Patriarchy And the Female Body


shame, body-image,


Yesterday, writer Elizabeth Esther shared on social media how she’s recovering from spending years struggling with her weight due to the fat-shaming family in which she grew up. She told of a particularly nasty comment her fundamentalist grandfather had made to her. Her story was familiar and left me thinking about my own struggles with body image.

I spent much of my life in a culture in which men had a lot to say about female bodies. I heard men call women I loved fat and lard-ass. I sat under preachers who had no qualms about telling women how much makeup they should wear, what clothes to wear, how long their hair should be, and even how long their shirt sleeves should be. I’ve had my stomach pinched by a man as he exclaimed, Not too much to pinch there, then watched as he turned to pinch other women’s waists. No wonder I’ve been obsessed with my weight and how I look for the past twenty-plus years.

In addition, I learned at an early age that male preachers had a lot to say to females about sex. Sex was strictly forbidden outside of marriage, and if a man broke that rule, it was a woman’s fault. I learned what I did with my body was far more important than either my mind or my spirit. I also learned that my body was my most powerful tool: if it was too beautiful, it could cause a man to sin; if was not beautiful enough, it was shameful. I was always trying to figure out how to find the perfect balance.

I’ve spent much of my life wanting to hide because my body was too big. I’ve wanted to be smaller, to disappear, to be invisible. I’ve figured out ways to ignore my body, as if I wasn’t present in it. I’ve disconnected from it when I didn’t like whatever I was doing with it. I’ve used my body to try to outrun my mind.

I’ve wanted my body to fit the image of who I was told I should be: submissive and weak. But my mind and spirit are neither submissive nor weak. Instead, I am a deep thinker and a fighter, both of which are not acceptable for women in a patriarchal culture. So, I’ve worn the metaphorical mask. I’ve tried to separate my body from my mind and spirit. But being shamed for who you are and attempting to be who you are not wears on the body.

A few months ago, I started working with a trainer to lose weight. Last year, I gained nine pounds in one month due to hormone imbalance, then another six after that. I’ve been fighting against my body for over a year. I’ve had to work out alone the past two weeks due to my trainer being absent. During that time, I’ve thought about how I’m fighting for my body, not against it. I’m working to be strong and healthy and confident. I want my body and mind and spirit to be in unison. I’m learning that my body is neither a weapon nor a doormat, as I learned so long ago. I want it to be a representation of who I am on the inside. It is mine alone to do with as I deem fit. Therein lies the power to be a courageous and proud woman.

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