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Archive for November, 2008

dove-logo

The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty has recently released a national report, Real Girls, Real Pressure: A National Report on the State of Self-Esteem, that reveals the current devasting state of self-esteem among young girls in this country. The study was conducted this year among eight to 17 year olds in the US and some of the statistics the study reveals are extremely sad, although not entirely shocking.

75% of girls with low self-esteem reported engaging in negative and potentially harmful activities, such as disordered eating, cutting, bullying, smoking or drinking, when feeling badly about themselves– compared with 25% of girls with high self-esteem.

61% of teen girls with low self-esteem admit to talking badly about themselves (Compared to 15% of girls with high self-esteem).

Dove has takent the initutive to address these issues by conducting workshops around the country for young girls. They have already reached about 2 million women and hope to reach a total of 5 million by 2010. Among the people who are hard at work with Dove is Jess Weiner, a popular body acceptance activist.

Although I think workshops such as these are a fantastic idea, I think the issue at hand needs to begin with a much higher source. If the images we see in the media on a daily basis continue to be just as vulgar, crude and exclusive of all types of women and men, how can we ever expect to truly change how we think?

As much as I rely on the Fatosphere to help me learn to accept my body and love it, the work seems to be temporarily undone when I am over-exposed with negative media images or when someone makes a dumb comment about my body. It takes a whole lot of work to get me back to a place of positive self-image after one of these encounters.

I am not saying that media is all to blame for my fight to maintain a positive body image and level of self-acceptance. At the end of the day, it is my responsibility to filter what I watch, see, read, etc. and to not let people’s ridiculous comments get to me. But to say that we have a body image crisis in this country and to do nothing about what causes that crisis, just doesn’t make any sense. It’s like we are putting a bandaid over the problem without fixing the source of the problem.

All in all, I think these workshops are a step in the right direction and I might even try to conduct a few of them in my community (Dove provides workshop tools on their website).

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failure

The fantastic discussion about Rule #18 gave me an idea for another rule: Gaining weight does not mean you have, in some way, failed yourself, society, or your friends and family. This comment in particular, from one of our readers, stuck a cord with me:

“So true… I guess in reality, some just feel so much better and glad when they see people heavier than them or have put on weight. I feel it is the same consolation that some sadists get when they see another person fail. It gives them a feeling of importance. Of course, putting on weight is far far away from failure but in the society’s eye, it seems to be.”

Just as we see weight loss in our society as some kind of accomplishment worthy of the utmost praise, (See Rule # 15 and Weight Loss Fantasy), we see weight gain, even the slightest weight gain, as a personal failure. The woman who made the comment about my recent weight gain felt comfortable saying what she did not only because weight is seen as a public issue in our society, but also because she felt as though I saw it as some kind of personal failure. She assumed that I, like her, see weight gain as a really horrible thing which is why she felt the need to relate to me on the issue by confessing that she had also gained about five pounds herself.

I must confess that in my pre-cheeseburger days, I too felt like putting on weight was a horrible failure which is why I avoided it at all costs. Every time the scale tipped a little higher I freaked out because for me, it represented one step away from having the “perfect, ideal” body that I desired and one step towards becoming “fat.” In retrospect, I of course see this as completely ridiculous. I neither celebrate if I lose a few pounds nor get down on myself if I have gained weight. I truly do have better things to concern myself with.

I remember one time, a few months before my wedding, I was having lunch with a friend. She had been married for a short while and was giving me advice and the topic of weight gain came up. I remember so vividly what she said to me, “You don’t have to gain weight in your first year.” She said it with a little laugh, as if it was a horrible thing if I did gain weight. At the time I was probably a size 4 (somewhere in the 120’s) so the fact that she felt the need to warn me about first-year of marriage weight gain was very odd even for me at the time (that was back in the day when I was majorly controlling my food in-take and working out like crazy).

Dr. Stacey, over at Every Woman Has An Eating Disorder, discussed this very point about how to address people who feel the need to make body comments:

You don’t need to say anything about my body or about the way I look. I can connect with you in so many ways, outside of my appearance. Can’t we focus on that?”

I guess what I have come to realize is that weight gain symbolizes something very bad in our society, even if it is ever so slight. It triggers feelings of self-doubt, loss of control and the fear of getting fat. And I guess that is why it seems so important for people to talk about it constantly with each other. The fear is so gripping, so real, it overtakes you and then you end up saying really idiotic things to people. Well, Tiffabee is here to tell you that if you gain weight, you are in NO way a personal failure. And don’t ever let anyone make you feel like you are.

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This is a phrase we use a lot around here so we thought we would finally go ahead and make it an official rule. This rule was inspired by an unfortunate incident I had with an acquaintance of mine. Last night, I was with a group of women who I haven’t really seen in a while. One of the women grabbed my arm and said “Have you been eating ham hocks or something?” I was seriously confused by her comment and really didn’t know what she meant. (Afterall, I thought she knew that I don’t even eat ham.) She perceived my confusion and clarified, “You’ve put on some weight.” I was stunned. It’s been so long since someone has made a comment about my body that I really didn’t know what to say.

I stumbled over my words, shrugged my shoulders and finally said “Oh, I don’t really care.” With a look of embarrassment on her face, she then attempted to relate to me on the issue, “I know I have. I’ve gained about five pounds or so.” I then thought, “Wait! Is she still talking to me about this? I thought my cold response would have effectively ended the conversation.” As we were all leaving our friends house she continued with telling a story about how a co-worker of hers had recently lost about 40 or 50 pounds by simply “working out more.” She sounded almost envious of her co-workers weight loss which was super confusing to me because she herself recently lost 40 or 50 pounds this past year. I guess she wanted to lose more.

In retrospect, I really wish I would have been more on my toes and quick-witted. I would have said a few things that would have made her head spin. But I was so shocked by her comment that I didn’t know what to say. Many of my comments in the Crazy Things People Say Thread were made to me a long time ago. I just hadn’t experienced it in so long, it rendered me completely speechless.

In reality, I have gained probably about five lbs since I last saw this person. So the fact that she even noticed that I had gained weight is peculiar. Is she really looking that hard? Is it really that important to her?

I share this story to illustrate the point that we have been trying to make all along on this blog: WEIGHT IS NOT A PUBLIC ISSUE!!!!! And besides the fact that comments like these are incredibly rude and offensive, they are also potentially dangerous. Despite the many times that I have shared with this person that I have suffered with body image issues my entire life (and a pseudo eating disorder at one point), she still felt comfortable enough to just say what she saw: I’ve been eating more, I’ve gained weight.

I think the reason people feel so comfortable making comments about other peoples bodies is that at every turn we are bombarded with weight loss commercials, diet pills, weight loss foods, gym advertisements, reality shows highlighting weight loss, etc. So it gets embedded in our minds that weight is something we should all be openly talking about and encouraging each other to lose more of.

It never even occurred to this person that maybe I didn’t think gaining five pounds was such a big deal, or maybe that I might have even been trying to gain it. In our society’s worldview, the idea that weight gain is not a big deal, a life crisis or something that one might be trying to achieve is completely ludicrous. And that’s because we don’t know anything different and many of us don’t want to know anything different. Thinner is better is all we know and all we want to know. And within this mentality, any weight gain is bad and means that you are effectively on your way to being “fat.”

I have a message to all of you crazies out there: PLEASE stop making comments about peoples bodies! It’s none of your business! My weight, my body and my pants size is none of your business. It’s not ok to just say whatever comes to your mind when it comes to someone else’s body. Stop projecting your neurotic need to be a size 4 on me!

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Daisy Lowe

If you’ve been around EAC long enough you know that one of our main topics of discussion is the fashion industry’s idealized standards of beauty, especially as it relates to the Size 0 Ideal. But some suggest that this trend seems to be coming to an end. And even though the runway might always be filled with very thin women, the gaunt (and flat out scary look) that we have seen on the runway the past few years seem to be dissipating.

One writer, Kate Spicer, says:

“At last, slowly and from within, it seems fashion is falling back in love with the things that make women truly beautiful: confidence, sex appeal, health. They’re lauding the ample, sexy behind of Joan, Mad Men’s smoking-hot secretary, and beginning to reject the boniness of eastern European skinny-minnies. Could it be that, finally, we can put those two incendiary little words, “size” and “zero”, behind us, and that Lowe and her softly cut ilk are the poster girls for a new aesthetic of womanliness and personality that lies ahead? While catwalk girls will always be thin, there has been a bit more bounce lately in the bottoms and flesh on the bones that walk in London, Paris, New York and Milan.”

Using model Daisy Lowe (above) as an example, Spicer says that Lowe exudes sex appeal and confidence without being “model thin.”

Spicer adds:

“It’s been in the air for a while. The real titans, the ones who kept their lips buttoned when the size-zero debate raged, have also begun to speak out. Kate Moss was overheard saying how sexy Lowe and the shapely girls sporting hundred-quid frillies looked at the recent AP perfume launch. The super-stylist Katie Grand has talked of being tired of “the tedious stereotypes of what it is to be a wonderful 21st-century woman”. Even mean old Karl Lagerfeld, the wicked fairy godfather of the cruel world of fashion, sent some girls away from a recent show, a first, saying: “They looked as if they had grown up in a Third World country with no food to eat.”

Once again, this is not to assume that extremely thin women are all walking around starving themselves or that there is anything wrong with being very thin if that is your natural body make-up. But the idealization of extremely thin women (or any body type for that matter) in fashion and tabloid magazines is wrong. I would personally rather see all types of women represented on the runway, together. Rather than differentiating between “plus size” runway and “regular” runway, why not put all women together and call it runway? (See “Plus Size” and the Normalization of Thin).

I disagree with one of the comments left recently which suggested that people don’t want to see a 250-lb woman in a magazine because it wouldn’t sell. It’s really a matter of what comes first, the chicken or the egg? Who dictates what sells? The buyer who will stop buying if they are not given what they want (I am talking strictly media consumption here)? Or the people who set the trends in fashion magazines and dictate what’s “hot” and what’s not?

I personally believe that we are a product of our culture, and we will buy and consume what is put in front of us. Take Skinny Jeans for instance. When they first came out, I was like “What in the world?! I wore those when I was like 8 years old! No thanks.” I now own 5 pairs. Why? Because I eventually got bit by the Skinny Jean bug and I feel like my wardrobe wouldn’t be complete without them. My point is that, generally speaking, we buy what “they” tell us to buy. We may resist and criticize a change at first, but eventually, we get on board. And to suggest that “people wouldn’t want to see that” is not necessarily true.

This is not to say that we don’t have minds of our own, but there is a reason psychologists hold jobs at advertisement agencies, there is something very powerful about the power of suggestion. Trends come and go and whose to say that a trend in this area can’t change?

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42-17182292

I stopped reading fashion and tabloid magazines a long time ago. Mostly because I found that they made me feel worse about myself rather than better. I have spoken to many women whose experience is similar to mine. In fact, many studies have shown that women’s self-esteem goes down after reading fashion magazines. But what about men?

A recent article suggested that men suffer from body image issues after reading magazines just like women do. The study took a group of undergraduate males and had them look at magazines that featured highly sexualized women (i.e. Maxim). Interestingly enough, these men reported feeling more self-conscious after reading the magazines than before they picked them up. Why would this be?

“This was surprising because if you look at the cover of these magazines, they are mainly images of women,” Aubrey said. “We wondered why magazines that were dominated by sexual images of women were having an effect on men’s feelings about their own bodies.”

She reported that the main reason men feel self-conscious after reading a magazine filled with images of sexualized women is that they feel they have to live up to the same level of attractiveness in order to be worthy of the women they see in the magazines.

“Men make the inference that in order to be sexual and romantic with women of similar caliber that they see in Maxim magazine, they also need to be attractive,” said lead researcher Jennifer Aubrey of the Department of Communications at the University of Missouri, Columbia.”

This was very interesting to me because I have never really thought that men had it as bad as we women do when it comes to body image. And maybe on some level that’s true, but I think it’s probably more accurate to infer that we have our own sets of issues when it comes to being self-conscious about our looks; and often times, we don’t hear much from the male side of things.

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Last night, I saw a powerful one-woman show in New York City which dealt with how a young girl coped with losing her mother to cancer, eating disorders, drug addiction and healing from it all. Mia Perovetz, the writer and lead in the show, gives an honest and vulnerable performance that leaves you completely breathless yet hopeful.

If you happen to be in the City tonight or tomorrow afternoon you should absolutely check it out. Follow the link below for ticket info.

Check out her website and her blog.

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