Thursday, May 3, 2012
Countering Negative Body Image
I’m sure we’ve all heard that exasperated sigh followed by a phrase such as: “I look awful. I need to lose weight!” It saddens me each time. It’s not the fact that they are saying they need to lose weight that saddens me. And it’s not just this phrase. Weight can be replaced with any other physical attribute and if the adjective isn’t awful it’s something just as negative.
The point is there seems to be a commonly held belief that there is always something to change about one’s appearance. Not just change but improve.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to alter one’s appearance for whatever reason. But the idea that one must improve or constantly work on their appearance for fear of looking or feeling awful is upsetting.
As upsetting as it is, it is something I can understand. I have pretty positive body image but it was something I had to work on. Struggling with body image is probably something most people have experienced.
We’re bombarded with images and messages of what bodies should and should not look like. What makes a body good is quite limited while the list of what makes a body bad is extensive.
Good and bad seem like very simple and unfitting words to describe bodies. But sometimes it seems as though that is the way we’re meant to think about our bodies.
I’m not going to write about how the media tells women they have to be thinner and thinner each day. Yes, that message is given along with many others. A lot of these messages apply to men as well but they’re often left out of the research done on the media and how it influences body image. I find this unfortunate. I think anyone’s body image can be negatively affected. And most media images leave no room for those who do not fit into the male/female, masculine/feminine binary.
I remember when I was maybe sixteen and I was worrying about my breasts being too big and not perky enough. I’d often look at images of naked women in an attempt to find someone who looked like me. I needed the comfort of those images to remind myself that I was normal. I did finally find pictures on an obscure website (http://www.007b.com/breast_gallery.php). It's a website for women to post pictures of their breasts because they too felt like there was something wrong with their breasts.
The pictures helped me and when I read through the comments it seemed to help tons of other women. I found a similar site (http://www.the-clitoris.com/) with women worrying whether their vulvae were abnormal. While it was great to be able to find those sites it was difficult to find them in the first place.
In saying that these sites helped remind me that my body was normal I am not saying that bodies in the media are not normal. But the bodies shown to us are of a very limited variety. And oftentimes they’re unrealistic because of the way they are enhanced.
I can go on and on about the negative ways one’s body image can be affected. But instead I think it may be more helpful to consider the ways in which one can counter those affects.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a bit of an exhibitionist. I love taking pictures of myself and I love having others take pictures of me. It’s something I enjoy because it turns me on but it’s also a way I can express a body positive attitude.
I’ve gotten a few messages from women on Fetlife telling me my pictures have inspired them to take pictures of themselves and love their bodies. By writing this I am not trying to pat myself on the back or boost my ego. But when I get these messages I feel really great. I know how hard it was for me to get to a place where I love my body so if I can help someone else get a little closer to that place then I’m happy.
As a solution to combat negative body image I am not suggesting that everyone should become an exhibitionist. But I do think people should question themselves and others when they hear that exasperated sigh followed by a phrase that describes their bodies as bad in some way.
I also think social media can be a great way to find and create places where all bodies are accepted. There are a ton of blogs, Tumblr and Twitter accounts out there now that attempt to create a space that is accepting of all types of bodies. It makes sense to find alternative forms of media if the mainstream one is only serving a very limited group of people.
However, even then it can be hard to find a place that acknowledges the struggle people other than women face when it comes to body image. Hopefully that is something that will change. I also think there is a close-minded view that only tries to help "curvy girls". This is great but curvy girls are not the only ones who struggle with body image issues.
In countering negative body image I don't think it's helpful to say something like "real _____ have _____". Real men/women/girls/boys/genderqueer folk/trans folk/intersexed folk/etc. have whatever body they have and they're real regardless.