What I Have To Say About Body Image In America

audrey-hepburn_quoteI have wrestled with this post. I have written and rewritten it. I have debated its place in this blog. This is something that makes me uncomfortable to talk about.

I have a secure body/self image, and that is why I hate talking about it. I have had countless conversations with countless friends about their insecurities. Every time they look at me as if I am crazy for the way that I think. They also give me the look that says “it’s easy for you to be secure, you’re so __.” In the blank can be “pretty” or “skinny” or any number of other words. I do feel like I am pretty and skinny and other nice things that women want to identify themselves with. I’m also not a lot of desirable things, but I don’t allow myself to get too caught up on it. Most of the time, there are other things I’d rather talk about. When I do feel the need to talk about body image, these are the ideas I bring to the table.

  1. Body image is not a women’s or girl’s problem alone. If we are going to break down our gender biases in this country, we need to stop talking to each other as if this set of people have a problem that this other set of people don’t have. The biases are part of the problem. There are plenty of impossible standards for men that are physical, and most of them come from the same places that women’s impossible standards come from. Men may not talk about it as much or as loudly, but it affects them too. If you don’t think it does, then ask one. We need to talk about these issues to both genders. If women are people too, then we need to acknowledge that men probably have our same insecurities sometimes.
  2. Putting on makeup in front of the child that you are trying to convince is beautiful the way they are might be counter-productive to the message. This idea is substantiated by the Office of Women’s Health: http://www.womenshealth.gov/body-image/kids/ . When it comes to things that effect our son (we don’t currently have a daughter, but pray for us or wish us luck because we desperately want one), we have tried to fix us first in these toddler years. This has included not spending time in front of the mirror obsessing and not pointing out all of our own physical flaws.
  3. A good relationship with food and exercise is something that we hope for own son. These are things which both of our families had been less successful at with us. Only time will tell if our strategies work out, but for now, we’ve abolished the “clean plate club” and the words that can cause the guilt that can go with it. We may hear familial voices in our heads, we just don’t repeat the words. I adjusted what was “me” time for doing yoga to be just before he gets in the bath so that maybe he will recognize exercise as a normal part of life that is just what we do. He’s jumped in and done a few poses with me, nothing too complicated yet, but he seems to enjoy that we are doing something else together. We’ll see how it all works out. The main idea is: if he can have a good relationship with food and exercise, maybe he won’t spend as much time as we have worried about his weight.
  4. Body image has become a big enough problem that the media is being both blamed and penalized for it. While, I definitely agree that the media in no way helps, there is something that individual families can do about it too. My father was an inspiration to me that entirely counteracted the media. It was more important to be interesting than beautiful and more beauty came from being interesting than makeup anyway. He also taught me the above quote from Audrey Hepburn about beauty. He used to shake his head when my mother would try to teach me to wear makeup and tell me that I was more beautiful without it. Beauty is in the flaws. Beauty is in the function. Beauty is in the product of your life. Makeup is superficial and when you hide your flaws, you hide the best parts of you. He said these things often enough that even the media back then was no competition. I can only hope to win that fight on an individual level within my family against all the new spoils of the internet these days.

I don’t claim to have the answers, but that’s one more point of view to add to the chorus. Never underestimate the power of individual initiative in these matters.


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