The following is an exclusive excerpt from the "Body Image" chapter of Our Bodies, Ourselves for the New Century
Learning to accept and love our bodies and ourselves is an important and difficult ongoing struggle. But to change the societal values underlying body image, we need to do more than love ourselves. We need to focus our attention on the forces that drive wedges between us as women: racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, and our national obsession with size and shape. To truly create change, to create a world in which all women can make choices about our appearances for ourselves and not others, we must incorporate all women into the heart of how we see ourselves. From this expanded horizon of sisterhood, we may begin to value the lives of women who previously meant nothing to us. We may begin to realize that understanding their lives is essential to understanding our own lives and realizing our full potential as women. If we can begin to eliminate the hatred and ridicule levied against women who don't fit the ``state-of-the-art'' ideal, we can lessen the stress of ``not fitting in.'' We also open the possibility of building a social-change movement that links all women who seek a world where each of us can celebrate and delight in our physical bodies. Working together to change the attitudes and conditions that restrict us, we feel proud and more able to take control of our lives. We need each others' help to change the deeply entrenched attitudes that make us dislike our own bodies and that interfere with our relationships with other women.
Shifting to a body perspective in which every woman matters in a public sense takes a major shift in consciousness. Breaking the silent hold of state-of-the- art body image on female self-esteem, relationships, and social and economic opportunities requires us to adopt a conception of womanhood that is informed by physical, emotional, and spiritual diversity. Valuing this diversity is critical to dismantling the insidious and toxic effect of discrimination based on how we look. Finding ways to change the societal forces that make accepting ourselves so difficult is a process that can begin at any point in our lives and can continue as long as we live. This mission, if taken on, will lead us toward a future in which every woman can experience the joy of being valued completely for who she is.