Today is my 32nd birthday.
This is the best birthday I’ve ever had because I’ve woken up to thousands of women sending me pictures and messages about the things they love about their lives, and the things they have done that they are most proud of. This has been going on for days now.
I was scrolling through “explore” on Instagram (always a certified minefield for one’s self esteem) and came across this disastrously damaging picture.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. A group shot of grown women with their respective weights posted across each of their bodies, and the post asking what we think of their weights and then asking its followers, “What do you weigh?”
WHO CARES? What kind of crazed toxic nonsense is this? What is this post trying to achieve other than to induce anxiety into young women about something so entirely irrelevant? What are we teaching women about our value? Can it be measured using a metric system? Why do so many posts like this exist on social media? How is anyone supposed to get through the fucking day happy with themselves when we are given such unreasonable and shallow goals to achieve, falling short of which, no matter who we are, what we do, how many lives we save, how many children we raise, how many people’s lives we touch, we are not worth anything.
I snapped. I am just done. I’m so done with seeing this and letting it pass me by. It’s so dangerous and disgusting. It’s so belittling and abusive. We are subliminally bullied all day by the magazines, the side bar of shame, social media, and by each other. The onslaught is so aggressive that we are going to have to retaliate with 10 times the strength to undo all of the damage to the global psyche of women. So I posted this:
A small ode to the brilliant life that I am so lucky to live, that I built by myself from scratch, to the friends I am so lucky to have and to my self worth. This is how I measure myself. What I did, how I made people feel and how much I have enjoyed myself. It has taken me 10 years to get to the realisation that I am worth more than the digits on a measuring tape. And more importantly, the push back against body shaming shouldn’t just be about how much we love our flaws, it should be about something that isn’t really about the body at all. Self acceptance is important. But we deserve more than acceptance. Let’s step as far away from the conversation about our bodies as possible and make acclaim, integrity, achievement, contribution to society and kindness: values worth shouting about again.
I posted it on Twitter, and within an hour women started sending me their own ones. There were too many to keep track of. It happened so fast. The pictures were amazing. None of them were posed and filtered, nobody was contoured to within an inch of their life, or sucking anything in. It was women living their lives, writing down all of the things they were grateful for and proud of. All of the degrees they have, the babies they made, the cancer they beat or are fighting, their families they love, the disabilities they live with or help with, the relationships they have built, the companies they started. Just women waking up and remembering that they are valuable, and they do important, difficult, incredible things. Things that are more than just achieving the perfect lip liner, losing baby weight quickly or being able to EAT PIZZA WHILST AT A LINGERIE PHOTOSHOOT!!! (WOWWEE!)
Here are some of my favourites:
Women of every size and shape and age and background sent me their declarations of self love and clapped back at the shame they have been drenched in their whole lives. We are attacked by this beast our WHOLE DAMN LIVES. Bemused parents are writing to me that social media has their 8 year olds talking about diets and what they dislike about their tiny growing bodies. We are facing an epidemic of self hatred. Instagram while sometimes an amazing way for us to share, is in many ways, hurtling us at light speed towards the demise of what the suffragettes were building.
We lack focus because we are concentrating on the wrong things. Most of the women I know wake up much earlier than men to get ready, and spend much of their time and money on complete nonsense like manicures and pedicures, hair treatments, and waxing. Women bleach their bumholes. THEY BLEACH THEIR BUMHOLES. This is how far we have gone with our pursuit of perfection, that we are no longer satisfied with the natural colour of an area almost nobody in the world will ever see. We have to be thin, but with big breasts and bottoms, gravity free, spotless, hairless, ageless, light skinned but always with a year round sun kissed glow; we must be fun and eat pizza and drink beer but also completely cellulite free and we must all have tiny noses and enormous eyes and lips but with skinny faces, but our skinny faces must never look gaunt and old.
And after all this, and after all the work we do, that we do as much of as men, ON SUBSTANTIALLY fewer calories than we probably need, we get judged more and paid less anyway.
NO. I’m sorry but at some point something has to give. We have to object. We have to do it together. Rather than just complaining about it, let’s fill the void of sense with some perspective and some regard for the lives we are so lucky to live. Education is a luxury and a beautiful thing, not afforded to millions of women in the world. Bringing children into the world and raising them to be happy and healthy and kind is a great achievement, that literally builds the world. Surviving illness and war and trials of mental health makes a warrior out of you. Fighting for the rights of those who have no voice is heroic and important. Reading and writing and filling yourself with knowledge makes you so much more fun to spend the day with. Travelling and being independent and supporting yourself is the sign of a woman in control of her life.
We spend our lives in pursuit of the approval of others when we don’t yet even really approve of ourselves. My opinion of me is now (and only very recently) the one that matters.
I remember being 15, miserable and so relentlessly disappointed in myself, thinking it didn’t matter that I had a full academic scholarship and that I had a job and good grades, a Grade 8 in piano and I was a good kid, because my hip bones didn’t jut out, I had a round face and my thighs were forever touching. I was taught nothing else mattered. And that my fat covered up my achievements. I am so, so aware of the damage the media does to a vulnerable mind, it ruined the first 20 years of my life.
I found this really sad old drawing I did of myself when I 16, with what I felt I had to look like in order to be accepted by girls at school, and society in general.
I can’t sit by and read the messages of self hatred that teenage girls send me, about how they hate themselves for not looking like Victoria’s Secret models. I can’t watch what happened to me, happen to them.
I hereby call out every newspaper run by a man that shames women about their appearance.
I hereby call out journalists who write passive-aggressive shaming articles about weight gain and congratulatory ones about women who lose weight.
I hereby MASSIVELY call out celebrities who don’t document what it takes for them to look the way they do. If you have had surgery, say something. If you have a strict diet and workout regime, say something. It is UNFEMINIST to push an image that was created in the fantasy lab of the patriarchy, essentially that of a sex doll, to other women, and pretend that it comes naturally to you, and that junk food and lying down in expensive hotel suites is what keeps you beautiful. You have a platform and have to use it responsibly.
I hereby call out the fashion industry for STILL after 10 years of being called out, perpetuating the idea that expensive clothing only looks good on stick thin, barely pubescent girls. (None of whom can afford your bloody clothes)
I hereby call out the women who troll other women online about their appearances.
I hereby call out the trolls that live in our own heads and eradicate all of our achievements and shower us in self-doubt and loathing.
In this uprising of female power we must realise we are being set absurd extra goals, thick and fast. The further we come as a gender, the more ridiculous the ideals we have to fulfil become. We are being distracted and exhausted and our eyes are being taken off the ball. Every minute you spend thinking about how thin or gorgeous you aren’t, is a minute you aren’t spending on growing your business or your life.
I’m not saying it’s not important to watch out for your health. I’m not saying your BMI isn’t something to pay attention to. I do think it’s important to try to be active and put good food into your engine. But I also think the shame and feeling of failure is what drives us to the unhealthy eating habits we acquire to “comfort” us when we feel inferior and depressed. It’s a catch 22.
And by all means take pride in your appearance. Enjoy your looks, and your clothes and your sex appeal, but don’t make it your number one concern and selling point. It can be in your top ten, but it should never, ever define you. It isn’t important. We aren’t supposed to all look the same. And nothing good ever comes of self hatred. It will never further you. It will always hold you back.
Please think of the things in your life that you are proud of, that fulfil you, that make you happy and write them down somewhere, and look at that list every time you feel that you are failing, or that your jeans are tight, or you have a chubby arm in a group photo of a night out, or when you watch a video of a Hadid eating pasta.
Please remember you have every right to be here, and your life is important and it is precious, and on your death bed you aren’t going to be thinking about your love handles.
I love women and we deserve so much more than this. We can do better. We have to.
We can win the revolution against shame.
Jameela’s blog first appeared here.