3 ways that women can fight internalized misogyny

The United States is an inherently patriarchal society. This means that the power structures in this country are set up to keep men in power and to keep women out of power. Nothing made this more clear then the election last week, when a completely unqualified man beat out an overqualified woman for the most powerful job in the country, maybe even the world. In order to ensure that men stay in power and women stay out of power, patriarchal systems instill a deep sense of misogyny in the people, especially women.

Patriarchal systems used the media to depict women in ways that decreases their value by making their worth tied to their appearance. Double standards in the workplace ensure that when a woman displays what are seen as leadership qualities in men, she is seen as aggressive. These double standards also mean that a woman has to work twice as hard as a man doing the same job and may never see the benefits of that extra work.

This results in few women in leadership roles, which reinforces the idea that men are better in leadership roles. The less we see women in leadership roles, the less likely we are to believe they are competent in leadership roles. The same is true for women in politics. Every action they make is harshly critiqued by their contemporaries and the media, holding them back from achieving leadership positions.

All of this results in a society where we have very few examples of women in leadership roles and women are valued for their appearances and docile personalities rather than their skills and abilities, even if those skills and abilities are equal to or surpass a man’s.

In a society that is so clearly against women, it’s not surprise that women internalize misogyny. Women are indoctrinated to believe that they are worth less than men, so on a subconscious level they begin to believe they are worth less than men. Any intelligent, ass kicking woman knows that this isn’t true, but somehow she can’t shake the lingering feeling that she doesn’t deserve that promotion or that she’s not pretty enough or that no one should take her seriously. This is internalized misogyny.

So how can we ass kicking ladies fight internalized misogyny so we can overthrow the patriarchy? Here are a few of my ideas.

1) Educate yourself about feminism

Oooh, the F word. Feminism has become another dirty F word. How, you may ask? The answer is always the same: patriarchy. The male dominated power systems are, rightfully, threatened by the idea of equality for women, so for years the systems have slandered feminists. Did you know that feminists in the 60’s never actually burned their bras? That story was made up by a male dominated media that wanted to make feminists seem scary and crazy. The media also spends a wild amount of time talking about the ugliness of feminists. In a world where women’s value is linked to their appearance, calling feminists ugly has been a way to discredit feminists and their movement.

In short, the media has made up all sorts of stories about feminists to make them seem like awful people as a way to discourage women from being feminists. Don’t believe the hype. Read some books. Like “The Feminine Mystique“, “The Beauty Myth“, “We Should All be Feminists“, and “The Feminist Utopia Project“. Read articles on sites like Everyday Feminism, Bitch Media, Adios Barbie, and The Body is not an Apology. Listen to podcasts like Call Your Girlfriend, The Guilty Feminist, and The Bodcast. Find out what feminism is really about (hint: it’s just the idea that women are equal to men and should be treated as such). Find out how patriarchal systems have affected your perception of yourself and your daily life.

If you’re not angry enough to shout from the rooftops about the patriarchy after all that, find more resources to educate yourself. Educate yourself until you understand how badly the patriarchy has screwed you and then get ready to fight back.

2) Talk to other feminists on a regular basis

One of the ingenious ways the patriarchy has kept women from overthrowing them is by keeping women apart and at each other’s throats. Women have been taught their whole lives that other women are the competition: for jobs, for success, for men. The patriarchy has taught women to compare themselves to other women constantly and to be jealous of women we judge as better. We’ve also been taught to try to tear down women so that we can succeed as if success is a finite resource that can only be possessed by a few women. Unfortunately, the systems that keep women out of power reinforce the idea that success is finite and only available to certain women. In short, the patriarchy has kept women from connecting in order to ensure we will never band together to overthrow the system.

In the sixties, when the Women’s Liberation Movement really began, women started hosting get togethers at their houses where women got to know each other. These get togethers were also used as a way to educate women about the Movement. Women at these get togethers shared their experiences, which led to the realization that they all faced the same sexism in their homes and offices. When these women realized they were not alone, and became friends, they created a powerful force that allowed the Women’s Liberation Movement to succeed.

So, ladies, you need to get you some awesome girlfriends. I know this can be really uncomfortable at first. Many women, myself included, have been taught to believe that they just can’t be friends with women. Too much cattiness, too much drama, too much trouble. But it’s actually not.

Find a core group of women and start talking to them about the sexism you experience. They’re going to tell you that they’ve experienced the same. Bond over the frustrations of being a woman in this world. Don’t just talk about makeup and clothes and men. Talk about changing the world. Build each other up. Compliment each other on things other than appearance. Tell each other how smart and brave you are. Reflect their value back to them. Start to make them believe that they deserve everything.

3) Work on a self acceptance/self love practice

The words “self acceptance” and “self love” used to make me throw up in my mouth. Every time someone said “love yourself” or “accept yourself exactly the way you are” I wanted to punch them in the mouth.

After entering recovery for an eating disorder and starting to educate myself on feminism, I discovered that my self hatred was a result of internalized misogyny. Women are constantly told by patriarchal systems that they are less than and that they are not worthy or love or acceptance. The media, beauty, and diet industries all profit off telling women that there is something wrong with them and that they need to change. This barrage of negative messaging results in women being literally unable to accept themselves, let alone love themselves.

The patriarchal systems of power are never going to teach women to accept or love themselves, so we have to do it ourselves. How, you ask? Good question. There are plenty of ways to start recognizing your own value and to start working toward self acceptance and self love. You just have to get over the hokeyness of them and do them without judgement. Or with as little judgement as possible.

Try writing affirmations on your mirror like “you are worthy of love” or “this mirror is a lie, your value is not tied to your appearance” or “you are a strong, smart woman”. Whatever it is you want to believe about yourself, write it on your mirror and read it every time you brush your teeth or work on your makeup. While you’re at it, say “I love you just the way you are” to your reflection in the mirror. Start a daily journaling practice and write things that you like about yourself or think that you’re good at. Before bed, write down all the things you did well during the day. Call a friend and ask them to tell you what they love about you.

I know all these things seem stupid and awful, but I’ve done all of them at some point over the past couple of years and my perception of myself has infinitely improved. So suck it up, swallow the mouth vomit, and give these things a try. You won’t be willing to fight for your worth if you don’t believe you have it in the first place.

Women face an uphill battle in patriarchal systems. At every turn they will be pushed back and told to be quiet. Unless women confront their internalized misogyny, they won’t be able to fight back and shout loud for the things they deserve. And trust me, you deserve everything. If no one’s ever told you that before, listen closely: you deserve everything.

Now go forth and educate yourself, find some other bad ass women, and learn to love yourself so we can start another revolution.

 

Humbled and a Little Overwhelmed

I absolutely could not have anticipated the response to my second article published on XOJane. In a few days the article has received over 600 shares and over 100 comments. I’ve had to stop reading the comments because it’s too much for me. Not because people have been saying mean things, though some have. For the most part the comments have been incredibly supportive and positive. I just can’t keep up with the amount.

The biggest surprise has been the direct responses I have gotten from people. Friends sent me screenshots of the article on their Yahoo homepages. Friends told me that friends of theirs who had never met me or even been to Vermont were seeing the article on their Yahoo homepages. Friends and family shared the article on Facebook. Friends and family commented on the article. Even more shocking were the people that started to reach out to me via Facebook Messenger. People I hadn’t spoken to since high school reached out to congratulate me and share their experiences. Then people I had never met started reaching out to me and telling me their stories. They poured out their hearts, sharing in intimate detail their struggles with food and exercise. They thanked me for sharing my experience and told me how much it helped.

I never thought anything like this would happen. I didn’t expect one article would touch so many people. I never imagined that people would track me down and trust me with their stories and their secrets. I am honored to be so trusted. I am humbled that my words touched so many people. I’m a little overwhelmed by the entire experience. I didn’t think that putting my work out there would create such a responsibility to the readers. I guess I couldn’t have known that without having an article really out there. I’m not so overwhelmed that I want it to stop. I am happy to have a voice.

 

People on the Internet Are Calling Me Fat and it’s Not That Big A Deal

When I first started thinking about getting an article about my eating disorder recovery published on a major blog, I was terrified at the idea of posting pictures with the article because my biggest fear was that someone would call me fat and ugly in the comments. I was terrified of the trolls. I know that when women talk about feminism online they get awfully abused. I know that when women with larger bodies express that they are comfortable with their bodies they get abused. So I had a strong feeling that if my writing were to be published on a larger scale, I’d be dealing with my fair share of trolls. I’d have to suck it up and deal.

When XOJane published my first article last week I seemed to have lucked out with the trolls. The majority of the comments that I say were positive and the ones that weren’t were criticizing me   for trivializing eating disorders. That hurt, but I didn’t take it too seriously. I’ve spent plenty of time in therapy and with those I love working through feelings that my eating disorder wasn’t real or wasn’t “bad enough”. I was prepared for those comments because I know my eating disorder is legitimate and not a trivial matter. I take it very seriously.

Yesterday, my second article went live on XOJane. This one is about being overweight in recovery, a topic that is not very widely discussed. This article blew up much faster than my first. Within 24 hours it was over 500 shares and 125 comments. I promised myself I wouldn’t get too invested in the comments this time. It wasn’t worth it. But I made the mistake of “just browsing” and there they were: comments about me being fat. One person asked if recovery were really worth it if I was going to be that fat. Couldn’t I just try to diet smarter? Another person called me morbidly obese and insisted I had just swapped one eating disorder for another and now had binge eating disorder. She went back to the old standby: that I was promoting unhealthy lifestyles by being fat. There are probably more comments like this now. My sister just informed me that people have chosen to duke it out in the comments on my article. I’ve stopped reading.

I want to be clear though: I haven’t stopped reading because I can’t take the abuse. I’ve just stopped reading because I don’t care to keep up with the madness. Did it hurt to be called fat by total strangers? Of course it did. But right after I processed the hurt I laughed, and then I was sad.

I laughed because it was so absurd that people were having such a strong, negative reaction to an article about my own experience. I also laughed because I knew what they were saying wasn’t true. I had to pause and think about that for a while. These people were calling me fat and I didn’t believe them. I didn’t believe I was fat and ugly. Major progress.

Then I was sad because I started thinking about the people who were saying such mean things. They must be in a lot of pain about their bodies to lash out so harshly at me. Their perceptions of what women should look like and be must be very warped if they see my body as morbidly obese and unhealthy. They must be very sad people. I’m the praying type, so I’m praying for them, hoping they can find what they need for their lives. Not out of pity, out of love, because I know what it’s like to be in that much pain.

I also feel like I’ve gone through some sort of body positivity blogger rite of passage. Every body positive role model I have talks about being called fat on the Internet. It happens to all of us. Now I just kind of feel part of the crew. It’s really indicative of the sad state of our society that women are harshly abused for even trying to love themselves and for speaking out. No matter how much it hurts to be harassed online, I refuse to let it take away my voice.

How Backpacking Ended Up Being the Next Step on my Journey to Body Positivity

Tuesday at noon my friend and I started hiking. With 50 pound backpacks on our backs. We wouldn’t return to the car we left in Williamstown Massachusetts until Thursday morning. It was just us, our packs, and the trail for the next two and a half days. I didn’t know it when we left, but this backpacking trip would end up being a huge step forward in my journey to body positivity.

I’ve already written about how in the woods there are no expectations. So often, you’re in there alone, so people’s expectations of you don’t apply. You don’t need to look a certain way. You don’t need to act a certain way, other than trail ettiquette, of course. You don’t need to put on any shows. You’re just you. Hiking alone is one of the most authentic experiences you can have.

Backpacking taught me that these authentic experiences extend to hiking with others as well. There’s an entire culture of the trail, completely separate from the culture of the real world. You meet new people and create these intense relationships for short periods of time. We spent two nights at shelters on the trail and we made friends each night. We shared food and campfires and stories for a night or two and then moved on. It was a sense of community that I’ve rarely found elsewhere. It was comfortable and truly authentic.

I realized later that the reason these connections felt so real and so safe was that no one was trying to please anyone else. We had no expectations of the people we met on the trail and they had no expectations of us. Because of that, no one felt that they had to appear a certain way. No one felt that they had to hide or put on any masks. These were people they’d just met, and may never see again, so there was no gamble in being real.

There was also a sense of shared struggle that allowed us to connect immediately. We’d covered the same terrain. We’d overcome the same obstacles.We’d literally walked in each other’s footsteps all day long.

This lack of expectation and immediate connection with others had the effect of making me forget myself. I stopped thinking about my body in relation to others. I didn’t wonder of other people we encountered thought I was fat. I didn’t think about whether or not I was fat. I wasn’t insecure that my hiking clothes were tight. I wasn’t constantly comparing my body to the bodies of other women we encountered on the trail. I didn’t feel like people were judging me for what I ate. I didn’t feel like judging myself for what I was eating or others for what they were eating. For once in my life I was grateful for my big thighs because those muscles got me up inclines faster than my hiking partner.

This lack of thinking about self started to extend to the trial. When I was hiking all of my focus was on the trail; the terrain ahead and the steps yet to be taken. I had no time to think about the fact that the hip strap on my backpack buckled under a bulge of stomach. I had no time to think about the fact that the fat on my arms jiggled when I swung my arms to keep my balance hopping from rock to rock through a riverbed. These thoughts seemed foreign and out of place on the trail.

While hiking the only thoughts I had of my body were about hunger and thirst. My body became purely biology. When my only thoughts about my body were focused on its physiological needs, suddenly hunger didn’t have moral connotations. When I was hungry I had to eat because I wouldn’t be able to keep moving. When I was thirsty I had to drink or I wouldn’t make it to the shelter. If I didn’t treat my body well it would stop working and on the trail this is dangerous.

I learned this the hard way on the second day of the hike when I didn’t eat or hydrate enough and suddenly couldn’t hike any further. I hadn’t intended to ignore my body’s needs to that level, I just hadn’t calculated for the extra food and water I would need to consume to compensate for the load of the pack. I’m still so new at listening to my body that I didn’t hear the right cues at the right time and I learned that my body has the power to override my decisions about when to fuel it. This was a powerful lesson that I’ve been trying to learn for a year now. It turns out the trail will teach.

Eventually I stopped thinking about the size and shape of my body altogether. It just didn’t matter. It didn’t matter to me and it didn’t matter to anyone else. On the trail, the size and shape of my body was totally irrelevant. Realizing this brought me to the conclusion that in the grand scheme of things the size and shape of my body is always irrelevant. I am a strong, healthy woman. I hiked 18 miles in less than 50 hours while carrying a 50 pound load. My body is capable of amazing things and its size and shape has nothing to do with its capabilities. The quick relationships I formed on the trail also proved that my sized and my shape has nothing to do with my likeability or worthiness, as the friends who love me have been trying to tell me for years. This all adds up to my size and shape being totally irrelevant.

The amazing thing is these lessons in body acceptance have followed me off the trail. When I look in the mirror I see a different body than I saw before, not because it has changed, but because I have changed. The frequency of negative thoughts about my body has decreased drastically. The frequency of any thoughts about my body has decreased. It’s become easier to eat. It’s been easier to get dressed. I bought a bathing suit without crying or even feeling bad.

The trail gave me a freedom I didn’t know I could have. It gave me the freedom I’ve been seeking for years. I’m not going to pretend my body image issues are gone, but I’ve turned a corner I’ve been lurking around for months. I didn’t realize that the phrase “out of the woods” would be so literal.

 

Plus Sized Women as Love Interests

This week the Internet exploded when Joe Jonas released the video for his band’s new video, which featured Ashley Graham as the super sexy love interest. Music videos are usually the realm of super thin women or women who are “curvy” in a very specific way, so to see Ashley Graham slay is a huge deal.

Plus size women rarely play the love interest in music videos, movies, or television. They are the “funny best friend” or the “sassy fat chick” or the “funny oaf”. For a long time women with larger bodies have been confined to these roles in all visual media, but it seems that this is beginning to change.

Another indication of this change happened earlier this year when Rebel Wilson and her costar Adam Devine won the award for Best Kiss at this year’s MTV Movie Awards for their kiss in Pitch Perfect 2. I will be honest that I haven’t seen the movie, but I’ve seen enough clips to know that Rebel Wilson’s character refers to herself as “Fat Amy”, so her size is not downplayed in the movies. The fact that she has a romantic storyline in the second movie shows that her role has moved beyond “token fat girl”.

I’ve long taken issue with the underrepresentation of plus sized women as sexual beings. The assumption is that if you’re above a certain size you’re not sexy enough to be a love interest, unless their bodies are being fetishized. We all know this is inaccurate. Women of all sizes enjoy full sex lives. Their partners don’t love them for their size, they just love them. Plus sized women don’t just date plus sized people or people who are “in to fat chicks”. They date people of all shapes, sizes, and preferences. Yet these facts are woefully underrepresented in the media.

The media also presents an alarming double standard when it comes to romantic relationships and body size: plus sized men are frequently paired with thin, gorgeous women. The message is clear: larger men can get beautiful partners, but larger women can’t get any partners. Men are more valuable than women regardless of their body size. Men are allowed to be large, but women aren’t.

Hopefully the media will continue to increase the number of plus sized women playing love interests. Hopefully we will get more accurate representations of what romantic partnerships look like. Hopefully there will be a day in the near future where the Internet won’t break when a plus sized woman is a love interest because it will just be normal.

Is Your Body Summer Ready?

Today it’s 75 and sunny in Vermont. Gorgeous. The kind of day when I love to cruise with the windows down and the music up. Days like this mean summer is almost here, which makes me happy, but also fills me with dread. Why? Because this is the time of year the world starts to barrage women with questions about the readiness of their bodies. Headlines inquire, “Are you ready for summer?” “Do you have a bikini body?” “What kind of swimsuit is best for your body type?” The media polices and dictates women’s bodies year round, but it’s never more obvious than when summer is approaching.

The message to women is clear: it’s time to change or hide. Those are your only options. Time to diet and pump up the exercise regimen so you can shed those winter pounds. Or if you’re audacious enough to not change your body you need to cover it up. Which swimsuit will hide that unsightly tummy? Which shorts will control those embarrassing thighs? What cut of t-shirt will conceal those less than toned arms. Cover it all up. Hide it under fabric. Your body doesn’t deserve to be shown.

Larger women are always told to hide themselves away and not just physically. They are taught to be quiet, not disruptive. Their bodies are already disruptive. They are told to be hide in the shadows. Their bodies already take up too much space. They are told to calm down. Their personalities are too large already. They are told to become smaller versions of themselves. Their current size isn’t pleasing to the rest of the world. They should hide their size or change it in order to move through this world more easily.

Having a large body that you refuse to make smaller is a powerful statement. It says to the world that you refuse to be marginalized. It tells the world that your body does not exist for them, so it doesn’t have to conform to their standards. It tells the world that your body is yours to do with what you will.

Not hiding a larger body under layers of fabric is an even more powerful statement. It says that a large body is not shameful. It says that you don’t believe your body parts are flawed. It says that you have nothing about yourself to hide. It says that your body deserves to be shown, deserves to be seen.

For me, body positivity was easier, not easy, but easier, this winter and spring when I was able to hide under bulky sweaters and skinny jeans. It was easier to accept my arms when I didn’t have to see them. It was easier to accept my thighs when they weren’t showing. It was easier to accept my tummy when I didn’t have to think about it showing in a bathing suit. With the warm weather upon me I can’t pretend that I’m not nervous about showing my body.

The difference this summer is that I refuse to make myself physically uncomfortable by hiding my body. When I was larger years ago I refused to wear shorts, even in the hottest summers. I always wore t-shirts and never wore tank tops. I bought all the fatkini swimsuits believing that they were the only ones I could wear. I was often hot, sweaty, and awfully uncomfortable. Today I’m wearing capri yoga pants and layered tank tops. The yoga pants are skintight and my arms are in full view, but I am comfortable. Temperature-wise at least. I’ll work on being emotionally comfortable throughout the summer. But I absolutely refuse to hide all summer just because I’m being told I should.

Is your body summer ready? If you have a body and it’s summer where you live then you’re ready. Go put on some shorts and a tank top and enjoy the sun.

Decontextualizing our Bodies

I love getting massages. I try to get one at least once a month as part of my self-care routine. This month my massage was scheduled with a male massage therapist. This doesn’t bother me. I literally don’t care who gives me a massage as long as it’s an awesome massage. In thinking about this it struck me how odd it is that even with my body image issues I don’t care who sees me naked as long as the context is a massage. I don’t care what the massage therapist thinks of my rolls or my cellulite, yet if I went to the beach I would care immensely what everyone else thought of my rolls and my fat. It occurred to me then that context matters a lot when it comes to our bodies.

All the times when I feel really insecure about my body are actually related to the context. If I’m in a situation where I feel like my body is being judged by others, like being at the beach then, I contextualize my body through the lens of judgement. I don’t actually know that I’m being judged by anyone. Maybe I didn’t feel judgmental about my body before I got out of the car or before I left the house. But because of the context of being at the beach with people, my perception changes.

If I’m in a situation where I feel like my body is being sexualized, like when I’m dancing at the club or if I catch someone checking me out, that adds context to my perception of my body. I did not perceive my body as an object of someone else’s gaze or as a sexual object until someone sexualized my body. My perception changes based on the context of being sexualized.

If I’m in a situation where my body is being appraised by others for its worthiness, this adds the context of my own worthiness. I may not have been thinking about whether or not my body was worthy or whether I was worthy, but as soon as someone else adds that context my perception changes.

In reality, my perceptions of my body are often rather neutral until context is added. When I think about my body without thinking about what others think of it, or if it gives me worthiness, or if it is being sexualized by others, then I don’t really have a lot of thoughts about my body positive or negative. I may think about whether it’s sore from the hike I went on this week, or if it’s hungry, or if it would feel better to sit or lie down, but beyond that I’m not attaching a lot of meaning to my body.

I start to attach meanings to my body when the context forces me to change my perception of my body. In situations with others I have to contextualize my body in order to understand what it means to others. But what if I didn’t? What if I made the conscious choice to decontextualize my body the way I do when I get a massage? What if I rejected the contexts others give me for my body? I might end up being a lot happier.