Emancipation is the process through which a girl or young woman or adult victim learns to know who she is and to nurture and to embrace her authentic self, rather than valuing what others impose upon her about who she is and what she should do. When she accomplishes this, life becomes fuller and richer. She can be guided by her intuitive sense of what is good. Her goals and plans are achievable. She develops satisfying relationships where she is seen, authentically loved and valued. Because she values herself.

Enjoying the sun

Let us look closer at the concept of emancipation.

The dictionary defines “emancipation” as “freedom from political, moral, intellectual and social restraints offensive to reason or justice.” A complementary definition comes from the world of family therapy and psychology: “The normal separation of children from the parental family. Such emancipation is an evolutionary task in a nuclear family system and culture. The emancipation must occur physically and geographically, as well as psychologically and socially. The separation is the culmination of many forms of increasing psychosocial separateness between parent and child.” Emancipation also involves the process of coming to understand which of the emotional “truths” learned while growing up are invalid, based on their pragmatic value in the life of the emancipating woman.

That is, as we begin the growth process by examining our beliefs, we come to recognize that there were things we were taught as children that seem true to us, simply because of their familiarity. With deeper exploration, however, we find that there are objective truths (for example, the reality that you, as a woman, deserve to be loved without being hurt) and emotional truths (that voice in your head, if there is one, that disagreed with what I just called an objective truth). Emotional truths are those things we learned that feel true, but that may or may not be objectively true. When we recognize that an emotional truth is invalid, usually because it causes negative attitudes and feelings about our self, we begin the process of letting go of the invalid emotional truth in order to develop more self-embracing, validating truths about our self.  This process is emancipation.

Emancipation also implies that a woman recognizes and frees herself from constraints imposed by the dynamics created when someone who says they love her says or does things that harm her, physically or emotionally. We will be launching a private section of this blog by the end of the year with details about how to get out of oppressive situations. Stay tuned . . . .

Culturally, emancipation implies that she resist the pressure to ignore what she knows about herself in order to embrace overarching “truths” about women that originate in cultural norms and rules. One of the most obvious examples of how women are pressured to accept “truths” which are not self-generated can be found in cultural standards of beauty – the most obvious being the standard for weight.

A striking and disturbing report has been recently made by BBC news in the UK regarding the desire of even younger girls to be thin[1]. The document, entitled Six Year Olds “Want To Be Thin,” reported that according to a study at Flinders University of Southern Australia, over 80 girls between the ages of 5 and 8 were interviewed and, according to their article in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 47% of those young girls wanted to be thinner. My question is: Who is influencing these girls and girls like them all over the world? I would suggest that influences from the media and parental attitudes are teaching young girls to reject themselves while they are yet very young. And this should not come as a surprise.  After all, how can a child whose mother rejects herself, based on these influences, escape the same self-rejecting patterns?

It is my belief that unrealistic role models presented to young girls who are just growing into their female forms place those girls in precariously vulnerable positions. They are set up to reject their own bodies because these do not correspond to the unrealistic ideals presented to them. The process of self-rejection begins when they begin to experience the changes inherent in puberty. One such change includes the depositing of fatty tissue around the hips. It involves the metamorphosis from a boyish body to a woman’s body. So many images in the media idealize a female form that is so thin that it resembles the prepubescent boyish shape, that girls in this transition see their own development as ugly, fat and abnormal rather than natural, desirable and beautiful. It is often this beginning attitude toward their developing bodies that later supports the onset of eating disorders.

Eating disorders are maintained by virtue of a self-perpetuating cycle. First, self-rejection inspires hyper-awareness of body image and the decision to begin strict dieting and/or extreme exercise, and then the body responds to extreme dieting practices by craving calorie-dense food in order to avoid starvation. Finally, the cycle begins again, when over-eating of calorie-dense foods causes self-criticism and self-rejection. Once this cycle sets in, poor body image has taken hold and developing a positive sense of personal beauty becomes all the more elusive. I also want to mention here that unhealthy relationships and disordered eating go hand-in-hand.

With the introduction to our womanly forms during puberty so often characterized by unrealistic images from the media, it is no wonder that so many women never learn to accept their bodies and spend so much time, energy and money trying to change them, rather than seeing and valuing the beauty they possess. It is a pity that we do not possess and practice rituals that celebrate, for example, the deposit of fat on the hips and tummies of pubescent girls. If this were the case, we would grow to appreciate and accept ourselves as women. Then, from a level of self-acceptance, exercise would become something to do for fun, and good nutrition would become an issue of self-care. Without self-acceptance, women engage in dieting and exercise that feels like torture to them, but they continue because the elusive goal of having a prepubescent boy’s shape brings the hope of self-acceptance. The problem is that self-acceptance does not magically appear to most women who have tortured themselves to whatever they believe their ideal beauty standard is. The key is to find beauty and self-acceptance and then live a healthy lifestyle as a matter of self-love. Only then can any changes we decide to make be done in the service of nurturing ourselves. Only then will the changes be gentle and permanent.

Try an experiment. Open this link. Watch the video that opens in a new window. Witness Eve’s ability to radiate love for herself and her own recognition of her beauty. Ask yourself: What do I need to do to love myself this much?

[1] Source: www.news.bbc.co.uk

© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2014 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.

In cooperation with 2bsisters, Tamara is in the process of making her recovery curriculum for domestic violence survivors available via a protected online format. This curriculum is for victims who have not yet been able to escape, those who have recently escaped and those who have been independent for a time but still need to strengthen themselves as survivors.



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