You might have noticed the recent silence here--I've been busy going on long road trips to visit family. We got back from a 2-week trip to Minnesota and Wisconsin and left town a few days later to drive to northern Ohio.
I was invited to give a presentation about body image and visual media to a group of 120 teenage girls. They were on a week-long campout and had to be evacuated yesterday evening to a nearby church building due to tornadoes and flooding. I gave my presentation this morning, after they'd spent the night sleeping on the floor of the church. Here's an overview of what we talked about:
First, I did a really fast tour through 200 years of Western women's fashion, including Regency, Civil War, and Victorian eras, the Flapper girls of the 1920s, Christian Dior's post-WWII "new look", the lean and leggy 1960s, and current-day supermodels. I displayed pictures of both undergarments and outer clothing to show the girls how drastically the ideal female body has morphed from decade to decade. We looked at average heights and weights of the ideal female body early in this century, compared to today.
We also looked at what body types are marketed to females (uber-slim supermodels) and to males (curvy, busty women with small waists) versus the average American woman. I highlighted some issues raised by former Vogue editor Kirstie Clements; over the past two decades, she has seen models' bodies dramatically slim down, to the point that today's models often faint multiple times during photoshoots and spend a lot of time in hospitals due to near-starvation. I discussed how the majority of American females are dissatisfied with their bodies, due in large part to unattainable beauty ideals.
Next, we discussed our exposure to visual media and how extensive digital manipulation and photoediting is. I used the brilliant site Beauty Redefined for this segment of my presentation, particularly their before and after photoshop exposes. This segment was super, super fun--the girls really got into comparing the before and after images. I also showed some still photos from the Dove Evolution commercial (I didn't have video capability so had to do everything on Powerpoint).
After looking at these images, we talked about how to counteract the sea of visual media that we swim in every day. I showed them this photographer's project: "I like my body because it's magic!" She asked 4-9 year old girls what they liked about their bodies. Their answers were fascinating--they all discussed their bodies in terms of what they could do and experience, not in terms of what they looked like.
I suggested that if we can learn to dislike our bodies and to relate to them primarily in terms of what they look like, we can also deliberately unlearn and reject those attitudes. I emphasized that we need to learn to love our bodies for what they can DO, CREATE, and EXPERIENCE, not for what they look like.
I had so much fun giving the presentation. The girls were very lively and were practically jumping out of their seats to make comments or ask questions.
I know how hard it is to truly feel positively about your body. I've taken multiple graduate courses on these very topics, learned the tools to analyze and break apart visual media and advertising, and yet I still have more negativity than I'd like towards my body. So I get it. It's not just as simple as deciding you'll love your body and poof! you're done.
I shared with the girls that I am 35 years old and I still have many moments where I get frustrated with my body. I don't like how fluffy and bulging my stomach is right now, 3 months postpartum. I have to remind myself that that same body grew four new lives, brought four babies into the world, and nursed four babies. And that's really, really amazing. I had Ivy with me, so they were able to coo over her afterwards.
I'd like to hear how you relate to your body, what you've done for yourself or for your children to counteract the damaging media culture we live in. What has helped? What resources do you like? How can we stay sane when we see an average of 600 photoshopped images per day?