December 8th, 2011 — Body Image & Self Esteem, Sexualization of Girls, Victims & Dangers
Since I had the babies and have been on a journey to get back to my optimal weight by improving my lifestyle, learning to love exercise and eating consciously and intuitively I’ve learned a lot about my body. Since getting a thyroid condition and gaining the weight back it has occurred to me that there are two things about weighing 125 pounds – my goal weight – that scare the crap out of me and which I have a bunch of left-over negative feelings about.
1. The way other women treated me when I was thin. In general, when I was thin, I made very few new female friends. Women would call me “intimidating.” They would often be downright mean to me. I had several coworkers and bosses who took such an instant, vicious disliking to me that they made my life a hell whenever I had to interact with them. Fat girls, especially one in particular, would be especially cruel to me saying backhanded things about how “if they looked like me they would be married to millionaires” or “their life would be perfect, so they didn’t know what my problem was, why I was having all these normal problems with men.” (hint: because much of the male population treats women like shit, all the more so if they are thin and pretty.) Often other women, especially my fat friend, would sleep with my boyfriend or have phone sex with my lover and use excuses like, “but I’m fat, you don’t know what it’s like, I feel so bad about my body, I had to prove that I could get him too.” Sadly, it took me far too many years to finally ditch said friend and leave her to her big fat excuses. Since gaining 30 pounds I find that women are 1,000 times nicer to me, they approach me, they ask me to lunch, they don’t refuse my own overtures of friendship. I guess I am less intimidating. They don’t feel it necessary to tell me they “hate me” for being thin. I have far more female friendships than I did when I was thin and I like it. It’s more fun for me. A part of me wonders if I will be sacrificing my approachability if I go back to being thin. I don’t think I’d be okay with that.
2. When I was thin men treated me like their plaything. Not all men. But enough to make me wary of going through it again. During my thin years I was flashed by a drive-by masterbater, a movie-theater masterbater sat next to me, raped by a supposed friend while I was asleep, sexually harassed at every job I ever had from blatant comments like “I want to do you in the snow” from a 40-year-old married dude when I was 16 (he was not fired when reported, but they did move him across the aisle – generous of them huh?) to being fondled by a dirty old man as a waitress for $3 tips (yeah, I took him to court and lost and it was humiliating), catcalled about every time I walked down the street, men tried to pick me up and offer me money for sex when was waiting for buses, fondled and molested at every straight dance club I ever walked into, stalked and kidnapped by a boyfriend I broke up with and knocked around by a boyfriend who could overpower me. I could go on. Most girls have an experience like this to share. But, this many? Whether or not this was directly related to me being thin, I associate this type of male attention with being thin, mainly because when I gained 30 pounds the behavior stopped. Men stopped giving me all their abusive attention. And it was a relief. A huge relief. I’m not anxious to go back to that treatment. I make jokes and tell my body, “Don’t worry dear, the wrinkles around your eyes and your laugh lines will serve the same purpose as the 30 pounds.” But, I don’t think my body believes me, so she hangs onto the extra 30 pounds no matter what I eat or how much exercise I do.
In order to be thin, I have to release my fear of being thin again and risk women hating me and men treating me like their entertainment. Am I ready?
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October 26th, 2011 — Body Image & Self Esteem, Media, Marketing and Advertising
Angelina, "the most beautiful woman in the world" with her daughters
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.
Tracee & Ainsley, the two most beautiful women in our world
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.
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October 18th, 2011 — Body Image & Self Esteem, Media, Marketing and Advertising, Politics & Legislation
This is not real beauty. The photographs you see in magazines, on television, on the Internet and on billboards have been Photoshopped and touched up.
The real people in them don’t look like this at all. All of their flaws have been removed to project an illusion of perfection. They are not perfect.
It’s fake. Don’t be fooled. In real life they have acne and cellulite and pudgy places and bad hair days and real problems just like everyone else.”
— excerpted from Ainsley, Wonder Years, By Tracee Sioux
This is real beauty. You have been blessed. What you see in the mirror is real. Other people will notice you. Beauty is an asset that will provide you with opportunities. Be grateful for it, but realize that it’s not your only asset.
You were also blessed with brains, intelligence, a sense of humor, creativity, a thirst for knowledge, kindness, love, compassion and many other unique gifts. These assets will provide you with more opportunities as you pursue your ambitions and passions.
Confidence is sexy. Brilliance is sexy. Intelligence is sexy. A sense of humor is sexy. Knowing who you are is sexy. Being comfortable in your own skin is sexy.
—excerpted from Ainsley, Wonder Years by Tracee Sioux
Evidently, I am the only girl advocate on the Internet who thinks the Self Esteem Act, which is supposedly going to make its way to Congress is a stupid waste of time. The Self Esteem Act is a “truth in advertising act,” a bill attempting to force advertisers to put a tiny little sentence admitting they use Photoshop on photographs in advertising — which is also somehow going to “save girls’ self esteem.” Google it. Everyone is simply head-over-heals crazy in love with this idea. It’s supposedly going to make such an impact on how girls feel about themselves and prevent eating disorders and solve all these body issues that the media causes with their evil ways of making women look too thin and too pretty (and girls are too stupid to be aware of Photoshop you know).
Personally, I think it’s going to cost a great deal of effort and have no impact at all. Let me explain why.
- The government is not responsible for the self esteem of anyone. Period.
- Media, marketing, advertisers and corporations are not responsible for the self esteem of anyone either. Period.
- You and only you are responsible for your own personal self esteem. Your mother is not responsible. Your husband is not responsible. Your boyfriend is not responsible. Your best friend is not responsible. Body Image is the relationship you have with your body and your image in the mirror. Self esteem is the relationship you have with who you are. It is your responsibility alone. If it brings you pain, then you bring your own pain. If it brings you joy, then you bring your own joy. Deal with it, either way.
- Maybe you’ve noticed, but no one in Congress can agree on a single thing. What in the world makes you think they are all going to huddle up and say, “Oh the girls. Yeah, we won’t force corporations to give women equal pay, but let’s force these same corporations to put a tiny disclaimer on their advertising copping to using Photoshop. Why didn’t we think of that Ladies?”
- There are bigger fish to fry in this country right now. In other words, I personally, and a lot of unemployed Americans might agree with me here, believe there are a lot more important issues that Congress should focus on — unemployment and job creation, tax equality, a world economy on the brink of collapse, hundreds of thousands of mortgages that are underwater or in foreclosure, people drowning in debt. You know, things a tad more significant than whether you’re looking in the mirror and saying, “I hate my thighs,” no matter how many times I’ve advised you to stop doing that.
- As Tina Fey says in her brilliant book, Bossy Pants, no one under 80 doesn’t know that advertising is Photoshopped. In fact, tweens and teenagers are better at using Photoshop than Photoshop artists employed by magazines. Why do people presume that kids are idiots who don’t understand computers? They come out of the womb Internet Savy. It is WE who find this shit shocking and have to wrap our brains around it, not them.
There are actually things that DO work that take a lot less effort than trying to get Congress to pass a lame bill that’s never going to make a dent in anyone’s self esteem.
- MOM — Mothers have, and will always have the biggest influence on their daughters. Don’t believe me — try to get your mother’s voice out of your head. I’m 38 and have been unable to accomplish this. If you’re 60 or 80 you have been unable to accomplish this. So, make good use of it. Tell your daughter she’s beautiful. Tell her she’s got a great body.
- If you’re a mother, make peace with your own body and get a self esteem. Nothing, but nothing is going to replace this. Not a bill. Not a law. Nothing. Grow a Self Esteem.
- Make it against the rules to talk badly about your own body. My kid gets in trouble if she calls her brother a name. Likewise, she gets in trouble if she calls herself a name. We don’t call names here. Period. We don’t “feed” negative body talk with a bunch of B.S. sympathy either, “oh poor baby why do you feel badly about yourself?” If it’s something we can fix, we fix it. If it’s not, we tell her it’s perfect the way it is, and that it’s simply not okay to bash yourself. Period.
- Tina Fey, again in Bossy Pants, recommends we embrace Photoshop because it’s here to stay and it’s better than plastic surgery and we should simply add a credit like a photo credit to the work. Photographed by, Tracee Sioux. Photoshopped by, Tracee Sioux. This is free and doesn’t involve Congress and serves exactly the same purpose as the Self Esteem Act.
- Dove’s viral videos, Campaign for Real Beauty were genius. They were targeted to women. They should target some to girls. Publish them where tweens and teens hang out on the Internet.
- If all the non-profit organizations that are gaga for this Self Esteem Act pooled their resources they could make Public Service Announcements informing girls about Photoshop and educate them about self esteem. Run them during iCarly and Gossip Girl, thus reaching their actual target audience. This would actually be effective instead of wasting their time and energy on something futile.
- Church youth groups, Girl Scouts, Campfire Girls, 4H, and other organizations need to address the issue of healthy body image and will do a better job of it than a tiny sentence on some ads that kids will never read.
- School Boards should make sure healthy body image and media education is in the health class curriculum. Parents and girl advocate groups should make sure School Boards do this. Cause that’s how the system works.
- Parents or grandparents can write their daughters a book or just tell them about beauty and sexiness and Photoshop and what it is and isn’t. Novel concept, I know.
The bottom line is — the media, advertising and marketing by major corporations only have as much power as we are willing to hand over to it. We have the power to filter a great deal of it out for ourselves and our kids. We also have the power to keep the Allmighty Dollar in our pocket — and that, my friends is the biggest weapon there is against the corporate marketing machine. A Self Esteem Bill isn’t going to replace that.
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September 22nd, 2011 — Body Image & Self Esteem, early puberty, Family Life, Hairy Issues (fashion, hair, clothes)
“Half the 4th Grade girls have boobs and wear bras,” Ainsley reported.
“Really? Like, for real?” I asked, stunned because no one had boobs until like the 7th Grade when I was in school. “Like they really need bras?”
“Well, give me five!” I said, holding my hand out.
“Why would I give you five?” she asked
“It’s better not to be the first one to get boobs in the 4th Grade, believe me,” I informed her.
“Well, I don’t want to be the only girl without boobs,” she said.
“You’re not. You said half the class. That means half the class doesn’t have boobs.” I said.
“They are having a Bra Club. You have to have boobs to be in the club,” she reported.
“Well. Go get ready for soccer,” I said.
A few days later, as I was getting ready for bed she came into the bathroom.
“Mom? When can I shave my legs?” she asked.
“When you’re 12,” I said, because this was when I had been allowed to shave my legs and so obviously, this is the right and appropriate answer.
“All the kids make fun of my hairy legs!” she exclaimed.
“Who does?” I asked, wondering if she just uses this line because I tend to fall for it a lot.
“Sarah and the kids at soccer and when I wear shorts at school,” she claimed.
“Ainsley, shaving your legs is a real pain in the butt. Once you start your hair grows back in all stubbly and scratchy and black, it doesn’t grow back in all soft and downy like your hair is now. I’m not kidding, it’s a massive pain in the butt and you have to shave like everyday. That’s why I don’t think you should do it yet,” I explained reasonably.
“I don’t care. I don’t want all the kids making fun of me. Look at this hair! It’s embarrassing!” she yelled, showing me her admittedly hairy legs.
I looked down and rubbed her hairy legs and wondered how the hair would grow back in if we just used Nair rather than shaving them for a few years. Would they grow back in stubbly and black then?
“Go to bed Ainsley. It’s late,” I told her.
“Fine! I’ll just have everyone make fun of me and go to school embarrassed and play soccer in shorts embarrassed! You don’t care!” she yelled and slammed the door to her room.
I sighed and went to her room. I really am a sucker for the teasing and embarrassed thing,I thought as I opened her door and said into the dark, “Maybe we’ll try Nair this weekend and see what happens.”
“What’s Nair?” she asked.
“It’s this cream that dissolves hair. I don’t know how it will grow back in. But, we can try it and see,” I said.
“Okay. Thank you,” she said.
“Good night. I love you,” I said.
I shut the door. Is there really any reason that 10-year-olds were required to have hairy legs if it embarrasses them, I wondered. Is there some rule that says it has to be 12? I wonder when other parents let their kids shave their legs? 4th Grade sure isn’t what it used to be, it got a hell of a lot more complicated.
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September 12th, 2011 — Body Image & Self Esteem, Mentors, Role Models, Peers, Mother-Daughter Emotional Osmosis
“You’re lucky you got my hair, it’s gorgeous,” I say while I am curling her hair before school. The last six months is the first time in her life she has allowed me any access at all to her hair, because she wants more intricate styles than she can do for herself.
“Yeah, well I got Dad’s teeth,” Ainsley said.
“They’re straight and you won’t need braces,” I said.
“You also got my eyes, which are really beautiful,” I continued.
“Quit bragging about yourself,” she chastised.
“Hey, I’m bragging about you. You’ll notice as you get older that girls will criticize themselves to death, “Oh, I hate my teeth, I hate my hair, I hate my . . . whatever. Until they really hate themselves”
“Demi Lovato hates herself,” she interrupts. “She hates her show and she hates herself and she got fat and all the kids at school made fun of her, so she started throwing up and she hates herself now.”
“How do you know all this?” I asked.
“All the kids at school saw it on the Internet,” she explained.
“Well, now you see why it’s important to look in the mirror and see what’s good – like your hair and your eyes – instead of listening to what the other kids say or focusing on what you think might be bad,” I say.
“Yeah,” she concedes. “My hair is beautiful.”
“I think those kids have way to much access to the Internet,” I say.
I stand back to look at my hair masterpiece.
“Why’s it all messy!?!” she demands.
Then we have an argument about her talking to me like I’m “the help” instead of her mother doing her a favor.
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