Friday, June 29, 2012

Yet Another Feminist Blogging About Body Image

Surprise, surprise. Women have fucked up body image issues. (Men do, too, but this post will be about women. If anyone would like to guest post on men's body image, please let me know.)

We all recall the backlash over Vogue's story about the 7 year old whose mother put her on a diet. If you don't recall, it was kind of everywhere. Wouldn't it be great if we could move past this toxic cycle in which we indoctrinate young people into a culture of fat shaming? 

Well now, there is a new campaign called Keep It Real fighting to get magazines geared toward young girls and women to publish ONE unaltered photo in each issue. You can participate, too.  Here is the guide.

(More after the jump.)

(I found out about this through Feministing and I really must say that I've gotta love the ad that accompanied it.)

Anyway, I missed day one of this campaign, but I don't have a Twitter account anyway. So I'm starting at day two, the day of the blog!

Miss Representation provided some really shocking statistics that I can share with you. I'll only use a choice few, but the full list is in that guide. 

The ones that stand out most to me are "48% of teenage girls wish they were as skinny as models," but we have to recall "Twenty years ago, the average fashion model weighed 8% less than the average woman. Today that number is 23% less." Why do we want to weigh so much less than the average woman? This in itself is a disturbing trend, but the statistic that hit close to home for me was "53% of 13 year old girls are unhappy with their bodies. That number increases to 78% by age 17." (Links are to the source articles Miss Representation provided.)

The reason that statistic resonates with me is that I experienced exactly those feelings of shame and dissatisfaction regarding my body in my teenage years. When I was around 13, I started to experience the transformation most cisgendered women do. I was always a very thin child, so it was actually strange for me to suddenly have curves everywhere. I didn't know what to do, but I'm not entirely certain I hated them.

As I progressed through my teenage years, I put on some weight. I was still well within what the BMI says is healthy (not that I trust that anyway), but I hated the fact that I found cellulite on my thighs and butt. I hated that I had stretch marks on my hips, thighs, butt, and breasts because my body changed so drastically and so quickly. I still hate those things, but I didn't have any authority saying this was normal. The women on television, in movies, and covering magazines did not have cellulite. They didn't even have any softness to their stomachs like I did/do. 

My junior year of high school, I gained an extra 15-20 pounds. I gained it everywhere: on my body and in my face. I was doing okay with the weight gain until a few people who were important to me made comments about it. Suddenly, I looked in the mirror and realized that those few extra pounds made me feel incredibly unattractive and overweight. I was embarrassed that I was unable to afford new clothes to accommodate the bulges. Overall, I found that the weight gain I would have been able to tolerate was suddenly unbearable because of the responses from my loved ones. It is unfair to completely absolve those people, but the our society says "fat is unhealthy" and "thin is in" and all the other cliche phrases.
My weight has continued to fluctuate 10-20 pounds (often every year), but at this point, I don't bother losing weight on purpose. Honestly, one of the things that has saved me has been finding friends, boyfriends, and other feminist bloggers that don't insist that there is only one sexy body type. I have been incredibly blessed to find people to surround myself with who embrace my curves (literally and figuratively). I also recognize that I am lucky in that the shape of my curves is one that society sometimes accepts (although it expects them to be smooth, stretch mark free, tan, and freckle-less). I am sometimes subject to fat shaming, but I am not constantly bombarded with looks from people who judge me just because I'm eating an ice cream cone or drinking a Coke. 

I have to say the the most powerful antidote I've found to the bullshit body image we're presented with is to find friends who love you (something that is often difficult for young girls) and to have access to information that explains what we see on TV and in magazines is not the norm. It has taken me years to decide I love my body, and some days I backslide into fat shaming myself. 

I still have yet to see a good media example of a body that looks like mine: stretchmarks, cellulite, a slightly uneven line to the curves (Spanx cover a lot), and freckles to boot. There are many body types out there and the ones in the media are not representative of what most of us look like now or will in the future. We owe it to our girls, young women, and grown women to fight to represent all body types in the media. We are normal, we are strong, and we are sexy. (Please remember, though, that just because we are sexy doesn't mean we want to talk about or have sex with everyone we encounter.)

While one unaltered image per month is not going to solve the entire issue, it will certainly be a step in the right direction. More importantly, it will be a statement from the editors of these magazines that shows they care about the mental and physical well-being of their readers. Images are powerful and we must respect that power and put it to good use.

Sorry if this came off as a rambling rant, but I felt the need to share a semi-personal story for this one.


  1. Great blog post Lauren!

    Finding the right people to surround yourself with is absolutely key like you said. Being a rather skinny person but slowly growing in size I remember a particular friend of mine who once refused to allow me to buy chips when we hung out. Needless to say, we weren't friends for long but that instance still haunts me to this day when I go to buy sweets.

    Especially since moving to Japan, my body issues have skyrocketed. I felt rather normal in the U.S. but in Japan I feel like a complete cow. If any society is more image conscious than the U.S. it is certainly Japan. It's even difficult as a male. While the preferred look for men is often a little bulky with plenty of muscle in the U.S., here the preferred look is a stick thin man with muscles. I'm a healthy mix of fat and muscle but I can't help feeling fat. Especially when I need to eat a meal on the go, everyone must be thinking "look at that fat American eating!"

    Anyhow, that's my little story for you. Not very structurally beautiful because I typed that on my phone. Lol.



  2. I type some of my blogs on my phone and then have to edit them later, so no worries there.

    Thank you for sharing that perspective. I know men are struggling with body image issues more than ever and I would imagine it must be very difficult as an American abroad. I've been lucky enough to find friends who don't fat-shame me and I hope that you are finding that as well. It really helps to combat the feelings of worthlessness I get when some random asshole calls me fat.

    Anyway, if you find yourself thinking more about this and wanted to generate a personal story, I'll gladly post it here as a guest blog. Thanks for your input, love. :)