon be flogging the drastic diets and exercise regimes for January. These practices damage our minds and bodies.

Can I also take the chance to draw attention to the amount of onus put on women at this time of year to safeguard their bodies, as Laura Bates brings attention to in her article,  ‘Christmas, the season for bells, baubles and blaming victims of sexual assault’:

‘The idea that women should take precautions to avoid sexual assault both erases male victims and feeds into popular myths and misconceptions by suggesting that some victims play a part in bringing it upon themselves.’

Disordered eating is everywhere, is normalised. You all know the girl at the party who laughs and says ‘’wine for dinner’’ having calculated exactly how many calories they can drink that evening and to make the equation balance have skipped dinner, the woman in your office who takes a biscuit and then reels off every single thing they have eaten that day and probably mentally tallying the calories, the woman who is not thin enough for her doctor to actually recognise she has a problem because her weight is ‘’normal’’ but weighs herself multiple times a day.

All of these activities whether you are someone on the lower end of the obsessional scale or should be seeking help for your disordered eating take up time and energy. It is a simple fact that fat is a feminist issue because when you have hundreds of thousands of women who deprive themselves of calories, or eat enough but spend all day thinking about everything they have eaten we simply do not have enough brain power left to speak up and act up effectively. The diet industry benefits not just capitalism but the patriarchy.

Many feminists struggle with recognising their disordered eating as they feel it is incompatible with their politics if you identify with this you are not alone I recommend reading this webcomic by Khale McHurst who as a feminist struggled with coming to terms with her eating disorder diagnosis.

This recent article discussing this very issue by a feminist journalist who even while acknowledging her achievements knows she will be more concerned about the photos featured than the article.

This is not your fault, we all have days when we are made to feel our bodies are not good enough if you can as an activist attempt to overcome the toxic messages you receive every day, well done. If not I recommend talking to your GP or looking up Mind,or Beat. Beat are a UK based charity offering help for people with eating disorders.

Apparently more clothing companies are selling ‘’one size fits all/most’’ clothing which as a business model makes complete sense, it is cheaper to produce just one size and as the women who try the clothes on say even as they acknowledge it is nonsense they wanted the clothes to fit. Being able to fit into ‘’one size fits all’’ is considered desirable.

‘’Lara: “It made me sad to realize that I felt better about myself when I actually could fit into these clothes. That’s not how I should feel about clothing. When I couldn’t fit, I felt sad. But why? No one body is the same, and that’s how it should be. We’re all different, so the idea of ‘one size’ for all of us is just absurd. DIFFERENT BODIES, UNITE!”’.

Capitalism continues to benefit from our insecurities our desire to try and fit the ideal as far as I am aware one size fits all clothing does not really exist for men, coincidence? Moreover all clothing sizes for women are complete nonsense and are not standardised. Some shops employ ‘’vanity sizing’’ because we are taught we should always have the smallest size, some shops deliberately cut clothes smaller. I have clothes in my wardrobe from a vast range of sizes which all fit me now. Some of them are vintage or American. I don’t really pay attention to sizes any more I can eyeball clothes and know what will fit pretty well.

When we aren’t worrying about our physical mass, (and never forget why it is that women are supposed to be smaller, we are taught we are more desirable when we take up less space, when we don’t have heft and muscles because we are supposed to be submissive and non -threatening) we are given an endless list of faults we may already have. They become laughable anyone else think they are more than the gap between their thighs or that life is too short for a deodorant to worry about whitening your armpits?

Unfortunately no matter how radical we are this affects us all even as we try to make ourselves be present politically the pressure is everywhere. To really understand why we all worry about our appearance to one extent or another we have to acknowledge the fact that as women we are expected to be attractive at all times as well as being competent, kind human beings. Unfortunately we all know this and are reminded all the time particularly as feminists or thinking women.

Feminists are often criticised on their appearance these student campaigners have made a joke out of this.

Even if you strictly control the media you consume you will view advertising in one form or another and advertising uses women body parts as accessories for all manner of products including the ridiculous new Coca Cola venture, as commented on by Laura Bates:

‘’ illustrated with images of naked women covered in flowing milk. The pictures – from period-styled hair to looks of arousal and “naughty surprise” – are clearly designed to evoke retro “pin-up girl” images. One loosely mimics the infamous Marilyn Monroe up-skirt moment. As if the implications of the slender, long-legged images weren’t clear enough, another features a woman perched atop a set of scales (in high heels, obviously – isn’t that how everybody weighs themselves?)’’

Laura then goes on to reel off a whole series of examples where women’s bodies are an ill thought out advertising accessory. The website provides further visual evidence of this.

As mentioned previously on this blog street harassment happens fairly constantly and is often related to men commenting on our appearance, slut shaming or fat shaming us. I’ve had all these things and sometimes all in one day/evening. It is exhausting. Since cycling more regularly I’ve had a whole new world of harassment open up and actually feared for my life this weekend. Most of the time it affects our minds, where we go, the routes we take but there are times when it ends in violence. This violence is a result of treating women as bodies for consumption before whole persons.

It is not our fault. We deserve to dress how we want and take up our space in the world when and where we want.

If we try and accept ours bodies just as we are we free up mental energy to smash the patriarchy.

The following are things that have helped me work towards being ok with my body just as it is.

First of all I would want everyone to focus on what their body and mind can do before what it looks like. I can write poetry, sew, knit (not well but learning), cook, cycle, dance like a fool for hours, pull funny faces, make very silly cards, have a filthy/silly laugh, sneeze like a mouse exploding.

As women we are constantly reminded our appearance is as important if not more important than what we can achieve like the female astronaut asked how she will do her hair in space. She’s going to fly through space an achievement a handful of humans have managed in the last century and journalists ask how she will do her hair?

While I believe in complimenting everyone and everyone having the right to feel good about they look I feel that when we focus on people’s achievements and talents first we value the whole person.

I have a full length mirror, I know what my clothes look like on me from all angles before I leave the house. I struggle with perceiving how I, my body and particularly my skin look in a mirror due to my personal experience but I think knowing and being familiar with what you actually look like helps.

Do not get into the social contract between women about trading insults about your own bodies. You know how it goes I couldn’t go out without make up my pores are massive’’ and then  the other woman goes ‘’ but my eyelashes are short’’ etc. Just stop it. Compliment each other without denigrating yourself. When someone compliments you say thank you, compliment them in return without offering a fault.

I don’t weigh myself haven’t done for years now. My friends know not to mention my weight when people who don’t know me well comment about it perhaps asking if I have lost weight or something  I can honestly reply with ‘’I don’t know’’ and move the conversation elsewhere.

I stopped doing much to my leg hair years ago but the final frontier for me was armpit hair I shaved it or removed it one way or another since it appeared. As such it had strange connotations for me with illness as that was the only time I had let it grow. I am beyond that now and realise how little of it there is and how much skin irritation and physical pain I was causing just by removing that small patch of inoffensive hair. Some women are dying theirs bright colours and I think that’s great!

blue hair

I still wear make-up but have got better about letting people see me or photograph me without it, even if it makes me uncomfortable. It is something I need to work on.

Here are some poems on this subject of female bodies by me:

Anna Percy-Non Prompt Poem brought to you by handover and new bra power 

Anna Percy-The Woman who was all used up

Be kind to yourself this Christmas!


The Stirred quad is formed of Rebecca Audra Smith, Anna Percy, Jasmine Chatfield and Lenni Sanders.

Posted in Anna Percy, Events, Feminist thinking
One comment on “Why Learning to Like Your Body is a Radical Act
  1. […] your flesh and now was glass.  – My Mother’s Body, by Marge Piercy * Relevant Links: * Why Learning to like your body is a radical act Laurie Penny on the slippery slope of gender: why shaving and snacking are feminist issues Too many […]

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The Stirred team at Reclaim the Night Manchester 2015
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