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Social Hierarchies & Body Image

The way one feels about one’s body is very personal. Each of us forms a relationship with our bodies. The type of relationship differs from person to person with each of it being unique in its own way.

The way we feel about our bodies is also reflective of a larger cultural dynamic called society in which some bodies are treated as superior or inferior to other bodies or some are celebrated and some are despised.  Most of us are guilty of giving in and eventually we get affected when we fall short of the standard that has been created by society.

For those who have somehow started disliking their bodies, the reason for the body-hating is different and varies person to person. For some, it might be an obsession with belly fat or the fact that their legs are “too big” while another is obsessed with the way in which her body betrayed her in some social situation. One person might hate her body for looking a certain way and it led to her getting assaulted, and another might hate her body for not looking good enough for someone she is interested in. There is always a reason that then spirals downward into hate.

In order to be able to fall in love with one’s body or to find a balance, each person needs to look below the surface of their own individual body stories, experiences, beliefs, fears, shames, and desires in order to focus on what needs healing, changing, uprooting, replacing, and accepting to make amends. There is no “one path” for everyone.

Studies have shown that there are patterns of conditioning internalized by all of us from the moment we’re born, about what kind of body is good and what kind of body is bad; about what the shape and size, age, gender, and presentation of someone’s body mean about a person’s moral character and value, and what they deserve in life. We are conditioned early to “know” what kind of body is worthy of visibility, respect,  love, acceptance, and celebration… and what kind is worthy of marginalization, bullying, disrespect, violence, and erasure.

In short, we are conditioned at a very young age to believe that when a person is physically attractive, they deserve to be treated a certain way and vice versa.

This results in creating a stereotype and it leads to one deciding how a person deserves to be treated just by looking at them.

The seven biggest social hierarchies we see in our culture which impact body image.

These seven areas play a big role and we unconsciously learn that one kind of body is better and more worthy than others, they are as follows:

  1. The hierarchy of weight & size
  2. The hierarchy of race & ethnicity
  3. The hierarchy of ability
  4. The hierarchy of gender
  5. The hierarchy of gender normativity/expression/performance
  6. The hierarchy of age
  7. The hierarchy of beauty & desirability

Part of moving toward body neutrality requires exploring and unpacking these social hierarchies inside yourself and releasing or dismantling them. Understanding that someone can only shame you for something that you already feel shame about.

Normalising the fact that body size does not actually make a person more or less worthy of good things in life– nor does race, ability, gender, gender presentation, age is exploration is the beginning of body liberation work, but it’s just scraping the surface.

Commit yourself to not just trying to “feel better” about the way you look or to attempt to increase your status in any particular hierarchy (think: losing weight to avoid fatphobia), instead commit yourself to fight the oppression facing the people at the bottom.

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