Ask Jenny Bruso
January 11, 2020
From the pages of Issue 5: Black + White
By Jenny Bruso | @jennybruso
From the creator of Unlikely Hikers, an online community for the underrepresented outdoorsperson.
Dear Jenny Bruso,
Do you love your body? How does one go about unlearning self-hatred? How do you see yourself as attractive and beautiful and valuable when you’ve constantly been told you’re not?
-Questioning My Worth
Are the people who express your lack of value close relations? Or, do you mean this in regard to everyday messaging from dominant culture and the occasional asshole? In what ways does it hold you back from making your life? And how can I destroy every single person who has made you feel this way? Your questions beget more questions that I’m painfully unable to ask due to anonymity. I guess it all stems from the same bullshit, so I’ll try my best.
Before I crack the self-love code for you, I want to be crystal clear about some things. Spend some time taking this in. Write these words on a piece of paper and stick it somewhere you look at every day:
1. Our individual worth is inherent.
2. It is not something dictated by appearance or something to be earned.
3. None of us chose to enter this world and we are worthy of respect and fairness by sheer existence.
Obviously, this is not how dominant culture operates, but it’s the truth. The more you can self-actualize this, the better you will become at navigating the rest. Even on bad days, your worthiness exists despite how you feel or how anyone treats you.
I’m sorry to say it, but I haven’t cracked the self-love code. If I had, I’d have canned this whole outdoor writing thing in lieu of swimming in an Olympic-size pool of the riches I’d make off of this lifehack.
Let’s call a spade a spade. There are some specific qualities equating to “attractiveness:” whiteness and European facial features, thinness, body shape, cissexuality (identifying with the gender you were assigned at birth), able-bodiedness, appearance of affluence, and youth.
It is painful, abusive, and wrong that these things inform our social capital. The harm we experience because of this is REAL. To chalk up our feelings to insecurity invalidates the harm we endure. We learn to disengage from parts of life for safety. We are judged on our looks in nearly every arena of life: while shopping, in the streets, in the workplace as well as applying for jobs, dating, friendships, and far beyond. Simply, life is easier for people who are perceived as physically attractive. Worse, attractiveness is constantly being tweaked by big business (read: capitalism), so we’ll never feel good enough and therefore spend more money trying to keep up. It keeps us culturally in submission, unable to embody our personal power, keeping the bozos in charge.
There is definitely something to be said about moving through the world insisting on our worth, but it doesn’t always change the way we’ll be treated. To get to a place of self-love in the face of impossible standards is nothing short of a miracle, which is why I kind of want to steer away from the idea of self-love––bear with me!
Body-positive culture, which is largely built on the voices and visibility of white cishetero women smaller than a size 20, has created this idea of self-love being the answer to low self-worth and rarely acknowledges life’s daily cruelties and oppression. Sometimes, loving yourself is too tall of an order. We need to shift our focus to self-liberation. After acknowledging and embracing our inherent worth, we need to start asking ourselves what this liberation looks like. Is it doing the thing you’ve held yourself back from because you wanted to lose weight first? Is it flirting with someone you think is cute, without needing a specific response? Is it asking for the raise you deserve? Is it telling your mom or coworkers to knock off their diet talk because it’s a massive buzzkill? Just some ideas. Self-love can’t really enter the picture until we do the work of liberating ourselves without relying on permission and validation.
I’m wondering if you asked me this because you think I’ve reached some personal self-love pinnacle. In a very general way, I love myself, but often I don’t. No one is more critical of, or more cruel to me, than me. Despite that, a thread of love for myself is in everything I do because I understand my perception of myself is not a fixed thing. I understand I deserve respect, fair treatment and kindness, even when I don’t receive them. I also stay aware of my occasional passing privileges: I’m white, able-bodied, feminine, have an hourglass body-shape and pass as cisgender. Often people see the size of my body and have already decided my lack of worth before registering anything else about me. We’ve been brainwashed into thinking being fat is the worst possible thing one can be. I am regularly mistreated by strangers and experience daily harm via advertisements. Still, I’ve learned to keep it moving. Take time to tend to your wounds and then get back at it!
I’ve already given you a lot to work on, but I’ve got a couple more things: If you are the only person of a specific identity or lived experience in your social realm, you absolutely must make friends with folks who have a working understanding of where you’re coming from. There is so much personal liberation in having community! Acknowledge your passing privileges––we all have them. If your personal liberation relies on keeping anyone else down, it isn’t liberation. Share knowledge and advocate for others along with yourself.