Friday, March 2, 2012

Body Image Warrior Week

Earlier this week I shared two Body Image Warrior Week pieces that particularly resonated with me, but I took something valuable from each post I read related to the project. Whether it’s Caitlin Constantine’s questioning of “the single story” of the female body, Rosie Molinary’s challenge for each of us to find our “announcement,” Patti Gibbons’s raised eyebrow at the lingo about “problem areas,” or Blossoming Badass’s revelation that sharing body image woes can lessen one’s private burden, this week I’ve had the privilege of reading body image stories all over the map. Below are snippets from BIWW participants—it started with a group of 11 bloggers; these are the ones I haven’t yet featured individually, plus two bloggers who joined in throughout the week who are on my reading list. Here's a list of all known participants. Enjoy, take care of yourself, and remember that this is merely the week in which we're reminding one another about body image. The truth of the week doesn't end here.

Caitlin Constantine, Fit and Feminist:
I reflected on a TED talk given by writer Chimamanda Adichie in which she spoke about the “danger of the single story.” She described growing up in Nigeria and yet writing stories in which her blonde-haired, blue-eyed characters ate apples and played in snow. Every book she had read was written by British authors about British life, and as a result she hadn’t realized it was possible to write books about her own life. She thought the only way to be worthy of literature was to be a foreigner. … I thought about her words and I realized that we as a culture had accepted the single story of the “ideal body” so thoroughly that no room remained for alternate definitions of female beauty. … The “ideal female body”—a slim figure with breasts that aren’t too big and thighs that don’t touch and a butt that isn’t too flat and nothing that jiggles too much—is desired with such single-mindedness that the non-cosmetic benefits of weight training are dismissed without a second thought.

Margarita Tartakovsky, Weightless:
When we love someone—a boyfriend, a best friend, our parents, our kids—we love them unconditionally. We don't keep track of random criteria that the person must fulfill. We don't think about them earning our love—whether at the gym or at the dinner table. We don't think about their qualities, especially their physical traits, as currency. … Our loved ones don't need a six-pack to gain our respect. They don't need muscular legs, thinner thighs or chiseled cheekbones to have our appreciation and utmost love. … So why wait to respect our bodies based on a singular, random ideal? A standard essentially set by the very companies that profit from our insecurities, hang-ups and regular body-bashing?

Rosie Molinary:
What is your announcement? You are being given, over and over again, an audience of one. Every single person in this world is going to sit down in front of you and give you the time you need to make your announcement. What is it you must make sure each person knows. What do you need him to understand? What do you need her to grasp? What is your announcement? It doesn’t have to be earth shattering. You don’t have to be the only one saying it. It simply has to be yours, the natural gift you bring to the world in your own unqiue way. … My announcement, boiled down and stripped bare is this: the world needs each one of us as an essential element in its healing—in our healing. And to do that, we must get on with our own healing, live our passion and purpose and give our gifts to the world. We must begin administering our particular brand of CPR to the world and its suffering.

Virginia Sole-Smith:
I started saying: “I can’t wait to get my body back.” By which I meant my 145-pound body that could hike up hills without a problem and do headstands and backbends in yoga or even, my 135-pound body that once ran two half-marathons. … It was like I thought someone had come along and zipped a fat suit up over my real body, leaving me with this 165-pound+ version that I couldn’t—or didn’t want to—recognize. … And for the first month or so after I graduated, and life went back to “normal,” I kept waiting for someone to come along and unzip the fat suit so I could have my real body back. … But then about two months later, I was at yoga and I did a completely kick-ass back bend. I mean, five-year-olds and tall dogs could have run under the arch shape that was me without having to duck. Everyone oohed. … I was confused. I still weighed at least 160 pounds. I thought only my “real” body could do cool things like backbends. And my clothes kept telling me that I didn’t have my “real” body back yet. And that’s when I realized: This was my body, too.

Kate Fridkis, Eat the Damn Cake:
I write about body image because I got a nose job because my big Jewish nose seemed like the opposite of beauty. Because when I told people that famous, beautiful women never have big Jewish noses, they always said, "What about Barbara Streisand?" and that was a long time ago. No one can think of anyone more recent. And also, because when my boyfriend who became my husband told me over and over that my nose was beautiful, I didn't really believe him, even though I should have. … I write about body image because people make fun of people who get cosmetic surgery, even though when I got cosmetic surgery, there was nothing funny about it. I hated my face. I wanted to destroy my old face. … I write about body image because when I was a little girl, I thought I was gorgeous. I thought that I was gorgeous because I was me.

Sally McGraw, Already Pretty:
What if you forced it? What if—on those days when you looked in the mirror and saw Grendel—you made yourself don a flirty frock, curl your hair, and slip on a sassy set of boots? Would it help or hurt how you felt about your body and face and overall self? Swear I’m not going all Fernando Lamas on you. Just hear me out. We’ve already established that the cycle of self-loathing is inextricably linked to the cycle of self-neglect: Feel bad, look bad, feel worse, look worse, and on and on. But I maintain that a cycle of self-love can be perpetuated by a cycle of self-care. If you feel awful about how you look and allow yourself to LOOK as awful as you feel, you spiral down. But if you feel awful about how you look and work against that negativity—beautifying yourself with the tools you have at hand—you spiral up.

Patti Gibbons, Not Dead Yet Style:
The cheery host or model points to the latest tunic top (two easy payments!) and delivers the good news: it covers all those problem areas! I know they mean our midriffs, in this case. Other garments mercifully cover over our problem hips, "derrieres", thighs and upper arms. Sometimes the salespeople make little unhappy faces as they mention the offending body region, or they smile ruefully and pat their own (perfectly nice) hips. … My thighs are not a "problem," however! Sometimes my finances are a problem, my cat having allergies can be a problem, and new construction making me late for work is a . . . problem. My pale, slightly dimpled thighs are just mine.

Elissa Stern, Dress With Courage:
Your body image is how you perceive, think and feel about your body. This may have no bearing at all on your actual appearance. I've been feeling really crappy about my appearance lately, but while I'm struggling, I'm trying to figure out what has triggered these negative thoughts. My two friends mentioned the anxieties they're currently struggling with—work stress, and shame for having not attending college. I believe there's a direct correlation between how we see our bodies and external stress.

Kjerstin Gruys, Mirror Mirror Off the Wall:
I remember, several years ago, feeling incredibly proud of my hard-earned health and balanced life, but sobbing in my therapist's office because I was scared I'd never find a loving life-partner if I wasn't very thin. … I KNEW I was objectively lovable (indeed, probably more lovable without my rigid obsessions), and I also KNEW I was in good health, but I still wasn't comfortable in my body. I wished for my exact life, but thinner. And that's where Truth #4 showed up: “My body is perfect, my mind could use improvement.” It became my survival mantra. I still repeat it to myself during moments of weakness and frustration, (i.e., if I ever feel tempted to go on a crash diet, or want to spend 3 hours at the gym). And, slowly but surely, my mind IS improving.

Alexa, Blossoming Badass:
When I told all of my friends how much I hated my body at a sleepover in ninth grade, no one freaked out. Most of the other girls admitted that they’d felt the same way, which shocked me. Most importantly, all of those girls are still my best friends, and at times that my body image was particularly negative in the future, I’ve found friends to go to that make me remember that weight isn’t important. That’s something I know for a fact—that every girl is beautiful—but sometimes I forget it about myself. When I finally made this confession, though, something unanticipated happened—my body image improved dramatically and I was so much happier. It wasn’t because people had assured me that I wasn’t “fat”; it was because a secret that had seemed so dark and embarrassing to me really wasn’t so powerful anymore.


  1. Autumn - thanks for posting all of these together. It's like a delicious movie preview, except you get to watch ALL of the movies just by clicking through. See you for dinner in 20!

  2. Thanks! I had fun putting it together, the best of the best! (And now that we've dined together, I can hear this comment in your voice...)