Posts tagged: body image

Beauty Bias

By Katie, 5:35 am

I talk a lot on this blog about how we should love ourselves for who we are on the inside rather than for what we look like on the outside. I’m constantly preaching about the importance of self-acceptance, of realizing that our lives are not judged by our clothes or our hairstyle or our weight.

But what if that’s all a bunch of bologne? What if, in some ways, we really are judged by what we look like? 8-O

This question has been on my mind ever since I heard about the new book The Beauty Bias, by Deborah L. Rhode. According to this Slate review, the book outlines the many ways that people are discriminated against based on their appearance, particularly when it comes to hiring and firing in the workplace.

A few examples…

The restaurant Hooters has been accused of firing servers with excellent reviews for no reason other than being too “heavy.”

The mangers of the clothing store Abercrombie & Fitch supposedly held meetings “at which photos of its sales associates were reviewed and purged for any sign of breakouts, weight gain, or unacceptable quantities of ethnicity.” WHA??? 8-O

According to the Slate article, Miss Texas can gain only 2 pounds before losing her crown. (Does that mean she is subjected to random weigh-ins???)

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Another study showed that attractive people are more likely to receive job offers, higher salaries, and better performance reviews.

So is it any surprise that many of us have these deep-rooted beliefs/fears that we’re being judged by our looks?

Honestly, I’m not sure what to make of all of this. It is quite a sticky subject, and many argue that discrimination based on appearance is “unfortunate but inevitable.” And of course it begs the question, what is “attractive” in the first place? There’s no concrete definition; it’s obviously extremely subjective, based on personal preferences, past experiences, etc. Believe it or not, I know a man who does not find supermodel Heidi Klum attractive in the least. 8-O

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But the go-getter in me refuses to sit back and say that’s just the way it is. Challenging our society’s beauty bias – even though it’s an extremely complicated issue –  must be possible…and I think it begins with you and me.

Because here’s the thing: if we don’t want others to judge us by our appearance, we need to stop judging ourselves that way. If we don’t want society to be biased toward perfect figures, perfect skin, perfect hairstyles, or whatever, we can’t be biased against ourselves either. Perhaps when we stop holding ourselves to an unrealistic standard, our culture will take the hint and jump on board.

Maybe that’s too idealistic. Maybe you want to do something more concrete. In that case, I say another step is to boycott. If a restaurant requires its servers to fit into a mold you don’t agree with, don’t dine there. If a store is accused of firing its staff members for having a pimple, don’t shop there. If you don’t like the way a magazine portrays women’s bodies or weight loss or whatever, cancel your subscription…and write a letter letting them know exactly why.

Because there’s real power in first eliminating the beauty bias we have against ourselves…and then reflecting that change in mindset with our wallets.

Do you think a “beauty bias” exists in our society?

AND, if so,

Do you think it’s possible to challenge that bias?

What I Wish I’d Known at 13

By Katie, 5:08 am

You’re probably familiar with Dove‘s Campaign for Real Beauty, through which the beauty product company is attempting to change the way that women feel about themselves by changing the way they are portrayed in advertising. It all started with this popular ad, which featured a variety of shapes and sizes rather than the traditional, idealized model standard.

Dove also created a series of very powerful videos, including Onslaught and Evolution, that highlight the way our society’s media system influences – and manipulates – our understanding of beauty. If you have never viewed these videos, I highly encourage you to do so…and then share them with others.

Now Dove has created the Movement for Self-Esteem, which focuses on encouraging and motivating girls to feel confident and reach their full potential. They created this video called A New Vision in connection with the movement, and it emphasizes the connections between mothers and daughters, between women and girls. It encourages those of us who have struggled with our self-image to pass along the lessons we’ve learned to the next generation, to try to spare them some of the pain we have endured.

The campaign is also asking people like us to share what we wish we’d known at age 13. And so, in honor of this effort, I present to you…

13 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was 13

When I was 13, I wish I’d known that…

1. Trying to be someone I’m not is never a worthwhile endeavor.

2. My mom is a very wise woman.

3. Outward beauty has more to do with confidence than anything else.

4. Not all boys (and men) are jerks. There are men who can view and treat women with respect.

5. When it comes to makeup, accessories, and time spent on AOL Instant Messaging, less is more.

6. It’s hard to do the right thing because sometimes it means standing alone. But those are the times doing the right thing is most important.

7. Five years from now I won’t remember most of the things I’m stressing over today. And if I do, I’ll probably just think it’s funny.

8. BUT being a teenage really is hard, so I shouldn’t listen to people who try to minimize or discount my struggles.

9. Crying until my eyes are sore is a perfectly acceptable – sometimes even welcome – reaction to many situations in life.

10. Saying my daily prayers is a habit I should never break.

11. Sometimes I should say “yes” when I want to say “no.” And other times I should say “no” when I want to say “yes.” There is great power and peace in knowing the difference.

12. Every moment spent chasing external beauty rather than recognizing and cultivating internal beauty is a wasted one.

13. I am deeply loved, even beyond what I can comprehend. My life will be about learning to understand and accept that love, and then passing it on to others in a multitude of interesting ways.

YOUR TURN!

What do YOU wish you’d known at 13? What would you go back and tell your 13-year-old-self if you could?

Body Metaphors

By Katie, 5:22 am

Sometimes I’m surprised by the places I learn interesting lessons about my health, by the situations that force me to look at my relationship with myself in a new light.

For example, who would have thought I’d have an epiphany about body metaphors in this environment?

At a Baltimore Ravens pre-season football game? Really? 8-O

Really.

While cheering my team on to VICTORY 8-) , I was thinking about this article I recently read about the players’ nutritionist. This woman has quite a job – making sure a bunch of huge guys get the proper fuel for all of the running, throwing, kicking, tackling, pushing and shoving that they get paid to do.

Which got me thinking: in order to be successful, football players (and their nutritionists) have to conceive of their bodies in a particular way; they utilize a particular metaphor for their bodies that influences how they treat it. I bet a lot of these guys think of their bodies as machines.

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The body-as-machine metaphor is a pretty common one, but there are lots of others, too. For example, some people think of their bodies as their art form.

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Others use their bodies as a display.

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A lot of people think of their bodies through the Biblical metaphor of body-as-temple, or holy site.

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Some people build their careers around fixing bodies that are broken, healing bodies that are bruised.

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Some people use parts of their bodies as their instruments.

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And some people see their bodies as a site of peace and relaxation. Their bodies become the channel through which they find rest and rejuvenation.

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For a long time, I subscribed to a rather unhealthy body metaphor: body as measuring stick.

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I thought my body was a measurement of my success in life; I used my weight to determine my worth, and assumed others were doing the same.

But a metaphor is only worthwhile to the extent that it is helpful and true, and the measuring stick illustration is neither of those. So I traded it in for a better one.

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These days I think of my body as my home. I don’t want to get too attached to my home because I know it is only temporary, and what’s inside is what really matters. But I still want to take care of it because, well, I have to live there! A home that’s messy and malfunctioning brings with it extra stress and headaches, which takes time and energy away from all the wonderful stuff life has to offer. But a home that is clean and operating efficiently becomes a place you want to go to, a place where you feel comfortable.

I want my home – my body – to be a happy and healthy environment, but at the same time I’m not placing more emphasis on it than it deserves. That’s a metaphor I can live by. :-)

Do you identify with any of the body metaphors mentioned above? Do you have another one to share?

OR (if that question is too taxing for a Monday!)

Are you a football fan? What’s your favorite team? Have you ever been to a live game?

**Note to the English nerds out there: I realize I am actually using similes, not metaphors, but “body metaphors” just had a nicer ring to it. ;-)

Thin Fantasies

By Katie, 5:45 am

I had originally planned on posting a granola bar recipe today, but sometimes such plans must be tossed to the wayside. Something told me to instead post about a topic that I’ve been struggling with lately on a more personal level. But don’t worry; the granola bar recipe will be coming tomorrow. ;-)

I am by nature a daydreamer. My mind tends to wander this way and that way, and I often have to purposefully pull myself out of my own little mental world. I’m like the kid at school who stares out the window when she should be completing her spelling test.

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Most of the time my daydreaming is harmless. But lately I’ve noticed my mental musings slipping back into a realm I do not care to inhabit, one that’s filled with what I’m calling “thin fantasies.”

Thin fantasies are daydreams that start off innocent enough: imagining an upcoming vacation or special event, or maybe what life will look like a few months down the road. But when I dig a little deeper, I notice that the “me” I’m picturing on that future vacation or at that future time doesn’t look like the “me” sitting in front of the computer today. The future Katie looks different…she looks thinner.

Maybe that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but in my opinion the fact that I’m harboring these thin fantasies is unacceptable, for two reasons:

1. My thin fantasies demonstrate that I am still falling into the trap of “life will be so much better when I lose those 10 pounds.” You see, I’m not just thinner in these reveries; I’m also more confident, funnier, the life of the party. In these visions, I basically have no problems whatsoever. Because, apparently, 10 pounds is all that stands in the way between my present self and pure bliss. :roll:

2. Imagining myself as so-very-different demonstrates that I am still in the state that Christie articulated so well in her Monday Book Club discussion - the state of wanting to fix myself. Why do I need to be thinner in these visions in order to see myself as happy, confident, and carefree? Why can’t I just accept myself as-is, no changes necessary? Why do I have to remain in a state of flux, a state of self-improvement? Why can’t I just be?

It’s worth noting that while not everyone harbors thin fantasies, I think these “I will be different than I am today” daydreams are pretty common. Maybe you look the same but you own a stellar car or an amazing home. Maybe you envision yourself in a much more high-profile career. But in some way you imagine what life will be like when things are not the way they are today.

I think I should also mention that I’m not talking about having a goal and fantasizing about the path to get there. Goals are good; a lack of self-acceptance is not.

So today I am committing to blocking these thin fantasies out of my mental awareness. The moment I notice one creeping up, I am going to nip it in the bud, all the while reminding myself that even though change can be good, I am perfectly acceptable exactly as I am today. Besides, there are so many worthwhile things to muse about (saving the planet, bringing about world peace, what’s for dinner, etc.), there simply isn’t enough room in my noggin for self-rejection. ;-)

Is any of this ringing a bell? Have you ever caught yourself having a “thin fantasy,” where you imagine your future self as looking a bit different from today’s reflection in the mirror?

What Is Sexiness Anyway?

By Katie, 5:07 am

Note: This post contains photos that may not be safe/appropriate for work…or little eyes.

If you judge solely by our culture’s mainstream media outlets – television, movies, magazines, etc. – you would think we all define “sexy” in the same way: super skinny bodies, pouty lips, and over-exaggerated “come hither” looks.

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So I was quite surprised to read about the whole Lane Bryant commercial fiasco that happened back in April. Did you hear about this? Apparently both ABC and Fox refused to air a commercial for the plus-size retailer because it was considered too risqué.

And yet both networks have no problem airing ads featuring the “bombshells” of Victoria’s Secret. Tell me: why is this deemed completely appropriate…

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…while this is just too sexy for TV? :-?

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As this article points out, in some ways this is a major victory because it proves that people really do find curves sexy. Even if you find both models’ photos to be inappropriate – even if you’re a bit offended that I posted these pictures on my blog in the first place – you can certainly recognize that the situation sheds some interesting light on our society’s definition of what sexiness is.

But the article goes further. The author asked her husband if he found the Lane Bryant ad sexy, and of course he said he did. When asked why, he didn’t talk about her breasts or her thighs or her body at all; he said he found her confidence attractive, and he liked the fact that she looked like a “real woman.”

This is not to say that a Lane Bryant model is any more “real” than a Victoria’s Secret one. They are both “real women.” I think what the man meant was that sexiness doesn’t come from fitting into some standardized mold; indeed, it has nothing to do with a particular size or shape.

Sexiness, rather, is a quality that radiates from within. It comes from a place of self-love and self-acceptance, from being the type of person others want to be around. A confident posture, a friendly smile, a willingness to connect – for me and for many others, these characteristics have way more to do with someone’s attractiveness than how much skin they’re showing in a particular outfit.

Which means that you – yes, you! – have the power to look and feel sexy right this very second. You don’t need to change your clothes or your hair or your makeup; you just need to change your outlook. :-)

Were you surprised by the fact that many people deemed the Lane Bryant advertisement too sexy, even as Victoria’s Secret commercials were airing without controversy?

AND

What does sexiness mean to you?

Be Your Own Best Friend

By Katie, 5:26 am

This is a pretty darn exciting week for those of us in the business of spreading the positive-body-image message. That’s because TODAY is the official release date of Caitlin‘s Operation Beautiful book. The mission of Operation Beautiful is to post anonymous, positive notes in public places for other women to find. The book highlights the best of these notes, and includes inspirational stories from all different types of women.

(Shameless plug: I’m featured in the book! My story is on pages 155-158 and my photos are on pages 53 and 157.)

To bring more attention to the issue, August 2-August 7 has been dubbed Change the Way You See, Not the Way You Look Week. Bloggers everywhere are encouraged to discuss topics related to body image and self-acceptance.

In my opinion, the crux of the conversation about having a positive body image is the question of how to make it happen. Because we can probably all agree that the message of self-love and self-respect is a worthwhile one. But agreeing with that message is not the same as believing it every time you look in the mirror. Wanting to change the way you see isn’t the same as actually changing the way you see.

So I’d like to suggest one concrete way to turn wanting to have a healthy self-image into actually having a healthy self-image: BE YOUR OWN BEST FRIEND.

Think about it: your best friend would never tell you that your thighs are too big or your stomach is too jiggly (if she would, you need to find a new best friend!). She’d never say that you don’t deserve to go out on a Friday night because you’ve gained ten pounds, or that you should wait to buy nice clothes until you “lose the weight.” No, she’d call you up and say, “You’re gorgeous, I love you, now get your purse because we’re going shopping!” 8-)

Some more examples:

  • Your best friend would never call you or your body cruel names, and yet we do that all the time.
  • Your best friend would never advise overeating emotionally to the point of feeling sick, and yet we often think that’s an acceptable way to treat ourselves.
  • Your best friend would never tell you to put off living life to the fullest until your body is “perfect,” and yet we put our hopes and dreams on hold while we go to the gym…again.
  • Your best friend would never think less of you because of the way you look, so why do we think less of ourselves?

If we want to change the way we see ourselves, we need to take some concrete steps to get there. Just hoping our perspective will change simply isn’t enough. One way to challenge the negative self-talk is to ask yourself, “what would my best friend say to me in this moment?” Whatever the answer is – be it that you’re beautiful, that you are worth more than your physical appearance, that neither she nor anyone else is judging you based on an extra ten pounds – say that to yourself, and then make the choice to believe it. That is the first step. :-D

How can you be your own best friend today?

Be Body Positive Day!

By Katie, 5:57 am

Just a quick hit to let you know that today – August 1 – is Be Body Positive Day! It’s a day of action during which you commit to doing something that makes you feel terrific about your body.

Go for a walk outside. Enjoy a delicious, nutrient-rich meal. Look in the mirror and give yourself a compliment. Take a bath. Sip some tea. Commit to doing at least one thing to combat the negative-body-image environment that so many of us face every day.

Then sign this petition stating your commitment. And then encourage others to do the same. We’re starting a revolution here, people! :-D

Of course, I think every day should be Be Body Positive Day, but you’ve gotta start somewhere, right? Let’s start with today. 8-)

Wearing Disordered Eating On Your Sleeve

By Katie, 7:51 am

It deeply pains me to say this, but I think it needs to be put out there. When I was at my darkest place with emotional overeating, I wished that I were anorexic. I literally remember thinking, “If only I dealt with my stress by shunning food instead of gorging on it.” :-(

Where on earth would I have gotten the idea that starving myself was the better option, that it was more acceptable or legitimate, that it was, dare I say, cool? Oh, that’s right…

I don’t think I’m over-exaggerating when I say that our society glamorizes eating disorders – particularly anorexia – in much the same way it romanticizes drinking and smoking. And yet when I first saw these t-shirts, I was still shocked. 8-O And deeply saddened.

You can read more about the first shirt here and the second shirt here. I believe they have both been pulled from the shelves at this point, due to the (justified) outcries they stirred. And yet why on earth were they even designed in the first place???

I am outraged when I see things like this. :-x  But my anger is not directed at any particular company or designer because I believe that the issue is much more complex than that. I am angry at our entire culture, which too often idolizes thinness above all else. I am angry at the entire media industry, which continues to prioritize images of waif-like women. I am angry at every consumer who supports these images and ideas by continuing to buy the magazines and the clothes, which means that I am angry at myself. I am angry that I am not doing more to fight this system, even though the very notion of doing so sounds so huge and impossible that I am immediately discouraged. :-?

But I will continue to do my important, albeit small, part. I will continue to speak out – in conversations and on this blog. I will encourage others to express their outrage as well, in useful and productive ways. And hopefully someday I will enlist my children to continue the work through the next generation.

What’s your reaction to the above t-shirts? What do you think can be done to challenge these kinds of messages?

Art, Beauty, and Gigantic Bathing Suits

By Katie, 8:06 am

I’ve got body image on the brain.

Can you blame me? Everywhere I look there’s a magazine or an advertisement reminding me that it’s time to go shopping for some overpriced, barely there, never supportive enough pieces of spandex to don at the next pool party. Women are constantly getting the message that having fun at the beach is as much about looking hot when we’re practically naked as it is about catching a good wave or enjoying the sun’s heat.

I’m always encouraging women to ignore such messages, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean I’m completely immune to them myself. Even though I know that my worth has absolutely positively nothing to do with a bikini, I still get anxious and uncomfortable about bathing suits.

So I was excited to come across the artist Rachel Lee Hovnanian‘s latest work, entitled The Power and Burden of Beauty. Great title, right?

Her installations – which include giant bathing suits like the one above – are meant to get women thinking about how image-driven our society has become, and about how we can choose to comply with that standard or challenge it.

In an interview with O Magazine, Hovnanian says, “I want women to have a sense of humor about how they look.”  So she brings that humor into her work.

I think her coolest piece is an interactive exhibit of a dressing room – complete with unflattering lighting and a funhouse-type mirror.

When viewers enter the exhibit, an overhead speaker plays an audio tape with phrases like, “I shouldn’t have eaten those chips.” Basically the voice inside of our heads. 8-O

I think the point is to demonstrate how ridiculous all of the bathing suit drama really is, while at the same time recognizing that it is a very real – and traumatizing – part of many people’s lives. To me it highlights the disconnect that I have struggled with for years – on the one hand, there is the simple fact that I know my body and my weight do not define me, that life is about so much more. On the other hand, I can’t pretend that the pressures don’t exist, that they don’t affect me or mean something to me.

In other words, there are days when I genuinely preach the message of body acceptance while still struggling to accept my own image in the mirror. Like so many of us, I am beyond it and not beyond it at the same time.

So I’m thankful for cool artists like this one whose work reminds me to continue to challenge society’s messages…and myself. :-)

What do you think of art work like this? Do you think that art has the power to change how society characterizes women and women’s bodies?

AND

If you’re comfortable sharing, how are you doing on the bathing suit front this season? Like I said, I’m going back and forth, feeling really strong one moment but totally uncomfortable the next.

Mirror, Mirror On the Wall

By Katie, 2:25 pm

Who’s the fairest of them all? I certainly never thought it was me!

Starting in 7th grade I developed an intense love-hate relationship with mirrors. It coincided with my intense love-hate relationship with my body and self-image. Sadly, there was a lot more hate than love going on. :-(

My mom used to tease me in high school because I would get ready in front of the mirror in our upstairs bathroom, and then proceed downstairs and immediately give myself another once-over in our hallway mirror. She would laugh and remind me that my image hadn’t changed in the five seconds it took to walk downstairs.

Her teasing was fun and innocent because she honestly thought I was constantly looking in mirrors out of vanity or self-admiration. Unfortunately the truth was that I was incredibly self-conscious and insecure about my appearance; I looked in mirrors over and over again as a weak attempt to assure myself that I actually didn’t look as unattractive as I felt.

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It seems counter-intuitive, but I was obsessed with mirrors not because I thought I was pretty, but because I thought I was ugly. I kept hoping that one time I’d look in a mirror and think otherwise, but it never happened.

That is, until I decided to make it happen.

About a year ago I realized that if I wanted to improve my body image (and my self-image in general, because I was just as uncomfortable with my hair and my skin as I was with my body), I would need to make a purposeful effort. I committed myself to looking in the mirror every day and saying something positive about my reflection. It didn’t matter if I didn’t actually believe the words that were coming out of my mouth (I definitely didn’t at first); I just kept saying them.

It was the “fake it ’til you make it” approach, if you will.

At first I started out in safe territory, telling myself I liked my eyebrows or my wrists – things that, for me, weren’t really wrapped up in my self-esteem issues. But eventually I began to compliment myself more deeply; I told my mirror image that she had a nice smile and lively eyes. And then one day I moved onto my actual body – my arms, my legs, and even (on a really strong day!) my stomach.

Doing this short exercise day in and day out has made an incredible difference in my relationship with mirrors and my relationship with myself. I certainly don’t think I’m a beauty queen (far from it!), and I certainly have days when I’m overly critical of my appearance. But now, when I hear that voice in my head saying that I’m ugly or unattractive, I can remind myself that deep down I have the strength to use a glance in a mirror as a way to build myself up rather than tear myself down.

Have you ever had a “love-hate” relationship with mirrors? Have you ever tried complimenting your reflection as a way of increasing your confidence?

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