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Why Do We Treat Ourselves With Hate?

June 10, 2010

I’ve noticed a certain sort of recurring comment here at SOAM. It goes something like, “Wow, mama, you look GREAT! Your boobs/belly/bum looks way better than mine – I look like crap and I’m much farther postpartum/younger/had fewer kids than you did.” This comment starts off lovely and supportive but quickly turns dark and self-abusive. Why?

In the past I have posted an entry or two which I had hoped would help bring out the positivity in the women here. I have asked them to share things they loved about the way their bodies changed or simply things they loved about their bodies. Very few people responded to these attempts.

So this week, I decided to do a simple experiment. On Monday I asked for you to share the things you wished you could change about your body. As I expected, I was flooded with comments – 74 here at SOAM and another 46 over at Facebook in just about 24 hours. What I didn’t expect were the comments that answered this question on a much deeper level. Comments like these:

Becky Says:
I could make my cesarean scar darker. It’s been 5 1/2 years now and it’s mostly faded. I don’t want to forget. It was a dark, dark time in my life and if I forget I’m afraid I won’t fight hard enough to keep it from happening again.

Adrienne Descloux Says:
I want to know why she’s only interested in my body. I she a man in disguise? If I had a fairy godmother what I’d *really* want her to change is my yard to being self maintained, more time to play crafts with the kids indoors. ;-)

Samantha Says:
I wish she would change my mind, to give me the ability to love my body/myself as it is/as I am. Seriously. My biggest most hideous flaw is how much I hate my appearance.

Michelle Says:
I have scoliosis. I want my back fixed.

Erin Says:
I wish I didn’t have such a long list of things I want to change about my body. Physically there is a lot I would LOVE to change: brow lift, flat tummy, smaller arms, smaller nose, bigger booty, tan, no acne/scars, better toe nails, etc… But I think deep down, most of all I would ask to learn how to love myself just as I am. Also how to be loved by others. I think if I had that then the rest wouldn’t be as important.

krystine Says:
I would ask the ferry god mother for the ability to smile. Something so simple that I struggle with every day, that my oldest (nearly 4) is starting to notice that mummy is sad alot.

These women, despite the pain I hear in their words, speak from a place I hope we can all understand one day (preferably with as little emotional trauma as possible). The idea that our bodies truly are superficial; they are a means to experience life, they should not be our lives. This isn’t to take away from the very real pain we, as women, have to deal with when it comes to loving ourselves and our bodies, but I hope that one day each of us can come to a place where we have moved beyond that pain.

The next day, Tuesday, I asked for you to share with me the things you do like about your bodies. I guessed that fewer people would contribute when forced to speak nicely about themselves and, again, my suspicions proved accurate. Only 40 comments here at SOAM and ten at Facebook. (On the other hand, ten people “liked” this, compared to only 3 from the day before.)

Why is it so much easier to beat ourselves emotionally senseless than it is to lift ourselves up? It takes work to change this way of thinking, but we must do this work. For ourselves, our daughters, our friends, their daughters – indeed for every woman living in this society. But it is not impossible and it can be done one step at a time.

This week, I ask you to take this step: refrain from bashing yourself when lifting up another mama here. When you leave comments here, please do not hurt yourself in the process. I’m not even asking you to compliment yourself here (yet), I ask that you simply don’t insult yourself. Believe it or not, it’s the beginning of the road to accepting yourself.

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30 Responses to “Why Do We Treat Ourselves With Hate?”

  1. DL Says:
    June 10th, 2010 at 8:30 am

    I am with you, thank you for helping generations to come, this right here really is a movement to empower women. This website has helped me with my body issues and I remind myself every women is different and special, when are we going to wake up? well i will tell you one thing you are opening alot of eyes and I can’t thank you enough. I still have alot of work to do in REALLY appreciating myself, I really want to change for myself, my daughter, my husband…my family in general. These women on this website are perfect, because we are showing the truth, the magazines decieve, lie and hide the truth that real women are beautiful, they change the bodies form with special effects, airbrushing the marks that make us unique, it’s just not right! Why are people so hidden?? So I want to thank you I come on here everyday = ) and Thanks to all the women who post thier stories xoxo. You really make a difference!

  2. Bryana Says:
    June 10th, 2010 at 8:35 am

    I love this. This site has not only become a place to share our stories and experiences, but a place to begin loving ourselves once again. Thank you for this, it is a beautiful thing :)

  3. katie jarrett Says:
    June 10th, 2010 at 8:49 am

    I greatly appreciate this thought. That it takes work to be thankful for what you have and what you are instead of always wishing to look better. I am 6 months pregnant, and while I still hope to not pass the 200 pound mark this pregnancy, as I do every pregnancy, I am trying to fight negative thoughts. I remind myself that this is the strong mother-body. I know this is what the child growing inside me needs. He or she needs protein, and fat, and salt, and sugar, and vitamins and minerals, all in moderate amounts, and that means I am responsible to keep eating and moving to nurture this child! And that means getting bigger – growing so that my child can grow, and it makes me happier to be grateful that my body CAN do this than to be anxious because I don’t like being big. Fight the negativity, ladies!

  4. Gamermomma Says:
    June 10th, 2010 at 9:26 am

    This is a well that goes real deep, especially if you keep up with sociology and it contexts in todays world.

    Women are taught that we are not valuable. Our value is only in our looks and when they don’t match what is “acceptable” then we immediately tend to berate ourselves.

    It may not be so many words, but when you look at a magazine telling you that how to lose 10lbs in 3 weeks…it is there. When you look at TV and there is a commercial with beautiful clothes/jewelry/etc…they are always airbrushed super thin models and actors. Hell, even the cleaning commercials with women and kids show the moms as reasonably thin dressed in nicer clothes.

    You never see a mom on TV that is a little over weight, a little pudgy, a little this or that. They all look the same. Thin with no sagging anything, blemish free skin, etc.

    And so we subconsciously maybe wish we WERE those women. So we begin to demean ourselves. Because, after all…who hasn’t has someone say to some effect or another the same things we say about ourselves. Our mothers may have said it. Husbands, co-workers, etc.

    If you tell someone something enough, they will believe it.

    So we begin to think that maybe we really are fat/ugly/saggy/not normal. We begin to believe we aren’t beautiful. We begin to believe we aren’t valuable for anything other than our looks…and as many mothers know…looks are fleeting.

    I recommend getting the book “The Beauty Myth”. It is awesome and explains so much. You read it and then you start to look at outside influences differently.

    As they said in my college math class…the first step to solving a problem is identifying it. Once you realize that all your negative views about yourself is just clever advertising to sell products…you begin to stop being so negative and solving the problem of “what is wrong with me”.

    The answer…is nothing.

  5. Karla Says:
    June 10th, 2010 at 9:55 am

    Thanks for the “experiment” since it forced me to write about all those feelings I keep having. I am def. better than years ago. However, asnwering your questions made me realized than even if I could magically changed my body, I really wouldnt want to change much (if you go back to my post you will see). And when asked what I like about me I found out that I loved a lot of things about my body that I almost felt narcissistic :)
    This, combined with a desired to positively influence my daughter, and some soul searching these past months have really helped me realized that we are all beautiful. There is not ONE size that fits all.
    Keep the good work!

  6. Gina Murphey Says:
    June 10th, 2010 at 10:14 am

    (posted on FB as well)
    I have noticed the type of comments that start out very complimentary to another momma and get around to bashing ourselves. I think this is because when we read a momma talking about how horrible her body image is and then we see her pictures we can’t help but compare ourselves. If she has more stretch marks or more left over baby fat etc… we feel bad for her. We comment and tell her about the beauty we see in her and she should love herself more. BUT… when we hear a momma bashing herself to no end and we see the pictures and she has a body that is perhaps we think is better looking (by societies standards of course) than ours was before we ever got pregnant, we can’t help but think. “God, if that girl hates her body that much now, what would she think if she had my body?”

    We still feel bad for her because she is thinking so low of herself so the first thing we do is tell her she is beautiful, then to help prove the point we tell her how happy we would be if our (insert word for emphasis like “disgusting” or something) body looked anything like hers.

    I have body image issues. I haven’t written in to your site with photos thought because I am totally aware of how many mommas would feel even worse about their bodies if they saw my pictures and knew I hated my own body. I know they would wonder that if I could hate my body so much, dear GOD what would I think of theirs. Obviously we tend to hold ourselves to a higher standard than others but people feel judged by our own self judging. As for the solution to all of this??? I agree with you, we need to realize how superficial our bodies are and accept ourselves as we are. This does not mean we can’t try to improve our health and fitness. I am reminded of the prayer that AA uses about being able to “change what I can, accept the things I can not change
    and the wisdom to know the difference.” I think your site and your guidance within it offer much of that wisdom.

  7. Heather Says:
    June 10th, 2010 at 10:20 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for the work you are doing here. The very fact that you bring to light the subject of self-hate that is so prevalent among women means you a making countless ladies second-guess this practice. And that is the first step.

    One of the MOST liberating, revolutionary things I’ve learned in the past decade is the beauty of talking as nicely to one’s self as I do to others. When I began thinking in these terms and as my awareness heightened to the often unconscious nit-pickings and internal tirades against myself, and as I consciously began to practice turning off this critical inner voice and rephrasing statements into something praising, my entire life started to change for the better. This has been the greatest gift I could have given myself. Never underestimate the power of treating one’s self with compassion.

    So often, we do not appreciate our bodies until something goes awry with them. It is a gift to walk this planet and to have hands to wash our faces with, to have hearts that are beating to a sacred rhythm, to have lungs to inhale the smells of summer. Appreciate the gift of a body and let us treat our bones and flesh with the grace and gentility they so richly deserve.

    As I navigate the final weeks of my first pregnancy (at age 39), I try daily to express appreciation for the magnificence of my body reaching its womanly, goddess-like zenith. The newfound shapes and abundant curves are a gift I did not know I would receive, and the power of my own flesh as it creates another is humbling.

    If we, as women, take the step to first treat ourselves with compassion, what is to stop us from accomplishing anything with the loving power we will collectively raise in the process?

  8. Bonnie (SOAM) Says:
    June 10th, 2010 at 11:41 am

    Karla, I remember when I was in 6th grade some girls asked me if I thought I was fat – at the time I think I did not like my body, but I knew that, technically, I wasn’t overweight, so I told them I didn’t. They accused me of being vain. We can’t win – if we hate ourselves as we’re expected to, it hurts us deeply, but if we don’t hate ourselves that threatens others who accuse us of being narcissistic – and, really, is that so bad? Go ahead and LOVE yourself, no matter how vain it sounds. You will inspire others to do the same!

    Gina, I can see that point of view, but I do believe the same message can and should be conveyed in other, less self-hurtful, ways.

    Heather – wise words! That was the first thing I did, too – to stop verbally abusing myself. Such a small thing had a massive effect on my self-esteem.

  9. Trinity Says:
    June 10th, 2010 at 11:47 am

    I didn’t answer either question. I was going to answer the “what I like about my body” question, but the comments were closed before I even read the post so I could not.

  10. Gina Murphey Says:
    June 10th, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    Bonnie,

    I am not suggesting that is how we should be responding to other peoples insecurities. I was just giving my opinion as to why people do respond that way. I have never responded that way myself though I have had that type of insecure thought when I saw someone who seemed “perfect” putting themselves down. It’s sort of like when I visit a friends house and they apologize for how messy their place is and I think I would be happy if my house was ever even half that clean.

    Keep up the great posts! Thank you so much.

  11. Apryl Says:
    June 10th, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    I missed the post asking what we like about our bodies the other day. I dislike plenty about mine, but there are a lot of things I LOVE as well. I would have liked to answer that question.

    But to answer THIS question:
    I think, part of it, for me at least, is because I was always taught to be kind to others, respectful to others, to treat everyone else better than myself.
    As a preteen and teen, my mom started encouraging me to wear makeup. Not allowing, mind you. Encouraging. Because she does not think any woman looks good enough without it.
    When around 14, I went into our kitchen just before bed to get a quick glass of milk, wearing a sports bra and shorts, she told me I was getting chunky in the hips. I weighed 98 pounds. But then she would turn around and tell me I was too thin all the time too, and try to encourage me to GAIN weight. I think this stemmed from the fact that she was very thin until she quit smoking, then gained A LOT of weight in just a few years.
    Besides physical aspects of myself, my family often criticizes other things too. For years, I was told I talked to much, even though I was rarely allowed to finish a single though out loud. I got to a point where I sometimes wouldn’t speak in front of my family for several days (sometimes as much as a week) on end. And as soon as I said a single sentence, I was “talking too much” again. And this wasn’t just my mother. My dad, grandma, step-dad, step-mom, aunts and uncles… The only person in my family who ever really listened to a word I said was my oldest brother and my mom’s great uncle. But the uncle died when I was 11.
    I constantly went out of my way to try to please them. Saying only what I thought they wanted to hear. Avoiding telling them about my ever growing depression for fear they would be upset. Dating people who I thought they would like even if I didn’t. Not admitting even to myself that I was bisexual until I was in my 20s for fear they would not accept me for it.

    I rebelled by stopping wearing makeup almost completely. To this day, makeup rarely touches my face. And because of that, my mother’s favorite picture of me is one that was taken when she talked me into doing “glamor shots” when I was 16. I showed it and my regular school picture from that year to my husband a few months ago. My regular picture he said “Wow, you were hot even then.”, the other, he said “Who the hell is that.” And I really looked at the picture for the first time and realized it looked NOTHING like me. I have freckles. You can’t see them in the picture. I have a scar under my lip, you can’t see it in the picture. I love that scar as it reminds me of someone who showed me love and kindness. It’s not visible in the picture. My insanely straight, soft hair that won’t hold a curl without a pound of hairspray and as much or more other product looks huge, curly, stiff and dry.
    When I mentioned to my mom that my husband didn’t even recognize me in the picture, she was horribly offended. But even worse when I told her that the more I look at it the less I recognize myself.

    When even the people we love most try to hold us to unreachable standards, it’s hard to see the beauty in ourselves.

    I have finally started to. Yea, there are things I dislike. But overall, I am happy with myself. It took me until I was almost 30 to be able to look in a mirror and like most of what I see.

    And thank you, because this site is one of the things that helped me to do that.

  12. Anon Says:
    June 10th, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    Bravo!

  13. Bonnie (SOAM) Says:
    June 10th, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Gina, I didn’t intend to make you feel defensive or like you have to explain yourself. I know you weren’t condoning it. I had hoped to elaborate, on what you said, but I didn’t word it very well. Thank you for sharing. :)

    Apryl, thank you for sharing your story. I think that being able to like most of what you see in the mirror at almost 30 is pretty darn good, actually, particularly for someone with a background that was less than supportive. So many women don’t come to this point until so much later in life (if ever). My dream is that the next generation is one step even ahead of us. I wish you strength and peace on your journey, please continue to share. Thank you. :)

  14. Kerry Says:
    June 10th, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    I do this without even thinking twice, its so true though. Thanks for bringing it to our attention! I will try from here on out to support other mamas AND appreciate myself at the same time.

  15. Catherine S Says:
    June 11th, 2010 at 7:54 am

    I completely agree with you here Bonnie. I started visitng this site when I had my son in 2008 and was struggling with my post partum body image. I was so happy to find so much hope and support! Recently though, there seems to be a lot of negativity coming from posters and commenters and less of the positive inspiring thoughts. I still really like coming here, but struggle with what to say to women who seem to have nothing positive to say about themselves. I find that I start to find flaws in my own body where I didn’t previously find them, pretty much having the opposite effect that this site originally had for me.

    I just had my 2nd son 20 days ago vis an amazing VBAC and was inspired to post again. Mainly focusing on what my body did and less about what it looks like or how I don’t like xyz. And is it just me, or does a lot of the negative body image stuff come disproportionately from the CS mamas?

    And not trying to spark a whole different debate, but I felt very differently about my body after my vbac than I did after my CS.

  16. Suzanne Says:
    June 11th, 2010 at 8:06 am

    When i leave those type of comments i am not doing it to put myself down, i’m doing it to build the other person up!
    I left a comment recently on a mum who was 39 and had 4 children, she looked gorgeous! which i told her, we have similar bodies only mine is not as ‘attractive’ plus i am only 23 and have had 2 children, so i told her! i wasn’t putting myself down in anyway, i was telling the truth.. i never lie on this site, i want people to feel good about themselves but not by being false. i never comment saying ‘oh yes your stunning and i’m hideous!’ but i think it’s ok to point out that most mums on here really have no idea how good they look and hearing how someone half there age with half as many children thinks they look much better is a good thing, it’s an ego boost that most mum’s really need!
    So, sorry.. i won’t feel bad for leaving those comments, this site has made me feel a million times better about my body since posting my own story and photos, i no longer put myself down at all! but if some hot older momma feels bad about her looks but she looks a million times better than me then Hell Yeah! i am going to make sure she knows it! ;)

  17. Sarah EP Says:
    June 12th, 2010 at 9:27 am

    I think it’s innate in us to be self-depricating, even while we lift each other up. When I saw my post come through, the fairy godmother post came right above mine. I have to be honest that it hurt a little to see it. I had finally gotten up the guts to expose my body, to say THIS is me, and I’m accepting myself…only to see a flood of comments (40 at the time) about what we don’t like about our bodies, and one comment on my post.

    It was this day that I was finally going to see other moms say “yeah…my belly looks like that too” and I saw this flood of “what if” I could only “fix” that on the post above mine.

    Now, later that day I did receive many fantastic, lifting, affirming comments on my post. I never really knew that people would say that I inspired them, but they did. I was so happy to see that my post could help someone else feel empowered and good about themselves too.

    It’s a process, and the “fairy Godmother” experiment, though understandably a good idea, may have been put in the wrong place at the wrong time. When we are looking at each others pictures and stories, we don’t need to see a “fairy godmother, what if” question. “What if” isn’t reality, and we all live in reality. It’s about accepting reality, and the spirit that’s within the body. Only then can we accept the package that goes along with it.

  18. Living with Ourselves | At My Breast Says:
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  19. Bonnie (SOAM) Says:
    June 13th, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Sarah, I am so terribly sorry for the timing of that post, and for the negativity you felt because of it. You are beautiful, inside and out, and I hope you continue to share here. I found your post full of inspiration and wisdom, and I would love to see more of that here at SOAM. Thank you for your post and for your comment here.

  20. Anna Says:
    June 20th, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    I just have to say this. This site proves that a frightening majority of adult women are affected by a genuinely skewed body image.

    The VAST majority of women posting here are stunning. I mean, they are truly beautiful. The ‘flaws’ they see in their body are frankly MINOR…and irrelevant.

    Nobody sees you as honestly as a stranger does. I don’t know any of you women here… and I can say that the distress you feel over your breasts and bellys IS SELF IMPOSED.

    WHY do we allow ‘society’ or ‘the media’ to inflict this body hate on us? we’re more intelligent than this! surely!

    I mean, really – when are we going to get a grip??

    I would love to see an added section to this site: frank galleries of women sorted by dress size that all woman (not just mothers) can add themselves too.

    We need to break down myths about size and ‘normality’ across the board.

    Thank you Bonnie!

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  22. Leslie S. Says:
    June 28th, 2010 at 10:50 am

    I am guilty, too. I always lift others up and sometimes I forget to treat myself the same. Thanks.

  23. Karen Says:
    June 30th, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    Interesting thought experiment. I realize that while I haven’t commented in the way you mention, Bonnie, I probably would have. I don’t spend enough time here–when I do, I feel better, not because I’m doing any comparing but because I’m NOT doing any comparing. Unfortunately, I can’t spend enough time in the society of caring and like-minded people, so cultivating an uplifting mental attitude is absolutely necessary. And spending time on the site around people who seem to feel the same way about the beauty and power of women’s bodies and their ability to love and be and do is also key to this mental attitude. I have to remind myself that when I say, “Hey, you’re beautiful, so much better than me,” I’m lowering the level of the compliment, and it’s not even really what I mean. What I mean is, “Hey, you’re beautiful, and I’m not so much different from you–thank you for helping me feel like maybe I’m a little beautiful too.”

  24. Sheila Says:
    July 4th, 2010 at 8:58 am

    I love my “new” body. I have come to accept it as it is. The part I love most is my new patch of back plushness that my husband likes to pinch. It is right on my spine above my bottom and it is very endearing and also feels good when he grabs it. How I look makes no difference but I would like to model being healthy for my girls and that comes with being active and eating relatively healthy. I want to “feel” fit, regardless of what that may look like.

  25. Maria Says:
    July 4th, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    A friend posted this on her FB wall, and it’s led to an interesting discussion, although she noted that people were far less to discuss this than other things she posts.

    The other day, when my son was snuggling with me, he said, “Mom, your boobs make lovely pillows!” He was loving my boobs, the same ones that I have started to really dislike, because they are large and pendulous, and often cause back pain. Would he have been able to say that had I got my pre-pregnancy body back? (Which, by the way, I think is a myth, and you can read about that on my blog, under “Thoughts on Motherhood.”)

    I feel, as those you quoted do, that if I could change anything it would be my attitude about my body, not just my body. It’s true, I’d like to be able to certain things that I can’t do in this body, yet (like running or yoga), and I’d like to change my body to be able to do those things, but I know the core issue is not my body, but my image of my body as compared to deeply ingrained media images of what is beautiful.

    Perhaps one day, I’ll be able to post a photo of my body. Right now, I don’t even like to be photographed WITH clothes on. Lots of inner work required.

  26. Xtal Says:
    July 5th, 2010 at 8:37 am

    Until women are paid millions of dollars to look “normal” we will never love ourselves. I mean can you blame us? We work our butts off bearing and raising children, maintaining a household, and some of us do this while working full time outside the home. Yet unless we have a body like Heidi Klum, we are pretty much considered “worthless” right? It’s sad really…

  27. Bonnie (SOAM) Says:
    July 5th, 2010 at 11:09 am

    Absolutely, Xtal. In The Beauty Myth, she speaks about how women have to work three “shifts” in life – career, housework, and beauty. BUT I believe that if we all become AWARE of this Beauty Myth, we can rise above it. Hugs, mama

  28. Lisa Sarasohn Says:
    July 12th, 2010 at 9:34 am

    I so appreciate what Catherine S writes above:

    “I just had my 2nd son 20 days ago vis an amazing VBAC and was inspired to post again. Mainly focusing on what my body did and less about what it looks like or how I don’t like xyz.”

    For more than two decades, drawing on my background as a bodyworker and yoga teacher, I’ve been exploring the “pro-creative” power centered in our bodies. This energy powers childbirth, yes. It’s also our power to promote creation as we choose, in any aspect of our lives, according to our conscious intention.

    So much healing and empowerment arrives when we focus on what our bodies and our bellies do — how they grace us with vitality, creativity, and intuitive wisdom — rather than on how they look.

    That’s the beginning of living from the inside out, living with authenticity and genuine self-esteem.

  29. wkh Says:
    October 19th, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    I know I am late to this but I want to say I think it would come off a bit rude and off putting and counter productive to the intent of the site to say “holy crap you look like you went through a war, I look pretty awesome I guess in perspective! Thanks for making me feel lucky!” :-O I have thought that a few times “omg my body is NOT so bad!” but I think saying that would be something my grandmother would look at me sideways for. Unnecessary honesty and all?

  30. Ashley Says:
    May 12th, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    I think that women feel like they are helping other women when they point out flaws about themselves. It is almost like a way for us to relate with the woman who is speaking negatively about herself. For instance, I have a friend who hates her skin. She has amazing boobs. I hate my boobs, but I have amazing skin…..so when we get together and she starts talking about her skin, I always bring up how awesome her boobies are and I would just love to not have “tube socks” (thats what I call my boobies) and have her boobs, even if just for one day.
    My point is, we as women want to relate to other women and in turn end up saying negative things about ourselves. It really is a nasty cycle and I think it is one we need to break. Kudos to you for pointing that out because before I had never actually thought of it as self bashing, I thought of it as trying to comfort the other woman.

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