This is part 1 of my 10 part Life Lessons Series, where each week I will be taking a lesson from 10 Life Lessons From 30 Years, sharing my own personal experiences with that lesson, and expanding it into a more detailed post. This week, Life Lesson Number 9:
Life is too short to feel ashamed of your body.
I’ve been thinking a lot about body acceptance and shame lately. The question of shame and the female body specifically. In my recent post on 10 Life Lessons From 30 Years, my number nine lesson was:
Hollywood and the Fashion Industry indoctrinate women from an early age to feel ashamed of our bodies if we don’t look like Victoria’s Secret models, and even if we do. This fake beauty construct is ultimately an insidious tool used to control and keep women from investing our energies in more meaningful pursuits and owning our abilities. Let go of needless shame and embrace the body, and more importantly the gifts and talents, you have.
The image for this post also happened to be a photo of me in a fabulous red bikini from my 30th birthday in Capri looking happy, healthy, and confident– starting a new decade wholeheartedly pursuing my dreams. I was proud of this photo, but also a little insecure about it, since I’m no longer the societally approved size 0 I was as a 25 year old aspiring actress. (A size that was largely maintained, I might add, by not the most healthy of habits.)
Wanting to walk the talk, it was important to me on my 30th birthday to let go of shame and insecurity, and instead to own, celebrate, and accept the body I have. And of course, some kind (male) soul (troll), felt the need to suggest it was time for me to hit the G-Y-M. Thus, he very helpfully made my point for me that society (patriarchal, white, male society), does indeed like to control and keep women in their place by trying to force them to feel ashamed of their bodies.
The Origin of Female Shame
In her seminal work The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir writes about how women are seduced into perpetuating their own objectification (and thereby, second class citizenship) through the attention they receive for their beauty. That their beauty is put on a pedestal, and that they are richly rewarded for this in the form of attention, gifts, and monetary support.
But not just any kind of beauty. A societally approved and constructed beauty that almost no woman is naturally born with, thereby forcing women to have to work at it. To pour their attention and energies into attaining and maintaining it, effectively taking their focus away from more meaningful talents and contributions.
Of course the flip side of this coin is that if they don’t fit this narrow mold of beauty (a completely unobtainable one, I might add, as even a supermodel will be told that she is both too fat and too skinny in the same day) they are expected to feel ashamed of themselves for failing as women.
Female Shame in the Era of the Troll
This was in 1949, it’s now 2017, and nothing has changed. Women are still pressured to pour their attention and energies into their looks, and to feel ashamed of their bodies no matter how talented, or intelligent, or driven they otherwise are.
I would also like to point out that shame, as a whole, isn’t even a natural emotion. It is actually a societal construct, used to keep wayward citizens in line. We would not feel shame if someone, society, didn’t tell us we should. And while it may be useful to feel shame around, say, murdering, raping, abusing, lying, stealing, cheating, etc, there is legitimately no good reason to feel shame around our bodies.
Even if we admire stronger, or slimmer, or curvier bodies than our own, and maybe wish a little bit for ourselves, there’s still no reason to feel shame. Even if we are sick or unhealthy, there is still no reason to feel shame, in fact we need to love and accept ourselves even more if we are to get to a better place.
The Only Reason For Female Shame
The one and ONLY reason women are taught to feel shame around our looks and our bodies is to keep us in line and less powerful. To keep us striving for a purposefully unobtainable constructed beauty, so that any time a woman is getting a bit uppity and starting to own her power, she can be quickly put in her place by insulting her looks and trying to force her to feel ashamed. (And don’t even get me started on shame and female sexuality.)
So ladies, any time you start to feel shame for not being the “right” size, or for your jeans getting a little tight, or when some helpful troll tells you it’s time for you to hit the G-Y-M…. please, take a deep breath, and tell the patriarchy to go fuck itself.
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Carina Covella is a writer and currently working on her forthcoming memoir, Love Dogs, detailing her six month transformational journey from Hollywood through India. Carina graduated from Barnard College, Columbia University cum laude with a degree in Art History. She also attended the Sorbonne in Paris and studied opera at the Manhattan School of Music through the university exchange programs. Until recently she lived in Mill Valley, California with her wonderful Welsh boyfriend Anthony in a house nestled in the trees, but now they’re off on a two year adventure around the world. When she’s not writing or traveling, she loves to cook for her friends and family.