Policing Bodies for Fun and Profit

Every time I decide not to write about body image for awhile it seems as if I am confronted by the “perfect storm” of related media or experiences, and suddenly I find myself blogging about body image yet again. This time is no different; the tipping point was my discovery of In Touch’s “Body News” section, thanks to Jezebel’s Midweek Madness.

This idea that any publication would actually see fit to have an entire section just devoted to reporting on people’s bodies blew me away. After digging a bit more in that same Jezebel piece, however, I became much less surprised. Take the image (at left) from this week’s STAR Magazine. Although they don’t have a specific bodies section (that I am aware of) they do plenty of reporting on the changes in celebrity’s bodies. This article in particular makes me mad because it implies that Rue was lying when she was heavier and she said she loved her body, since she is now thin and also loves her body.

As someone who has made a lot of lifestyle changes in order to become healthier, I can confidently say now that I don’t love my body any more or less than I did ten pounds ago. However, as I wrote about, in the midst of this change I did go through a period of low self esteem… but that wasn’t because I was heavier, rather, it was because I started to actively try and diet rather than just improve my nutrition and move a bit more.

I have good days and bad days, just like most people, but the best thing I have ever done for myself is committing to the Health at Every Size movement, and working to love my body regardless of what it weighs and take care of it to the best of my ability without worrying about how that care will make me look.

Articles like this one from STAR imply that people who are not skinny cannot be happy with their bodies… if they say they are they are lying. I resent that because body acceptance isn’t a size, it’s a state of mind, and to deny that fact in print is to encourage your readers to feel uncomfortable in their own skin in the name of “health.”

If you click through to the Jezebel article there are several more cringe-inducing examples including a spread devoted to comparing Kardashian butts and a description of what Ke$ha ate one day that adds up to a bit over 500 calories (for the record, women are advised to eat at least 1200 a day by pretty much every diet plan out there.)

An even scarier message about weight and body image, however, came to me earlier this week via VH1’s new reality show, Money Hungry.

On this show contestants compete in teams of two to win a $100,000 pot (that each team contributed $10,000 to) by losing as much weight as they can, as quickly as possible. Each episode. whatever team loses the least amount of weight (percentage wise, based on the team’s cumulative weight from the last week)  is kicked off (unless that team has won immunity for the week.)

When I first sat down and watched this by chance with my brother I was literally raging (much to his dismay, since I didn’t shut up for most of the episode.) Weight Loss Competitions are exploitative, there is no doubt about that, but this show takes that exploitation to the next level by requiring the contestants to foot the bill for the prize.

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Where I Went Wrong

When I started dieting, I stopped looking in the mirror and seeing myself: the vibrant, accomplished, happy young woman that I am proud to be. I stopped seeing myself and I started to see my belly that sticks out… and then I wondered, how long will it take to work that belly away? I started to see my rounded calves and imagine how much cuter they would look if they were slim and shapely. I looked at my arms and saw flab to tone away, looked at my thighs and saw a jiggle that had to be stilled, looked at my face and saw puffy cheeks that needed to be drained… the more I looked, the more I broke myself down into parts, problem areas with targeted exercises to go with them.

I started out trying to feel better in my body (and yes, also trying to make a skirt fit the way it used to) and managed, somehow, to unravel so much of the progress I’ve made over the past six years; as if that skirt, that decision, was a loose thread that I pulled just a little too hard, tearing everything apart.

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Back Down the Rabbit Hole

WARNING: I talk about dieting, bad body image, and disordered eating in fairly personal detail below. If this is triggering to you, I’d advise skipping to the previous post about Twilight (unless you’re allergic to articles about horribly written sparkle-vamp stories, in which case, you’d best skip down even further.)

I spend a great deal of time talking about how damaging the diet industry is on young women, and how important it is to encourage self esteem and happiness at any size. Given this theme it seems dishonest not to share my own experiences with you, even though they do not paint me in the most flattering light.

So, here goes… the other day I went to pull on my favorite rainbow skirt and I found, to my dismay, that it was really uncomfortably tight in a way that it hadn’t been a few weeks ago. I’ve gained weight. I thought, with dread, before committing my first mistake: weighing myself, something I haven’t done in months, to confirm what I already knew. Once that number got into my head, I was doomed.

See, for all of my talk about body-acceptance and loving yourself there’s still this whisper of self doubt, a voice that is always waiting to let me know just how much better I would look and feel if I just dropped say, ten pounds? Fifteen? Maybe even twenty?! It’s a voice that I work incredibly hard to silence with projects, outings, new dresses, and accomplishments. Most of the time I’m stronger than it but if I do something like, say, get on the scale and discover that I now weigh five pounds more than I thought I did… that’s when the voice in my head takes over.

So I told myself I was going to cut back and I made a few easy rules that essentially boil down to:

1) Stop snacking so much, especially at night

2) Exercise more: hula hoop, do sit ups, take a walk, whatever.

See? Perfectly rational. It started off fine – I stopped snacking on crap when I wasn’t even hungry and I bought a hula hoop. The first two days were totally normal and I was feeling happy and healthy and good.

Then the voice got louder.

If you actually commit to a diet, it whispered,  you’d lose that weight so much faster. What you’re doing now… you may was well just eat a tray of brownies for all the good you’ve done, you’re not really committed to anything. You’re not really going to lose anything this way. Think how awesome it would be to go back to school in the fall and have your roommates notice how slim you are! Don’t you want that?

Just like that, food became the enemy.

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Losing Faith(21)

“If you’re squishing yourself into clothes that are a couple sizes too small or you’re wearing men’s clothes, how are you going to go out on a date? How are you going to go to parties with your friends and feel like you fit in? That all has to do with self-esteem and body image. Could you imagine taking away all of the clothes for thinner women and saying, ‘Sorry, you’re too thin. You can’t have that.’ It doesn’t make sense.”

- Plus-Sized Supermodel Emme

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I’ve admitted to guilty pleasures before, and believe me I have many. One of them (that I am reluctant to admit because it gives away what a total feminine-stereotype I am!) happens to be shopping.

Shopping, for me, is something that goes beyond frivolous girly style… it hits to the core of my self esteem. See, for most of my middle and high school years I hated getting dressed, to the point where I actually decided to switch to a school that had uniforms for my freshman year* so as to avoid hours of self-consciousness and agonizing over a closet full of clothing that I hated… because I hated my body.

Somewhere in there, along with a few pounds, I gained a sense of self-confidence (and some new friends) that allowed me to go out and truly enjoy getting dressed for once, because I had reached a place where I could truly embrace my body and the way I looked!

I believe that the way a person dresses themselves can really have a major impact on their own inner confidence – partially because of my own experiences. This is why I was so excited to hear that Forever 21 was integrating a plus-sized line into their current offerings.

Although I, personally, tend to fit into straight-sized clothing I recognize the difficulties that larger women have to go through in order to find clothes that fit and flatter them due to the closed-minded nature of many retailers – thus, I was excited that the fashion tides seemed to be turning towards inclusivity.

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(Image from the Forever21 Website – First Week of May 2009)

Unfortunately I, along with many other women who were excited for Forever 21’s new line, were left disappointed with its unveiling earlier this week, both with the line itself, and the media’s reaction to Faith21.

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Disney Princesses & Dissapearing Waistlines

Watching The Rescuers earlier this week with some feminist friends got me to thinking about Disney movies (again) and the messages that they portray. With this in mind I noticed a few things while looking through the Disney Princesses that I’d like to take some time to highlight here:

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If you line the princesses up chronologically, in the order their movies were released, some things become strangely apparent. Look at their waistlines – although Snow White starts off incredibly thin, as time goes by the princesses only get thinner and thinner. The 1960s are when the real thin ideal came into its full force in our culture – is it a coincidence that Disney princesses had started shrinking in the decade before? Its true that culture informs media, but it goes the other way too – little girls who grow up idolizing impossibly thin princesses become young women who perpetuate and buy into the idea that thin is the only acceptable form of beauty and one should strive to be thin, regardless of the price. Obviously Disney is not the only perpetrator of this ideal (but considering its constantly growing power, revenue, and influence it plays a large role) and all little girls do not grow up and internalize this message, but enough of them do to make a difference – as evidenced by the shifting ideals between 1950 and 1960.

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Project: Body Image

This article* about the prevalence of breast augmentation surgeries following mastectomies is, in my opinion, the perfect lead-in for my newest project. I like this article because it doesn’t pass judgment on the practice; it presents one woman’s experience in a way that honors the experience of women who make different choices from her as well. With that said, I want to know…whats_your_story_offI am collecting stories, from women and men, about their bodies and how they feel about them. You can tell me anything – a story, a rant, something that spans months or years, the events of a single day… anything that relates to your body image (positive or negative) and/or how you came to this perception of your body. The stories will then be compiled (all anonymously) and used to write a performance piece which will be put on for Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2010.

Also, I’ll post some of the finished project here!

I really mean it when I want responses from everyone; any weight, any age, any gender, anyone… the success of the project is really going to depend on the variety of my sources!

Below the cut are some questions that might help you get started!

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Weighing In

animal-scaleWatching True Beauty today I was unsurprised to see the contestants freak out when they were told they weighed ten pounds more than they actually did. I was, however, a little surprised and unsettled the other day: I was sitting in my friend’s room eating fantastically yummy taco dip and chatting, when some of their neighbors came in to drag a different girl out to party. My friends had a scale in the hall which quickly inspired some of the visiting girls to weigh themselves and express their joy at the discovery that they weighed less than before. “This is better than my birthday!” one girl exclaimed.

Let me just be clear before I begin, I have nothing against people on diets, or people who are actively trying to lose weight for WHATEVER reason. I commend your willpower and your commitment to a goal.

That being said, I have this thing with weight. I just don’t get it.

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