We live in a time and place obsessed with appearance. My Body, Myself is a discussion of how the cultural focus on beauty hurts an individual woman’s perception of her own body -- her body image --  and her whole self.

The thousands of images of perfect women’s bodies we've seen in our media on a daily basis, for decades, has made each of us feel flawed in comparison to an appearance standard.  Our culture's focus on our looks has created the idea deep down that it's our job to look like the people we see in the magazines, on TV, and on social media.  So, we've tried to control our bodies the way our diet culture advises, by restricting our food.

For middle-aged women raised in the 60s and 70s dieting was normal. This was the beginning of our current diet culture. Half a century of dieting and food restriction later, we see how the need to control our body shape and size has wreaked havoc on our generation. And, it's spiraled out of control for our daughters. Their generation has had more social media, more focus on their bodies, more cultural fat-phobia and weight stigma, and less of safe place to land at home because of our generation's body image issues.

One of food restriction's ugliest by-products, eating disorders, was practically unheard of 50 years ago. Today, the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) predicts that 20 million women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with an eating disorder in their lifetime. This number is staggering; nearly 1 of every 8 American women will be diagnosed with a mental illness around body image and eating.

Eating disorders are the "canaries in the coal mine" signaling our toxic environment. We all live on a continuum of body dissatisfaction today, from disliking parts of our bodies to a pervasive hatred of the skin we live in. Seven out of every 8 women live with this negative view of their bodies, a negative body image.  

Our focus on our own bodies -- how they appear to others, what to feed them, and what they need to weigh -- has become an overwhelming distraction in our lives and the lives of our daughters. It zaps our confidence and courage because we feel flawed. It steals our time and energy because we spend so much of our time and energy focused on how we appear to others. This time and energy drain keeps both younger and older women from living how we want to live. It keeps us down; it keeps us small.

Yet, body image and body shame are rarely discussed. These topics are not talked about at home or in school. They lurk under the surface of our day-to-day activities, often not noticed without our seeking them out as an exercise in self-awareness. Rachel Simmons author of Enough As She Is calls body shame the "white noise of girls' development" and a "hidden subculture of struggle." 

It's time we women learn to appreciate our bodies for what they do for us, not as an ornament for others' viewing pleasure. This is how we learn to love and appreciate our bodies as vehicles to live our best lives from. This is how we learn body confidence.

We don't have to stay down or small. It's time to inhabit our bodies, figure out what makes us happy, and spend our precious time doing that. 

Denise Hamburger

No one can make you feel that your body is flawed without your consent. Don’t consent.

-Adapted from Eleanor Roosevelt