Reclaiming our bodies

CW: eating disorders, body dismorphia

Olivia Cooke reminds us of the love our bodies deserve.

Our bodies are amazing. They can achieve awesome feats of endurance and radically change the societies in which we live, yet when we look in the mirror, we often don’t fully appreciate this. Dominated by the inner critic, we can fall into the trap of seeing a warped self that doesn’t actually exist. Physical traits from hair colour to small scars can suddenly become a source of negativity and anxiety, and for some, these “imperfections” hold the power to influence their own definition of character. Our sense of identity can start to be determined through a superficial lens, with physical attributes or “dis-attributes” defining the self. Means to look introspectively for self-worth are disregarded in the quest for attaining happiness through physical perfection.

We live in a society that values the cultivated image, social media platforms such as Instagram bombarding us with homogenised images of physically unattainable ideals. Our feeds are flooded with ‘bikini-bod’ women, ripped gym-lads, and waifish heroin-chic models, whose lifestyles present an image that is far from reality. As a generation, we are incredibly aware of how our identity can be shaped through these digital platforms; in order to maintain our own ‘brand’ we have to keep up a certain appearance. When we constantly value ourselves from a perspective defined by the superficial, it’s hard to tell where the lines between the virtual and the real meet.

For women in particular, the rise of social media coupled with the already prevalent issue of harassment and belittling in many forms has made it hard to reconcile self-worth with physical appearance. The woman’s body is continually subjected to attacks from the intrusive male gaze, resulting in a culture that promotes competition among women; social hierarchies among women are determined by the extent to which women can, or cannot, meet a certain physical ideal.

In order to reclaim our bodies, we need to fundamentally reclaim ourselves. Removing our bodies from a discourse in which we are valued only by our physical appearance requires loud voices encouraging a change in how this ‘worth’ is defined by both men and women. In my own past, I defined myself through a set of unattainable and frankly stupid physical ideals, having become crippled by negative and critical self-reflections. I thought that being skinnier would make me happy: it didn’t. For two years, I loathed my body and fell into frequent cycles of unhealthy eating disorders trying to create a perfect physical image of myself.

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We all have an innate sense of self-worth. It is by embracing our quirks and the marginalised aspects of our bodies that will allow us to fully ‘reclaim’ them, and in doing so achieve a greater sense of self-awareness and confidence. In self-love we have the power to subvert the norms and ideals that perpetuate our society. Reclaiming our bodies for what they are, and accepting them for what they are not, will allow us to possess full autonomy over them, and it is this autonomy which will pave the way to self-love.

Ultimately, only we have the power to embrace our own bodies for what they are, and in taking this course, we will see ourselves being able to achieve happiness through acceptance rather than change.

Illustration by Rivka Cocker.

This article was written in response to the ‘Reclaim our Bodies’ theme, as part of the Reclaim campaign organised by the Bristol SU Women’s Network. To find out more about the events taking place as part of Reclaim, click here.

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