Do not adjust your viewing, I’m a fat chick. That’s right. I know. I know. But here’s the coolest part. That’s not who I am, it’s just a statement of fact. For those of you who know me and those of you who are here to experience this talk, let me share some things I like about myself; my top ten list, if you will.
1. I am a strong minded woman with a passion for being alive.
2. I love the compassion I feel for others because when I help them, I help myself to a barrel of good stuff in my heart.
3. I love the way I see spirit instead of physical being. With very few exceptions, everyone I’ve met in my life has a divine spark that I can see and feel. And that’s fantastic!
4. I love to paint, draw, and create things while listening to instrumental music because if I listen to music that has words, I sing along which breaks my concentration.
5. I write poetry when I don’t know how to express myself through other mediums. When other people read them, I feel naked.
6. I like that I have a voice that I didn’t have when I was little. I can stand up to people who are rude or bigoted or harming another. I had to earn that right for myself. I had to learn that gift for others.
7. I love to cook. I learned from my mother, my aunts, and my grandmother. It gives me enormous pleasure to serve a meal that has my guests pushing away from the table with deep sighs of satisfaction.
8. I am generally happy when I’m being mindful.
9. I appreciate that, although not formally educated, I can hold my own in most conversations on a variety of topics.
10. I love my sense of humor.
I got this idea to share my top ten with you from a graphic I found that was created by the National Eating Disorder Association. It shows up as number two on the list but, in my life,it’s vital to every day survival considering the onslaught of society via social and media networks.
One of the hardest things we do, as women, is to try to maintain a sense of self in a world that tells us our bodies, thoughts, beliefs, and ideals are the enemies of ourselves, when in reality it’s those external voices that have it all wrong.
What is body image?
Body image includes:
- How we perceive our bodies visually
- How we feel about our physical appearance; how we think and talk to ourselves about our bodies
- Our sense of how other people view our bodies
- Our sense of our bodies in physical space (kinesthetic perception)
- Our level of connectedness to our bodies
In a study by Brown University,74.4% of average sized women thought about the way their bodies look frequently or all of the time. The problem with this is that the more a person thinks about their bodies, they tend to pick it apart. They begin to see faults that probably aren’t there.
My friend Heather Ives got checked into a hospital with undisclosed diagnosis a couple of years ago. The hospital released her and when she got home, she had a grand mal seizure. She weighed in, at that point, at 255lbs. In just over a year she has lost nearly all of the excess weight and is a healthy for her 125 pounds.
She said, “My perception is accurate about my body though, that’s what always bothered me about comments and stuff from people. I know I look good, I know I lost an ungodly amount of flub but I never reached goal and I know what I look like nekkid and it’s not pretty with all the loose flesh. It’s not like I was at a point where I didn’t need to lose weight and was just doing it out of insecurity or vanity or a need to be skinny.” She sometimes feels like a newborn learning to walk. A toddling body perception because her mind just can’t grasp that her body has changed so dramatically even though she knows it has. The truth is, she’s quite lovely, wicked smart, demanding but in the good way, and her compassion is outstanding. Despite her dramatic weight loss, she continuously has to battle her body but for a different reason due to end stage renal failure.
REPRESENTATIONS OF GENDER IN ADVERTISING VIDEO
But how do we get to the point where we focus only on our shells? Body image, whether negative or positive, is shaped by a variety of factors:
- Comments from family, friends and others about our, their, and other people’s bodies, both positive and negative
- Ideals that we develop about physical appearance
- The frequency with which we compare ourselves to others
- Exposure to images of idealized versus normal bodies
- The experience of physical activity
- The experience of abuse, including sexual, physical, and emotional abuse
- The experience of prejudice and discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, ability, sexual orientation or gender identity
- Sensory experiences, including pleasure, pain and illness
I was probably about 12 years old when my Uncle Les who is 10 years my senior told me jokingly that my nose was too fat for my face. Because I admired him so much and trusted him, I took it to heart and for years I hated the way my nose fit on my face. I found it embarrassing. Now, it doesn’t matter to me. I like my face when I look in the mirror, but then, it was devastating.
I had issues with ongoing sexual abuse when I was quite young. Because of that, I viewed my body as something to hate and destroy. This particular hate was on a grander scale than that of my nose because our physical bodies are what people see first. They are how people decide whether or not we’re trustworthy, kind, or an asshole. It certainly didn’t help that between my 6th and 7th grade years I went from being flat chested to being very buxom. I hated my body so much that I had a breast reduction done when I was 22 years old. I do not regret that for the pain those boulders caused, but I wish I’d been able to see past the sexualization of my body enough to make a more informed decision.
I have an ex-boyfriend that I’m still friends with. While we were dating, I noticed several things that I did to myself reflected back to me in his behavior. He believed, and still does,that the value of his total person is found in his penis, just as I believed, but no longer do, that my value as a person was directly tied to my vagina.
In essence, I was a huge walking vagina that ran naked through the world fearing to be noticed but praying for my “worth” to be recognized at the same time. I read about celebrities and their lives and I longed to be as important as they were. I wanted to be seen and heard, felt and worshiped. I created a self-destructive cycle that created more self-loathing than I care to share. However, as I healed and realized that my body is NOT my value, nor was my vagina the only definition of myself, I began to see some really fez and bow tie stuff happening in my life.
All research to date on body image shows that women are much more critical of their appearance than men –much less likely to admire what they see in the mirror. Up to 8 out of 10 women will be dissatisfied with their reflection, and more than half may see a distorted image.
Men looking in the mirror are more likely to be either pleased with what they see or indifferent. Research shows that men generally have a much more positive body-image than women – if anything, they may tend to over-estimate their attractiveness. Some men looking in the mirror may literally not see the flaws in their appearance.
Why are women so much more self-critical than men? Because women are judged on their appearance more than men, and standards of female beauty are considerably higher and more inflexible. Women are continually bombarded with images of the ‘ideal’ face and figure – what Naomi Woolf calls ‘The Official Body’. Constant exposure to idealized images of female beauty on TV, magazines and billboards makes exceptional good looks seem normal and anything short of perfection seem abnormal and ugly. It has been estimated that young women now see more images of outstandingly beautiful women in one day than our mothers saw throughout their entire adolescence.
DISTORTED BODY IMAGE VIDEO
Also, most women are trying to achieve the impossible: standards of female beauty have in fact become progressively more unrealistic during the 20th century. In 1917, the physically perfect woman was about 5ft 4in tall and weighed 140 lbs. Even 25 years ago, top models and beauty queens weighed only 8% less than the average woman, now they weigh 23%less. The current media ideal for women is achievable by less than 5% of the female population – and that’s just in terms of weight and size. If you want the ideal shape, face etc., it’s probably more like 1%.
Here is a novel idea, let’s look at the insides of our bodies for a moment.
001 graphic (It’s a picture of what a female’s guts look like)
About 15 years ago I took an anatomy class at college as a science credit. In the jam packed semester I learned amazing things my body is doing right now. Right now, my heart is beating, my lungs are breathing, my stomach is digesting, and my brain is reading this aloud using the muscles of my face, mouth, and throat to convey my message. My colon is doing its job, my spleen is doing its thing, and my entire body is a masterpiece of coexisting perfection. Even when I get sick, for example, my body works autonomously from my conscious thinking. I may have to do external things to help it heal, but a body pretty much takes care of itself. But, it’s just a shell. It isn’t who I am or who you are.
Let’s look at the qualities we are supposed to have as women. According to Audrey Hepburn, for example, she said:
We may feel like we’re constantly judged. We may feel like we’re looked upon poorly when in reality, people do not, as a rule, pay attention to half of what goes on around them.
When I was a little girl, I remember thinking several things about myself that I now feel a bit embarrassed to share, but here it goes. I wanted to have long hair but my unruly waves made me commonly look like I stuck my finger in a light socket, so my mom cut my hair short. Instead of being upset about it, I’d take baby blankets, place them on my head and tuck the edges behind my ears. Then I’d practice flipping it like I saw my Aunt do. It was the next best thing, but I kept my hair short for years because I was told that I had kind hair…the kind that belonged around a dog’s butt.
I liked to wear odd clothing combinations, for example, I liked stripes with polka dots and colors that didn’t go together. My Aunt Lizzie was in her high school years and one of the most beautiful women I knew. Her clothes, nails, and long hair were always perfectly matched and tidy. To emulate her, I put away my mismatched things. I couldn’t see myself being anyone else but her. This tied into what I was talking about before regarding self-perception and myself.
How comfortable are you with who you are as opposed to the woman you WANT to be? When you were younger, how did you think being the adult you would be? Personally, I wanted to be able to stay up as late as I wanted, eat whatever I wanted, and be happy as a mother. I wanted to write for a living or read but I never imagined nor thought I’d become who I am today. Although I pretty much do what I dreamed of, the pay kind of sucks right now but I have faith in the child I once was.
Reflecting back, I think of myself as a little girl viewing me at this stage in my life and that she may be disappointed that I haven’t written the novel I wanted to write, or that I haven’t painted the greatest painting ever, or even that I have not nor will I give birth in my lifetime. I do, however, think that scared little girl that couldn’t sit still for more than 3 minutes nor talk about anything that hit too close to the truth of what was happening to her, would be quite pleased. I think she would be happier knowing that everything would be okay and that sometimes family members idealized aren’t, but those that were once despised have become invaluable parts of my life. Yes, I think she’d be quite pleased because she knows I’m working towards my dreams.
What about you? Are you following your dreams to become the woman you imagined as a child you’d be? I encourage you to embrace that little girl with your adult self and join in unison to meet your ideal self.
A favorite quote of mine is by Oscar Wilde. He said, “Be who you are because everyone else is already taken.” Another favorite of mine is a phrase found in the 1960 novel, A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr that says, “You don’t have a soul, Doctor. You area soul. You have a body, temporarily.”
I find both of the quotes fascinating because they break the societal standards that are dictated to us,spoon fed to insure our compliance in the gender roles we’ve been assigned by the faceless masses.
What if, another radical idea here,we looked at ourselves with compassion, love, and kindness as we do others? Would you say things to women that you say to yourself? Would we still see others as more attractive and beautiful than ourselves? What can we do to lift one another up instead of criticizing the bodies of our fellow humans? The outside of us is variable. We can change our hair, lose or gain weight, put on make-up,wear a variety of clothing that all mask who we are. They mask our insecurities, our self-deprecation, and our disbelief in our worthiness to be accepted and loved.
Your body is unique. You get told this but we are also told that we need to be this weight, have this color of hair, whiter teeth, less buttocks, more boobs, longer legs, and a myriad of other imperfections to be corrected. But, suspend your disbelief for a moment,what if you’re designed perfectly as you are right now? What if your body is perfect? Okay, I see that some of you are sitting there thinking, are you crazy woman?! Yes, to answer that question. But even with my body not being a societal standard of beauty, I’m content in my skin.
I’m going to be working on losing weight, not because I hate my body but because I don’t want to have to tell the doctor that my Type II diabetes is flaring up any more. I want to be healthier AND content in my skin. I’ve been abusive to my body for longer than I’ve loved it and it shows. But what I see in the mirror doesn’t match my definition of myself at all. I look at myself with compassion. I say to myself out loud, “Not bad, there lady.” Or “I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to live my life.” I don’t focus so much on my body as I do on my perception and appreciation of it.
This next video is called 50 Nude Women. It is a short, lively video montage featuring hundreds of realistic images of women’s bodies. The purpose is simply to show what women’s bodies actually look like. The women in this video are not professional models. They are regular women from all walks of life who volunteered to be photographed forth is project. They range in age from 21 to 95 years old.
Margot Roth, editor & producer wrote:
“I came up with the idea for this video a number of years ago when a male friend in his mid-twenties told me he got “grossed out” by the large breasts of a woman he had started to date. (They“hung down.”) He had never seen large breasts in person, and those he had seen in pictures were for the most part, fake (i.e., standing perfectly upright despite their magnitude).
I was rather horrified that he might break up with this woman because of his unfortunate visceral reaction to her breasts, so I ran out to find some sort of resource that would show him lots of examples of natural, realistic women’s bodies. (Wasn’t sure he could get“desensitized” in a couple of days, but at least he could get a sense of actual, real breasts…)
However, I was kind of surprised when I couldn’t find a resource like that, especially since images of women’s bodies are virtually everywhere in popular culture. (And we especially love the naked ladies!—thousands of years of art history prove our fondness.)
No doubt it’s due to the inherent beauty & appeal of the female figure itself that depictions of it carry so much power: to inspire us, to transport us, and, well, to make us buy things.But now the over-idealized woman has become such a pervasive image in print,TV, and movies, that she’s begun to sink into the collective subconscious as a standard for women. That’s the unfortunate part.
In my search for a helpful reference tool that showed women’s bodies, I did find a number of photography “art” books& erotica/porn, but the images were either over stylized, over sexualized,or both…I was looking for something very simple & straightforward.
Since I work as a film editor, I thought it would be relatively easy to make a short video ‘catalogue’ that showed a variety of real women’s bodies of all ages.
So a couple years later, with the help of a lot of friends & generous people, I organized this shoot…”
BUY THIS! 50 Nude Women.
Current Physical Ideals
Joan Brumberg, author of The Body Project, notes that the female ideal, and the pressure to achieve it, have become unrelenting. Not only are women encouraged to be thin, they are presented with a physical ideal that is diametrically opposed to the softness and curves more natural to the female body. The flip side of this experience is an ideal based upon exaggeration of male physiology. The authors of The Adonis Complex, state that hyper-muscularity has become increasingly important to men as a symbol of masculinity.
These ideals are not only biologically unattainable for most people, but downright dangerous. Just take a look at Barbie and GI Joe Extreme. If Barbie were life-sized, she’d be at 76%of a healthy body weight – a weight consistent with acute hospitalization. And GI Joe would have biceps almost as big as his waist, and bigger than most competitive body-builders!
Very few women possess the genetics to naturally produce the ultra-long, thin body type so widely promoted, and when they do, it isn’t usually accompanied by large breasts. Moreover, there are limits to how little body fat a woman can possess and still have normal hormonal functioning. Below a certain level of body fat and dietary fat, a woman’s body cannot produce the estrogen needed for ovulation and menstruation.A woman also develops a higher risk of stress fractures because normal bone breakdown is accelerated in the absence of estrogen, and osteoporosis becomes more likely.
The same thing goes for 6-pack abs and the “ripped” look being promoted to men; the ability to have very defined abdominal muscles is genetically endowed, and the hyper-muscled physique of action figures and male fitness models is impossible to achieve without illegal anabolic steroids. UCLA’s Student Nutrition Action Committee (SNAC) webpage on Body Image and Eating Disorders puts it very succinctly:
“It’s physiologically impossible to gain unlimited pounds of pure, bulging muscle mass while maintaining an ultra-lean, ripped body – even when following the “perfect” training and diet program. Once you reach your maximal muscle mass, any further gains will come from both muscle AND fat. So, men who have greater muscle mass/size tend to have higher body fat percentages as well.”
Every day, however, we are told that these unattainable bodies are normal, desirable, and achievable. We compare ourselves to these ideals and feel displeased with our bodies for being so different, and when we fail to make ourselves over in the image of these ideals, we feel even worse because we can’t seem to succeed at something so supposedly straightforward.
From a graphic:
“Hey you! Yes, you. Stop being unhappy with yourself. You are perfect. Stop wishing you looked like someone else or wishing people liked you as much as they like someone else. Stop hating your body, your face, your personality, and your quirks. Love them. Without those things, you wouldn’t be you. And why would you want to be anyone else? Be confident with who you are. Smile. It’ll draw people in. If anyone hates on you because you are happy with yourself, then you stick your middle finger in the air and say, “Screw it. My happiness will not depend on others anymore.” I’m happy because I love who I am. I love my flaws. I love my imperfections. They make me, me. And this me, is pretty amazing.”
What does your body do for you? What sort of things does your body do every day? Mine has hands that can type, massage aches, and pet my dogs and cats among many other things. My mind is rather quick witted, sees patterns that repeat, figures out solutions to problems that other people have been stumped by. I have some pretty rocking boobs, fantastic legs that carry me where I want or need to go for the most part. My arms are perfect for hugging, but not that great at swimming. My feet are as pretty as my hands and I have a fantastic smile. I love the way my eyes get bright with excitement. I love the way my nose is straight if not a bit broad, but it fits over my lips just so. I love what my body does for me.
Dustin Hoffman portrayed Michael Dorsey an unemployed male actor who dresses and lives as Dorothy Michaels, a woman who lands a leading role on a soap opera and becomes famous. In this video, Mr. Hoffman describes what it was like preparing for the role.
DUSTIN HOFFMAN ON TOOTSIE
In contrast, women are not only seen as the weaker sex, but have been objectified throughout history for their beauty. This next video called, “Women in Art,” is by Philip Scott Johnson. It was nominated as the Most Creative Video at the 2nd annual You Tube Awards. The music is Bach’s Sarabande from Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G Major, performed by Yo-Yo Ma
500 YEARS IN ART
However, throughout recent history,women are not portrayed as prettily. In fact, women have become more and more objectified. It is my firm belief that we can change this pervasive attitude towards women by starting right here, right now with a true view of the women we encounter, but particularly with ourselves.
I propose the Pinkie Swear Ideal. If you are consistently negative in your self-talk towards your body, try this for three days. It’s a small commitment. It’s three days. The pinkie finger is pretty much an extraneous limb. It doesn’t really do anything and if you lost it tomorrow, your grip and such would not, in the long term, be affected.
Look at your pinkie fingers. Pick one or both to use during this exercise.
For the next three days, whenever you look at that finger, look at it as if it were your most prized possession.Look at it with love and tenderness. Think a positive thought about that pinkie. You can say anything you’d like about any other part of your body, but that pinkie is the loveliest creation in the Universe. It’s perfection embodied in that little non-essential piece of flesh. If you think a negative thought about it, correct it out loud. “No, this is perfection, right here in my pinkie.” It’s all about the pinkie. Be compassionate to that pinkie because it’s, for three days, a crucial beauty.
Pinkie Swear that one of the very least of your body parts will be fully, totally, absolutely loved by you. Every time you notice it, love it. Every time you glance at it, think positive thoughts.
At the end of the three days, think of how easy or hard that was for you to love that small part of you. Were you able to be compassionate, kind, loving, and attentive to it?
My next three day challenge is to pick your least favorite body part. The one that if you think about it makes you cringe. It’s okay if you have several, but I’d like you to pick the one that just can’t imagine loving completely. Is it because of outside influences that you don’t like that body part/scar/health issue? Is it because of your own self telling you that it’s not worthy of your love? Why?
The only way that I’ve been able to get to a point of self-acceptance is by changing the self-talk in my head to that of positive, loving thoughts towards myself. By breaking down the individual parts that we’re constantly criticizing and changing the way we talk to ourselves, we’re beginning a revolution that begins with a Pinkie Swear to love our bodies just as they are. We can work together to see ourselves in a gentle light despite the many years of self-abuse. I discovered that by changing how I saw myself, my perception of the outside world, despite the distortions found all around via social media, advertising, and rude comments,begin to fall away. The confidence in my skin began to be who I am and it felt good to know that to myself, I am worth loving, worth the care I require, and most of all, that my skin, my body, and my appearance are perfectly human and as an end result, perfectly me.