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How I Approach Self-Worth in a World that Values Women's Bodies Over Women

5min read
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Cover Photo Credit: Claire Fountain photographed by Margaret Pattillo

Somewhere between the end of myspace and the birth of IG stories, self-love became trendy. And not trendy in the we all love ourselves type of way, but trendy in this elusive thing we all needed and could only achieve by posting images of ourselves on social media platforms. As if our confidence was not enough or real unless someone else could see it and validate it for us.


Back in mid 2013, I started posting images of my yoga practice to instagram. After splitting from an ex who told me there should be no pictures of me or my yoga on social media, I took the new found freedom to post what I felt was not to be shamed or controlled. Instead it was a strong representation of a practice that had saved me at multiple times in my life. Within a year I had amassed over 200,000 people following my Instagram handle @cbquality. Watching social media over the last five years from the inside has been an exploration of human nature, perception and what female empowerment and integrity actually means alongside how it is represented.

"I heard once, body confidence is not about thinking your body looks good, it is about believing your body is good" (Photo of courtesy of Margaret Pattillo)

My own self-worth story started long before instagram. My initial comfort in posting my yoga practice has plenty to do with my teenage year dealing with a life threatening eating disorder and finally having made peace with a body that I mistreated for so many years. Through yoga and many years of therapy (along with other healing methods) I had blossomed into a woman who was not to be defined by my body or what I looked like. During my years working through issues around depression and anxiety that had become an eating disorder, I was often confronted with concepts of self worth. Not self-esteem, not self-love, but self-worth and even self-efficacy. I had to do the not-so-fun or comfortable work of figuring out my core beliefs about myself that were deeper than what my body looked like. In this way, I've thought about self-worth as this more internal conversation that we must have before we even think about navigating a space like social media.

Due to my size and build, I was quickly lumped into body positivity movements and “body reclamation" narratives. Yet, something felt off. I recall wondering how I could show “empowerment" without showing my body. How could I show how confident I was in who I was (factors that had nothing to do with my body) in images that were around my body? How could I do this in a world that still valued women's bodies over women? I started to become torn as what I was seeing under #selflove images were more about what bodies looked like externally, not what they could do or what incredible women they housed inside of them. The problem with body positivity, outside of the fact that it no longer belongs to whom started it, is that it is still about what a body looks like. It is still about a specific form of beauty when it should be more about accepting and respecting one's body. I heard once, body confidence is not about thinking your body looks good, it is about believing your body is good.

The social media that is claiming to promote positive self-esteem in the communities I'm in is the same social media that is crafted to be a glorified popularity contest of the attractive, the privileged, the fit, the desirable and/or the easy to mock. Social media values the short attention span and conditions us to think our value must be in the superficial. It is easy to get lost in the competition and comparison while we scroll through the contrived lives of others; or we find those we deem less than us and use our feelings of superiority to cushion a faltering self-esteem otherwise.

The more I saw from where I was positioned in the social environment, coupled with my other work in the mental health space, I started to see that we don't need another work out program or a more ways to get abs in our living rooms. We don't need more makeup trends or fashion bloggers. We do not need more ways to compete with one another, even if that competition is in who can be the most authentic or the most relatable on a #nomakeup picture. What we need to do is change the conversation about women. We need to change what women are valued for, how we interact with one another on a fleeting and all too often feigned content platform and how to develop confidence that has real world implications. I want women to no longer get mired in staring at the lives of others on phone screens and analyzing themselves against strangers. We have to learn how to develop true self-worth in sustainable ways and to achieve this, we have to give self-compassion a shot while we're at it.

Looking at self-love and self-worth as things that have to be sustainable allows us the space to be human. I have been asked, how am I going to love me if I don't even like me? To understand how we think of ourselves it is more than skin deep and socials can cue these feelings as well. We assume we know the person's happiness and that they are not dealing with anything we are judging ourselves for. We assume they make more money or their spouse loves them more (or that they even have a partner.) We compare our insides to others' outsides and never measure up, as we are not doing the work on ourselves to be able to see others for something beyond societal conceptions of happiness.

Self worth goes deeper than self esteem. Self esteem is often built around what we have accomplished. It's a feeling that grows with what we can do or have done. Self worth is based in knowing we have worth and value because we do. Self worth is connected to intrinsic factors and characteristics.

More often than I'd like to admit in my life I've sat back and thought, would I be doing this if I loved myself? Would I be making these decisions if I valued myself? Would I be doing what I'm doing if I felt I was worthy? Would I be allowing the people in my life I do and would I be engaging in the relationships I entertain so willingly? I question my own internal dialogue. These are the types of things that end up coming up when we really get down to why we don't feel good enough.

Even with this deep self-analytical dive, we then have to assert self-compassion. We have to be good to ourselves even when we screw up. To continue to believe we are worthy just because we are not because we of what we do. By accepting we are humans (as is everyone we see on social media) we can start to repair our own inner dialogue, craft affirmations that actually help instead of hurt and live a more peaceful self-actualized life that is feels free and honest.

So how do you develop self-worth in a sea of hashtags? You start by moving the conversation back to yourself. Observe what your automatic thoughts are for you as you scroll on social media or any time you start to feel not good enough. Begin to label these emotions if you can.

"We do not need more ways to compete with one another, even if that competition is in who can be the most authentic or the most relatable on a #nomakeup picture. What we need to do is change the conversation about women" (Photo courtesy of Claire Fountain)

Start to ask yourself uncomfortable questions about how you see yourself, how you speak to yourself and what your core beliefs are behind those thoughts. Practice compassion and kindness for yourself as you work through this process. Often we start to judge ourselves for even feeling the way we do, and a never ending cycle of negative self deprecation awaits.

Even from where I am, it's a constant dialogue of perception versus self-concept and hoping the two align. Yet the minute we post something we begin to lose control of it. It can become less what I feel and more of what it made you feel. It becomes what someone else sees and they can add all the supportive or degrading commentary, depending on how they process you and the world. It is less about you and more about them. The way how we end up feeling about ourselves has little to do with the person in the pictures we view.

It's hard for me to be as much of myself as I would like to be. There is an objectification and sexualization that has come with my life on social media. On the surface it can be dismissed, but the larger ramifications of what it does to my sense of self worth linger long after the comments, DM's, forum posts, video edits and email requests. These constant micro aggressions wear on me. They wear on the secure, confident woman I fought to become since I was a teen.

Now, I focus on the message. With everything I do I ask, “does this serve the work?" Or does it serve my ego, my low self-esteem, my need for external validation? I write my values and mission over and over as I affirm myself and the purpose of my work. I try to balance the confidence and intact self-worth. I share ways to help my audience with the negativity of social media landscapes. Sure, we still live in a world where we, as women, are taught from a very young age that our bodies are the most valuable parts of us. Not so much that other components aren't valued, just that physically looking a certain way matters (and the specifics of that vary by time and place). To be something of substance in an otherwise potentially vapid space, feels far more empowering than taking the easy way out.

In the end, it is not about the hashtags. Perhaps they build community but they will not fix us or how we feel about ourselves. Focusing on sustainable self-love and self-worth, all the while never forgetting that true empowerment is not found in hashtags or bikini selfies but in how we stick up for ourselves, talk to ourselves, and how we experience the world-- social media included.

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Health

Patriarchy Stress Disorder is A Real Thing and this Psychologist Is Helping Women Overcome It

For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.


As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.


Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.

What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein

This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.

Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.

While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.

Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.

In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.

"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."

https://www.drvalerie.com/