The Internet is inundated with criticism about media’s responsibility for girls and women’s body image these days. With the proposed Self Esteem Act, which demands responsibility of both government and media, and well-meaning, do-gooding, activist, pro-girl and pro-woman websites and non-profit organizations sprouting up like spring flowers all over the web.
I have to say I don’t like the tone of the general conversation. I also have to cop to having participated quite extensively in the things that I now see as a major misperception in the conversation. So, first I’ll say there is a place in the conversation for many perspectives and my former perspective came from a pure place of helping and it was how I genuinely felt at the time. I know it is coming from a pure place in the other pro-female, girl empowerment, positive body image websites as well. Many, many of these women and organizations do great work and help a great many people on their path to a positive body image.
Still, I have an issue with the direction in which the conversation is going. Let me explain my perspective.
It is disempowering to hand over so much power to media, advertising, marketing and corporations. Corporations and Photoshopped advertising do not have the power to decide or influence how I feel about my body. Because I have not handed my power over to them. I do not look at pretty photos of other skinny girls and women and think, “I am ugly because I don’t look like her.” That does not serve me. I’m perfectly happy with what I’ve got to work with. I have a positive body image. Because I choose to.
Definition: Body Image is how you feel about your body.
Thus, it follows that body image is in only YOUR control. You’re the only one who has any power whatsoever to change it or influence it or focus on it or feel good about it or trash it in front of the mirror. These are choices you are making.
I’m reading statements that are ultimately disempowering to women and girls because they set women and girls up for inevitable failure. I’ll keep the statements anonymous because my intention is not to call out any one particular group.
“Marie Claire asks its readers: “what will it take for you to love yourbody?” Uhhhh I don’t want to be a downer, Marie Claire, but it will probably involve magazines like yours getting rid of super-photoshopped models/ads and “GET YR BODY BIKINI READY” and “FREEZE YOUR FAT OFF” headlines, just sayin’. Does this seem disingenuous to anyone else?”
The reason this is disempowering is that it ultimately sets girls and women up for successfully feeling good about themselves only if “magazines like yours get rid of super-photoshopped models/ads and various body-negative headlines.” Which is a fine and dandy dream but — IT IS NEVER EVER GOING TO HAPPEN. This is the United States of America and Marie Claire makes money off these body-negative headlines and images and they have a Constitutional right to do it. Congress is not going to change this. The President is not going to change this. We believe in Freedom of Speech and advertising and media is a form of that First Amendment. They will continue to use negative body talk and edited Photography until it stops making them money, so indefinitely. Screaming into the Universe about the unfairness and wrongness of this may feel good, but it is essentially futile. Let’s say Marie Claire suddenly decides it can make more by going body positive — fine, then there’s still Cosmo, Cosmo Girl, People, tabloids, Glamour and on and on.
Fundamentally, women are responsible for the existence of these magazines and this type of advertising. Men don’t choose to buy these magazines or the products that have been sexualize, but targeted to women and girls. Women do. One has to wonder, if it makes them feel so damn bad about themselves, why they keep buying these rags? But the tragic fact remains that they do and that’s the sole reason that these magazines continue with this strategy. If women stop buying, they will change and not a minute before.
Because the drastic altering of American capitalism that women and girl advocates are demanding and dreaming of is never going to happen, and you’ve just declared that you can’t feel good about your body — and girls in general can’t feel good about their bodies — without this condition being met by entities entirely out of our control, you’ve just handed your power over the feelings about your own body to corporate America. “Here you go, you can control how I feel about me indefinitely and I’ll just keep screaming about how unfair it is,” is the true message. It’s powerless. It’s destructive. Handing over responsibility for one’s feelings or believing you have control over another’s feelings is a false believe and it sets girls and women up for all sorts of relationship disfunction, abuse, coercion, drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders, poor self esteem, negative body image and bad choices. This is one of the core issues I deal with in Love Distortion: Belle, Battered Codependent and Other Love Stories.
“Standards of beauty have always existed. Beauty will continue to exist. It’s not beauty that’s the problem. It’s our commercialized culture’s obsession with peddling a narrow, one-dimensional and unrealistic image beauty that is used as the sole measure of a woman’s worth that torments and teases girls + women into reducing their aspirations + goals to a dress size or numbers on a scale.”
This is another comment that disempowers women and girls because it hands our own personal power, a completely integral power innate to each individual, to “commercialized culture’s obsession with peddling a narrow, one-dimensional and unrealistic image beauty that is used as the sole measure of a woman’s worth that torments and . . . yada yada yada”
Really? In your everyday life are you looking at magazines and advertising and deciding that your worth is about one-dimensional beauty? Does looking at magazines, Internet and television really torment you and change the way you feel about your body and make you decide that you can’t be a lawyer, doctor or scientist? Really? Goodness, perhaps you should tune in to Oprah’s Lifeclass and figure out how to resolve these issues. I find the whole idea that media has this kind of power over our individual feelings about ourselves extremely disempowering and very minimizing to the authentic and powerful tenacity of girls and women.
I also find it extremely removed from my reality and my daughter’s reality. Extremely removed from the reality of every woman I’ve ever met, truly. My daughter doesn’t feel one-dimensional because Hannah Montana and Demi Lovato are pretty and Photoshopped in magazines. Nor does has she decided she’ll just be a shop clerk because she saw too many minimizing Photoshopped photos of pretty, thin girls. These things don’t torment and tease her. They don’t torment and tease me.
Why? Because we aren’t defining ourselves from the outside. We are defining ourselves from the inside. If a person defines themselves from the outside they are screwed, tossed around by every person’s opinion, every fad or trend, every marketing ploy. That is something women and girls, humans in general, need to work on. Self image an inside job. It’s difficult work, fraught with confronting the ego, but no one else can do it for you.
My daughter and I are filtering craptastic media out of our lives so they have little influence, that’s huge. (Girl and women advocates are saturating themselves in the worst of it and it’s skewing their perception of the issue.) My daughter and I are deciding that it feels better to accept a compliment as truth instead of refusing one out of false modesty. We are choosing to accept our bodies and choosing to treat them kindly. We are not handing our individual power to feel great about who we are and what we look like to anyone else, especially not the soulless media.
To do such a thing is well, quite simply, stupid. Don’t you want to keep the power over how you feel about your body and who you are for yourself? As your personal domain? Because, guess what? You have complete and total dominion over your own self esteem and body image and it’s not that complicated, it’s not rocket science. Most of it, almost all of it, is just habit. You either build self esteem-building habits or self esteem-destroying habits. You choose. Because its yours. It doesn’t belong to the media and it never will. You Choose.
To be clear, women and girls have every right and obligation to stand up to advertising that diminishes and sexualizes women and girls, reducing them to objects. It is intentional and it’s not fair and it is wrong. But, I’m a big believer in language. God created the entire Universe with words. They are enormously powerful. There is a world of difference between saying “I don’t like your advertising and I’m not going to buy your product and I’m going to flex my considerable muscles to influence as many people as I can to join me in not buying your product until your advertising improves,” than saying “I can’t feel good, and girls in general can’t feel good, unless you change your advertising.” The first statement is powerful and it will make a difference with enough powerful women’s and girl’s positive energy behind it. The second statement is so disempowering it can only increase poor body image.
Lastly, on a Spiritual note: that which you focus on expands. It’s a Universal Spiritual Law. Maybe its time to reevaluate what you really want to expand in this great Universe of ours.