Monday, February 20, 2012

"Cheer up, I like your body"

I'm a member of quite a few fat acceptance and body acceptance groups with lots of message boards full of people asking for advice on how to improve their self esteem because they don't like X about themselves. Inevitably in almost every single one, one or more people reply with "I find X attractive".

The problem is that these people are offering validation or a self esteem boost by basing your worth on how others view you. It feeds back on the problem that these people have to begin with- that they base their self esteem on the male gaze (and I'm using the male gaze here because these people are overwhelmingly women who are judged by how men view them). In other words, it places the woman as a sexual object and boils down to "if people want to fuck you, then you should feel better about yourself"

What do my responses to these women look like comparatively? Here's an example from a recent post by a woman who was having trouble with her breast size:
Your breasts are probably never going to bounce or curve or jiggle like you want them to- we all have something about ourselves that we hate and will never be like we want it to. Those things just have to be accepted. I still have difficult days when I look at other women, especially plus size models and feel really down about my breasts- but it passes because I know that, in every way that matters, they're just fine the way they are even if they don't fit some expectation or ideal.
Is it a perfect response? No, probably not, but I like to focus on accepting your body despite social ideals while the "but I'd fuck you" crowd relies on whether or not a person's body is acceptable to others. And I'm guilty of the "but lots of people find that attractive!" response too, but I did indeed believe that self worth was based mostly around if you could find someone to love you/have sex with you. That's the problem, that's what we need to change. I've seen plenty of people base their self esteem on how many people want them sexually. Maybe this works for some people, but from my experience, it never leads to actual improved self esteem.

I once had a friend who strutted around like she owned the moon. "Yeah, see that amazing glowing thing in the sky? I own that. What do you think of that? Because I'm awesome, that's why." She was social, flirty, had a full sex life and danced like she was the queen of the dance floor when she'd go to a party. But I was her best friend so I knew that when she went home and she didn't have to put on a show for anyone else, she hated herself and her body. And I couldn't help her because I did too. We'd cry together and talk about becoming old cat ladies together. She force fed me when she found out I hadn't eaten for two weeks, and we went to prom together because hey, who needed a date when we had each other? The point is, that basing her self esteem on how attractive other people found her only made things worse.

And, from someone who's been on the end of "don't worry, there are lots of people who like girls like you", it doesn't help. Really loving and accepting yourself means doing so internally and not using external validation. This doesn't mean that you can't say  thank you when someone says that you're beautiful, sexy, or anything else, it simply means that you cannot and should not base your self esteem on those comments. And no one should try trying to boost your self esteem with those comments either.

Your worth is not based on who wants to sleep with you.

So I'm asking everyone to please stop responding to posts about self esteem and body issues with "as a person who thinks you're sexy/attractive, you should feel good about yourself". Instead strive to let them know that it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks- because no one has any obligation to look good for anyone else. Wouldn't it be great if we started judging people, not by their bodies, but by their character? Yeah.. I thought so too..


  1. Great post

    I have always thought the "Fat Women have curves" crowd in Fat Acceptance was problematic. I have said so many times but the PC crowd in Fat Acceptance ignores things like that.

    I know a lot of fat women with few curves and plenty with small breasts, they are all wonderful, beautiful women on many levels.

    For myself I have had to accept that I am a fat man with moobs large enough to need support. I have realized that even if I had surgery my chest would not be flat enough for society's standards for men.

    I feel that if Fat Acceptance develops it's own vein of body standards it is not much better than Society.

  2. I think that most teenagers go through the "oh, you mean *I* am actually sexually attractive?" phase- an obsessive stage in sexual development where young people learn how to navigate their own sexuality and identities as sexual beings. It's perfectly normal, even.

    However, I think that a lot of people get stuck in this stage. They absorb a lot of society's messages of "if someone would sex you up, then you are a worthwhile human being" (and this generally tends to be a woman-specific problem largely because of the socially induced dichotomy of women=gatekeepers of sex), and they stop growing from there- they ignore their own personal sexuality in lieu of some guy's (if heterosexual that is) view and desire- often penis-based. I remember when I was a teenager and I just wanted to do what the guy wanted to do (or what he wanted me to to do him specifically, reciprocation was never directly hinted at or tried). It was all about worshipping "the mighty penis" and while, as a young woman, I felt that my worth was tied up in how good I was at pleasing that penis, I learned later that one's worth cannot be determined by one's sexual energy as it pertains to others. Sexual energy is a personal thing- radiating from within and mixing together with others energy (if that doesn't sound too hippy dippy). In order for me to get over feeling like my sexual desirability was the basis of my inherent human worth, I had to get in touch with my own feelings and desires in sexual play and I had to learn to be completely comfortable with making those needs and desires known.

    In my relationship with my husband, we have both developed many of these skills, but they didn't come naturally- nothing could be further from the truth!! When we stopped being just "desired bodies" and became "desired individuals", it was much healthier for our individual self-esteem and sense of Self, plus it did wonders for our sex life!

    You've really demonstrated why I never feel "self esteem" when some guy shouts something lewd out a car at me or someone makes a pass at me. In general, these are the male equivalent of "hey, I'm trying to see if you're willing to sex me up with little to no effort" or "I'm trying to freak you out to boost my own ego." Either way, it's never about ME, and I hate it when it is implied that said behavior is something I'm supposed to be "grateful" or happy about!!


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