June 26, 2011

Happy Graduation, Honey–Europe or Lipo?

“Kid, you’ll move mountains!
So…be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordecai Ale Van Allen O’Shea,

You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!” – Dr. Seuss

Graduation gifts used to include things like jewelry, a hi-tech gadget, a trip abroad, or maybe even a new car if that’s in the budget.  These days, the question is, new breasts or a nose job, and which one is more appropriate as a graduation gift. When I was growing up, I was relentlessly teased, called every anti-Semitic name imaginable and even dreamed of having my nose reshaped into something less Jewish and more American. At the time, “Ethnic Rhinoplasty” wasn’t in vogue, and my delusional dream quickly lost its luster. A lot has changed over the years—these days it’s common to surgically refine or remove one’s ethnicity with plastic surgery. In some cultures, it’s even considered a rite of passage. The desire for teens to alter their looks isn’t new, though: In 2005, the NY Times wrote about the surge in Botox treatments among young adults. At that time, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS),

People from ages 19 to 34 had 427,368 botox procedures; 100,793 laser resurfacing treatments; 128,779 injections of hyaluronic acid (Restylane or Hylaform); 29,160 eyelid surgeries; and 1,094 face-lifts.

Though recent studies show a drop in procedures, there is a still a desire to be wrinkle-free in an effort to defy the inevitability of aging. In fact, a new survey by ASAPS shows “more than half of all Americans regardless of income approve of plastic surgery.” As disturbing as it is, this trend of parents giving their grads the gift of surgical “enhancement,” is really part and parcel to this growing shift toward homogenization.

Certainly, for some teens, plastic surgery can be positively life-changing. For example: a child who’s subject to excessive teasing because of an severely misshapen ears may positively benefit from otoplasty; a burn victim can return to relative normalcy with appropriate plastic surgery; a breast reduction can allow a young girl to exercise without neck and back pain. On the other hand, what lies beyond what’s necessary for some is the skewed perceptions of beauty and perceived normalcy inadvertently thrust upon teens through social and mainstream media.  The innate dissatisfaction with how we look contributes to how we meet the world. To really illustrate this, we can look at the recent uproar that came about when a mother defended her decision to give her 8-year-old daughter Botox injections. Makes you wonder: What 8-year-old has wrinkles? Better yet, what 8-year-old is even aware of wrinkles?

Now, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS):

Statistics gathered over the last several years indicate a decrease in the overall number of cosmetic (aesthetic) surgeries of teenagers (those 18 and younger) having cosmetic surgery, with nonsurgical procedures including laser hair removal and chemical peels being the most popular in 2010.

These statistics are both good and bad. I mean, the fact that less invasive surgeries are on the decline is certainly positive, but I am concerned about the remaining high numbers of girls seeking these procedures.  We know teens are up against extraordinary pressure to look and be a certain way–some of it is normal adolescence–but when parents start giving their kids gift certificates for a new nose or new breasts, the lesson becomes less about self-esteem and more about trying to attain the pop-culture paradigm of perfection.

If we start by parenting our children with this idea that they aren’t enough, we end up sowing the seeds of self-hatred and dissatisfaction. Instead of laying a foundation of confidence and positive self-esteem, we end up paving a rocky road to negative behaviors, which inevitably contribute to disordered eating and eating disorders alike. This is a wonderful opportunity to look at what messages we are trying to give our kids. Growing up is tough; let’s not contribute to the social tyranny by fanning the fires of social awkwardness.

Bottom line? There are far more appropriate gifts for your teen than going under anesthesia and accumulating scars, no matter how small they are.

Originally posted at Visions Teen and revised for Feminist Fatale.

Image courtesy of Sarit Photography


May 24, 2011

J. Crew’s Continued Campaign of Inclusiveness

Filed under: Advertising,Body Image,Gender,Media — Tags: , , — Rachel @ 10:26 pm
Image taken from JCrew.com – featured in the June 2011 catalog.  

Lately J. Crew has featured content on their website and in their catalog that steps outside the “norm” of what is usually found in fashion catalogs, or advertising in general.  In April, an ad on jcrew.com featured creative director Jenna, painting her son’s toenails pink (it’s his favorite color.)  The May catalog featured a designer for the preppy clothing brand, with his boyfriend.  So I wasn’t surprised, but happy to find when I opened the summer catalog today to find images of unconventional “models” featured. J. Crew staffers were featured again, this time in “Jenna’s Picks”.  The employees featured are of varying races, body shapes and sizes, including one employee who is pregnant.

The best part is that there’s no self-congratulatory praise – the inclusion is just there.  They act like it’s normal – because it IS normal.  It can come across as insincere when magazines like Glamour give themselves a huge pat on the back for including one small picture of a plus size model across hundreds of pages.

Even as the conservative news outrage continues about J. Crew’s so-called “agenda” they continue to say nothing, and let the images speak for themselves.  There’s no apologies to people who may have been offended or worry about alienating potential customers.  Their actions show they don’t give a shit what the critics say or think; which makes me proud to call myself a J. Crew customer.


April 28, 2011

Starving at 8

Filed under: Body Image — Tags: , , , , , — Melanie @ 11:20 pm

By Sarit Rogers. Originally posted at Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers. Cross-posted with permission.

I know an 8-year-old who’s been known to choose an outfit specifically because it makes her “look thin.” This same 8-year-old often doesn’t finish meals because she thinks she’s fat. She’s the same 8-year-old that has begun to develop food rituals, often leaving the table with a reorganized plate full of uneaten food. Simply put, she already has an irrational fear of getting fat.

It’s hard being a girl. It’s hard to find a way to look at your unique self without comparing it with images of Barbie or Bratz. It’s hard to accept that  the beauty standard set by Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty isn’t actually real. But children, whose minds are filled with wonderful imagination and fantasy, aren’t going to cognitively recognize images that are potentially harmful. Instead, many will attempt to achieve the pink, thin, fluffiness of a Disney princess, or the skinny sass of a Bratz doll. Often times, even when parents are encouraging a healthy body image, the education on the school yard has a dramatically different lesson plan than the one from home. I’ve overheard conversations on the school yard that have made me pause – it’s clear that body-image issues are in abundance and the pressure to look thin and svelte is invasive and intense.

So what can parents do? Start with eliminating the shame game. This might mean letting your daughter dump that maple syrup on her pancakes or having a cupcake at a birthday party. It’s a treat, not a vehicle for punishment!  Encourage healthy eating, but can you do it with compassion rather than the mallet of criticism?  Eliminate “fat talk”: your kids don’t need to hear it and frankly, it’s not good for you either. Stop trying to control what those around you eat. It’s not your job!  I’ve seen dads controlling the food intake of their wives and daughters to the point of devastating eating disorders (my dad was one!); and I’ve seen moms spewing “fat talk” or signing up for any and every diet fad while their daughters learn to eat in secret or restrict because they’re terrified of the incendiary reaction of their parental food monitors. These behaviors certainly don’t encourage self-love. If anything, they sow the seeds of self-destruction.

If you’re worried that your son or daughter might be developing an eating disorder (boys are not immune to this!), look out for some of these signs (Note, certain behaviors are warning signs, but in combination and over time, they can become quite serious):

Behaviors specific to anorexia

  • Major weight loss (weighs 85% of normal weight for height or less)
  • Skips meals, always has an excuse for not eating (ill, just ate with a friend, stressed-out, not hungry). Refuses to eat in front of others
  • Selects only low fat items with low nutrient levels, such as lettuce, tomatoes, and sprouts. Reads food labels religiously; worried about calories and fat grams in foods. Eats very small portions of foods
  • Becomes revolted by former favorite foods, such as desserts, red meats, potatoes
  • May help with meal shopping and preparation, but doesn’t eat with family
  • Eats in ritualistic ways, such as cutting food into small pieces or pushing food around plate
  • Lies about how much food was eaten
  • Has fears about weight gain and obesity, obsesses about clothing size. Complains about being fat, when in truth it is not so
  • Inspects image in mirror frequently, weighs self frequently
  • Exercises excessively and compulsively
  • May wear baggy clothing or many layers of clothing to hide weight loss and to stay warm
  • May become moody and irritable or have trouble concentrating. Denies that anything is wrong
  • May harm self with cutting or burning
  • Evidence of discarded packaging for diet pills, laxatives, or diuretics (water pills)
  • Stops menstruating
  • Has dry skin and hair, may have a growth of fine hair over body
  • May faint or feel dizzy frequently

Behaviors specific to bulimia

  • Preoccupation or anxiety about weight and shape
  • Disappearance of large quantities of food
  • Excuses self to go to the bathroom immediately after meals
  • Evidence of discarded packaging for laxatives, diuretics, enemas
  • May exercise compulsively
  • May skip meals at times
  • Teeth may develop cavities or enamel erosion
  • Broken blood vessels in the eyes from self-induced vomiting
  • Swollen salivary glands (swelling under the chin)
  • Calluses across the joints of the fingers from self-induced vomiting
  • May be evidence of alcohol or drug abuse, including steroid use
  • Possible self-harm behaviors, including cutting and burning

If you notice even one of these, it’s time to address it. Talk to your daughter or son, talk to your doctor. If necessary, elicit the help of a treatment facility. In other words: Get help. Showing our kids that we care and are willing to stop our own negative behaviors in order to help them is invaluable. It’s a family problem, not an individual one.

Some helpful links:

NEDA
WebMD
Voice in Recovery
Peggy Orenstein

Image © sarit photography.

February 24, 2011

Speaker promotes positive self image at CSUN’s eating disorder awareness event

Filed under: Body Image — Tags: , , , , , , — Melanie @ 3:15 pm

By Samantha Tata. Originally posted at CSUN’s Daily  Sundial. Cross-posted with permission.



Guest speaker Melanie Klein, spoke about eating disorders and how pop culture has influenced men and women. Photo Credit: Mariela Molina / Staff Photographer

CSUN adjunct sociology professor Melanie Klein advocated the understanding of media images and their effect on the self-esteem during a lecture held by CSUN’s Joint Advocates on Disordered Eating (JADE) Wednesday for national eating disorders awareness week.

“By being constantly plugged in and mediated to, our culture has lost the connection between mind and body,” said Klein, who also teaches women’s studies and sociology at Santa Monica College (SMC).

JADE’s theme for this year’s eating disorder awareness week focused on internal and external beauty, said Grace Wiesmann, JADE graduate coordinator.

“We wanted to promote a positive body image that wasn’t only based on what the media shows us,” Wiesmann said.  “We want to enjoy who we are and recognize what we enjoy about ourselves.”

Klein said students need to become aware of how much media they consume, whether it be through television, advertisements, internet or via smart phones, and learn how to deconstruct those images to cultivate and maintain a positive self-image.

Klein, who has personally experienced disordered eating and poor self-image, said reducing media consumption could help individuals feel better about themselves because they remove the temptation to compare themselves to others.

“Body images have fundamentally changed in the past 20 years,” Klein said.

Klein emphasized that the images with which people are inundated daily do not reflect reality although the ideals they represent are expected to be emulated.

Beauty icons from the 1950s and 60s were just that, icons, not images to replicate, she said.  Today, women are told they can and should look like modern beauty icons and are shamed when they cannot fit that mold.

For the past ten years, Klein assigned her students an exercise: they are to stand still, clothed, in front of a mirror for fifteen minutes followed by another fifteen minutes without clothes.  Klein said she receives similar feedback every semester.

“Students tell me that they noticed they started picking apart their entire bodies and identifying flaws,” she said.  “So I ask, how did you come up with the idea that these things were wrong?”

Klein said there is a correlation between the increasingly provocative images distributed through media and the rise in body loathing.  She cited Facebook as a portal through which people are seeing and scrutinizing themselves, in addition to films that emphasize beauty as the fundamental reflection of a person’s worth.

Relationships with the opposite sex have also been affected by this media influence.  Klein said studies show that young men have difficulty achieving and maintaining erections because they are more aroused by altered images of women.

“When (men) get women’s clothes off, they’re not as turned on,” she said.  “Real women have stretch marks, moles and dimples.”

Klein said men and women must shift these perceptions to maintain perspective.

“Instead of complaining that my legs are jiggly, why am I not grateful that I have two legs?  Some people don’t have two legs,” she said.  “But that’s not enough, we’re pissed that the legs that allow us to walk do not look like those on the magazine.”

This creation of an unattainable reality has permeated modern society.  Klein said no demographic has been spared from this criticism, including pregnant women, men and children.

Junior Dinia Sepulveda, 21, said she attended the lecture to educate herself in order to help family members who have eating disorders, one of whom started dieting at 4-years-old.

“It opened my eyes to the (importance) of not staying quiet,” the sociology major said.  “(My cousin) is a teenager now and I want to take the responsibility to say something.”

When a friend or loved one asks the dreaded question, ‘Does this make me look fat?’ rather than assume they are seeking validation, Klein said to consider they may be unaware of what they look like.

An impulse to compare bodies and engage in self-deprecating behavior may alter the way people physically see themselves.

“You do not go from pretty to ugly or from thin to fat in five minutes,” she said.  “There has been no change in your actual body but a shift in your body image.”

Although the mental reflex to compare oneself to others is natural due to the way modern media socializes its audience, Klein said a daily exercise could change that habit.

“Rather than pick out what is wrong with you, find what you like about yourself or what you are grateful for,” she said.  “The way we are treating ourselves now is a waste of time.”

Klein said that taking two minutes to have a positive conversation with oneself could effectively shift negative body images and bridge the gap between mind and body.

“It’s a waste of energy to put ourselves down,” she said.  “We’ve lost the magic and miracle of our bodies.”

February 14, 2011

How Yoga Makes You Pretty-Part Deux

Looking Pretty Versus Feeling Beautiful

Originally posted at Elephant Journal. Read How Yoga Makes You Pretty – Part I: The Wisdom of Bryan Kest and the Beauty Myth

Yoga, a derivative of yuj which means “to bind or yoke”, is a holistic system that addresses the whole person- physically, mentally, emotionally and energetically. Ultimately, the intention of yoga is to unify body and mind. This stands in stark contrast to our Greco-Roman tradition that values the power of the intellect over the inherent wisdom of the body. The result is what is referred to as the mind-body split. Susan Bordo describes this duality in her book, Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body, p. 144:

I will begin with the most general and attenuated axis of continuity, the one that begins with Plato, winds its way to its most lurid expression in Augustine, and finally becomes metaphysically solidified and scientized by Descartes. I am referring, of course, to our dualistic heritage: the view that human existence is bifurcated into two realms of substances: the bodily or material, on the one hand; the mental or spiritual, on the other.

Not only has our total being been split into the mind, or intellect and the body, or material, but they’ve been ranked in a hierarchy. Of these two planes, the mind has been, and continues to be, more highly valued than the body, a realm deemed synonymous with the “unpredictable” and “dangerous” realm of nature and the feminine. In addition to the devalue of the physical body, the intellect has been placed in charge of controlling the body. In essence, enforcing the will of the intellect and trampling over the body’s innate ability to communicate.

How does the body communicate? Through feeling or sensation, of course.

And, let’s face it – as a society, we’re awfully disconnected from feeling in general and what we’re feeling specifically. This is made evident in Peggy Orensetein‘s latest book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, a hilarious and frightening foray into the last decade’s emerging princess culture. She cites countless studies and interviews numerous experts on body image, sexuality, gender development etc. She states:

According to Deborah Tolman, a professor at Hunter College, who studies teenage girl’s desire,”They respond to questions about how their bodies feel-questions about sexuality or arousal-by describing how they think they look. I have to remind them that looking good is not a feeling.

As I pointed out in How Yoga Makes You Pretty- Part I,  according to veteran yoga teacher, Bryan Kest, everyone wants to look pretty, or look good according to a culturally constructed and myopic standard, in order to feel good. But as Orenstein and Tolman detail, pretty is not a feeling. Pretty is an outward aesthetic based on an elusive and ephemeral ideal.

(more…)

February 2, 2011

Guest Speaking Appearance: NEDAwareness 2/23 @ 12:30PM

I’ll be guest speaking as part of JADE’s (Joint Advocates for Disordered Eating) annual participation in NEDAwareness, National Eating Disorder Awareness Week at California State University, Northridge.

Come on out! I’ll be giving one of my favorite talks (description below) ever.

DATE + TIME: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 @ 12:30PM- 1:45PM

LOCATION: California State University, Northridge in the Thousand Oaks Room, USU Bldg (University Student Union)

PROGRAM DESCRIPTION: Mirror, Mirror: Body Image and Pop Culture With sharp wit, humor and keen insight, Melanie Klein explores the ways in which pop culture has affected and distorted our body image, our perception of others as well as our expectations and dreams. Combining research statistics, cultural observations and personal experiences, Melanie encourages us to recognize the beauty that we all possess

PARKING: Park in Student Lot, G4 or the parking structure, G3 Parking permits may be obatined at the information booth off Parthenia and Lindley.

Please arrive on time. Seating is limited. All events during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week on campus are *free* and *open to students and the community*.

January 30, 2011

How Yoga Makes You Pretty – Part I

Originally posted at Elephant Journal.

The Wisdom of Bryan Kest and The Beauty Myth

This post is the first post in an ongoing series, The Wisdom of Bryan Kest. This series seeks to chronicle what I have learned in my yoga practice with Bryan Kest since 1997.

We’ve been told that “pretty” is the magical elixir for everything that ails us. If we’re pretty we’re bound to be happier than people who aren’t pretty. If we’re pretty, we’ll never be lonely; we’ll have more Facebook friend requests; we’ll go on more dates; we’ll find true love (or just get laid more often);  we’ll be popular. If we’re pretty, we’ll be successful; we’ll get a better job; we’ll get rewarded with countless promotions; our paychecks will be bigger.  In short, “pretty,” something Naomi Wolf refers to as a form of cultural currency in the feminist classic The Beauty Myth, will buy us love, power and influence. And, in the end, “pretty” will make us feel good.

And who doesn’t want to feel good?

The media juggernaut that actively shapes our 21st century cultural environment sells us this promise and perpetuates this myth beginning in childhood. The assault continues as we move through adolescence and adulthood, meeting our gaze at every turn through fashion, television, film, music,  and advertising. These images and messages are practically inescapable, even in yoga publications, and the peddled products entice us using sleek, sculpted models and celebrities in computer retouched photos.  Advertising is specifically designed to appeal to our emotions and shape desire thereby constructing cultural values, identities and lifestyles in order to sell a gamut of products and services from beer, luxury cars and designer shoes to yoga mats, DVDs and diet pills. Ultimately, we’re spoon fed streams of unrealistic images in a virtual onslaught that tells women, and increasingly men, that the most valuable thing we can aspire to be is, well, pretty.

And the tantalizing promises of a better, prettier, you are absolutely everywhere. The idea that we can simply “turn off” or “ignore” these messages is narrow in scope and short sighted. Unless you’re living under a rock-wait, make that a hermetically sealed bubble- you are affected in one way or another and so are those around you. Unfortunately, we’re being sold a superficial bill of goods that doesn’t give us the complete picture.

As my teacher of 15 years, Bryan Kest of Santa Monica Power Yoga, says time and time again in his jam-packed yoga classes:

“Everybody wants to be pretty because that’s what they’ve been told will make them feel good even though there’s no proof that people who are prettier are healthier and happier. So why don’t we just cut to the chase and go straight to what makes us feel good?”

Kest circumvents the chatter and speaks truth in simple terms accessible to virtually everyone. He is consistently “prodding and poking” his students by exposing the absolute lunacy of our increasingly and ubiquitous media culture . He challenges students, including myself, to confront the demands of our egos. He challenges us to do the work of doing raising our consciousness.  Ultimately, Kest assists us in untangling our psychic, emotional and physical knots.

When we practice yoga, we feel good even if the journey through a particular practice is emotionally and physically arduous  and confronting, as it usually is.  As Kest, who has been practicing yoga for over three decades, says, ” I don’t like yoga. Who likes yoga? But I appreciate yoga and the way it makes me feel.”

There is no denying the sense of mental and physical lightness, openness and freedom one feels after after quieting the mind, gazing inward and moving through the body in a sensitive, conscious and loving way. Yoga is a moving meditation and, as many studies have revealed time and time again, meditation makes you feel good. Competition, a fundamental national value,  that characterizes most of our encounters in the workplace, within our families, among our peers and ourselves is not a part of mature and healthy yoga practice. Essentially, you’re bound to cultivate inner peace and feel fantastic practicing yoga if you’re able to let go.

The only time you probably won’t feel good is if you carry your baggage into your practice, strengthening and honing  external stressors. As Kest says, in his usual elegant Kest fashion, “If you bring your shit into yoga, you turn your yoga into shit.” As with anything else, how you use a tool makes all the difference. After all, you can use a knife to butter your toast or stab someone.

Yoga is a pathway to cultivate self-love allowing us to shift our sense of validation inward, as opposed to the standard practice of measuring one’s worth based on external definitions.  In fact the cultural validation we are encouraged to seek often fans the flames of further discontent since we can never be thin enough, muscular enough, wealthy enough or pretty enough by mainstream standards. Even if we are a waify size-zero, a bulked up mass of muscles, a millionaire or a picture-perfect model, happiness isn’t a guarantee. There are plenty of depressed, disgruntled, unsatisfied “pretty people”  with low self-esteem and we know that a slim body with a pretty face isn’t necessarily a healthy body, mentally or physically. In fact, in my own work as a body image activist, many of the most “beautiful” women I’ve met have had some of the most dysfunctional and unhealthy relationships with their body. Too often this has been marked by eating disorders, disordered eating and dangerous beauty rituals to maintain the outward facade. In the end, there isn’t a direct correlation between being pretty and being happy and/or healthy. Pretty hasn’t delivered and what has been defined as pretty isn’t even real or sustainable.

Remember, Naomi Wolf called it the beauty myth for a reason.

Barbie mural photograph taken by the author at Fred Segal Salon in Santa Monica, CA.

October 22, 2010

Make Love, Not War, With Your Body

Filed under: Body Image,Gender — Tags: , , , — Melanie @ 9:46 pm

Written by Cakie Belle. Originally posted at Cakie Belle. Cross-posted with permission.

Most people hate conflict. We actively avoid the people we don’t like, whether it be in our workplaces, our homes or our social lives. We make compromises to avoid arguments. We make sacrifices to get along. We dream of peace on Earth. And yet so many of us spend every minute of our lives willingly engaging in a cruel and ruthless battle where ultimately,  there can be no winner. Of course, I’m talking about the war with our bodies.

No matter how well other things (like our jobs and relationships) are going, if we are in constant conflict with ourselves we simply cannot fully lead the magical, wonderful lives we deserve, or experience true, lasting, blissful happiness. Without self love there can be no peace, because when we hate our bodies, we are literally living, breathing, eating and sleeping with the enemy.

I have been embroiled in my own body battle since I was just a little girl and when I look back I can see that my hatred for my physical self has cast a dark shadow over many memories that should have been wonderful, like days at the beach where I couldn’t enjoy myself because I was so self-conscious of my tummy, nights out with my girlfriends when I felt unattractive and jealous, and romantic dinners with my boyfriend ruined by the fact I was racked with guilt for eating a fattening dessert and garlic bread. It’s a miserable way to live.

The truly bizarre thing about the war with one’s body is that it is so completely one-sided. We treat them like the enemy and yet, our bodies do nothing to spite us. They do nothing to hurt us. They do nothing cruel or unkind or unforgivable. Our poor abused bodies simply do their job, keeping us alive and making the best of whatever our genetics and lifestyles have given them. Our bodies work tirelessly to keep us functioning and offer little complaint when we treat them badly. We abuse them, shame them and belittle them, but until the day we die, our bodies simply carry on.

Give your poor body a break! It is time you acknowledged how amazing your beautiful body is and recognised its unique magic. It is time you appreciated it for all its miracles and its time you started treating it with the love and respect it deserves. It is time that you made peace with the one person you will spend every single day of your life with. That’s you.

Draw up a peace treaty. Buy your body a thank you present (like gorgeous lingerie, new perfume or a big cupcake). Treat your body to a bubble bath, a massage or a hike up a mountain. Look in the mirror and tell your body you are sorry. Tell your body it is beautiful. Make a promise to treat it better. Write your body a love letter. Banish the toxic self-talk. Wave a white flag and surrender to the fact that your body needs you and you need it. Pour your whole heart into improving your relationship with yourself. Stoke the flames of fierce self love.

Don’t waste another single moment fighting a battle you cannot win. Let the war be over.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user, neoliminal. CC 2.0.

October 21, 2010

(Self)Love is a Battlefield

Originally posted at Ms. Magazine.My body is a battleground. I have spent most of my life waging a war on it. I have vivid girlhood memories of my worth being measured by my waist size and numbers on a scale. I was taught that I must “suffer to be beautiful.” This irreconcilable relationship with body and self continued into middle school, as I hid my budding curves; into high school, when I combined starvation, purging, and over exercising; and well into adulthood, including during my pregnancy and postpartum experience.

But I am not alone. I am part of a lineage of women who declared war on themselves, from my great-great grandmother who donned the organ-crushing corset, to my great-grandmother who internalized the Victorian feminine ideal of daintiness and measured each bite meticulously; to my grandmother who cinched her waist with girdles and ate diet pills for lunch; and to my mother who embodied the emaciated silhouette of the 1970s and aerobicized her way into the 1980s and early 1990s with her food-and-exercise diary tucked in her purse.

But this is not just my legacy. This is an experience shared by countless girls and women, beginning at earlier and earlier ages and affecting them well into their later years. This legacy of self-hatred and self-objectification–punctuated by disordered eating, continuous exercise and abusive fat talk–inhibits the path to personal liberation which begins with self-love.

As bell hooks states, these practices are “self-hatred in action. Female self-love begins with self-acceptance.” As the number of girls and women engaged in these destructive habits increases exponentially, campaigns such as Operation Beautiful, Fat Talk Free Week (which began on Monday) and the NOW Foundation’s Love Your Body Day (October 20) are more important than ever to combat the onslaught of voices undermining our personal and collective self-esteem.

While it may all sound simplistic, in my own personal experience I have found that self-affirming rituals such as banishing self-criticism and honoring my body through reverence and celebration to be rewarding and transformative. In fact, I have felt the most beautiful and whole when I have silenced the critic in my own head, limited my level of mediation and engaged in loving practices that allow me to cultivate respect for my body as opposed to deepening my disdain and disappointment. The greatest personal shift occurred with the birth of my son and the understanding that my body was the vehicle for creating, carrying and birthing this miraculous new life. Staring at my new son’s beautiful little body, I wondered why I didn’t regard my body in the same way–miraculous and perfect. I asked myself why I heaped self-loathing on a body that should garner respect and gratitude.

In fact, respect is the connective strand that binds the 20 ways to love your body that Carmen Siering offered in her Love Your Body day post. If we can learn to respect our body, perhaps we can learn to love our bodies over time, and eventually turn that self-love into personal liberation.

Photo from Flickr user crimfants under Creative Commons 2.0.

October 17, 2010

Surgical Mommy Make-Over From Head to Toe (Military Discounts Accepted)

Filed under: Body Image — Tags: , , , — Melanie @ 6:49 pm

Photo taken Sunday, October 17, 2010 in the Morongo Valley.

Related posts:

Stretch Marks Don’t Discriminate

The Cervix is The Seat of The Goddess

I’m Pregnant But I Just Feel Fat

Plastic Surgery: A Family Affair

Celebrity Fitness Trainer to New Moms: “You Can Have Your Best Body Ever.”

Kourtney Kardashian Flaunts Her Post-Baby Bikini Body

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