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Posts from — April 2008

Body image advice for kids

Saifa said most girls, and some of the boys, in her school worried about their appearance, but she thought inner beauty was more important.

BBC News has a website aimed at news for kids where they chat about the news. They have a series of articles aimed at children who worry about body image. What I really love is the video by their “worry” expert, “Agony Uncle” Aaron Balick. His message aimed at kids is spot on for adults as well. Here’s the text of the video:

So why are we so obsessed by the way we look?

It’s for two major reasons. The first is that we want to make a good first impression.

And the second reason is that we compare ourselves with people in the media and magazines.

These people are airbrushed, work hard with personal trainers and we can’t compare ourselves to them.

Why have we become like this, trying to be thinner and prettier and so on?

Good question. The culture we live in is image based. Many things are sold on image. Big images on billboards get our attention, and it’s the same with TV and movies.

And it’s about what people think is the most important thing getting mixed up. We see images everywhere, and we’re fooled into thinking ‘that’s about me’.

But it’s not just about looks. It’s about wider things like the way you think, having good ideas, being artistic or enjoying sport.

If you get upset, how do you get over it?

This is one of the things that’s easy to say and tough to do.

When you look at magazines, there’s sometimes a voice in your in head that talks to you in a nasty way.

The trick is to become aware of that voice and tell it to stop and replace it with more positive things, for example, what makes you happy and what makes people like you?

Everyone says it’s the inside that counts. Is that unrealistic?

My advice is to focus on what you want to appear good at, and not focus on first impressions.

Find things that make you feel good about yourself and develop them, then image will matter less.

Should we blame celebs?

They are not to blame. A lot of models and celebrities are caught up in themselves. It’s important to remember they might feel as bad about themselves as we do.

What if you get the mickey taken out of you at school? How can you shake it off?

You need to look at all the people around you. Everyone is slightly different.

One of the important things is not to make it so personal.

Look in a mirror, but also look at everyone else – I’m wearing glasses and am bald – lots of people out there are like this.

The second thing is to be a leader not a follower – who made them the fashion god or body god?

If they don’t like it, well that’s their business.

April 30, 2008   2 Comments

Eat A Cheeseburger Blog: Living the Cheeseburger Rules

Congratulations to Tiffabee on the one month birthday of her great blog, Eat A Cheeseburger (www.tiffabee.wordpress.com). She is all about de-constructing the myths behind the thin ideal and challenging our society’s notions of beauty as it relates to our bodies. Not only is she keeping an eye on the media, she has created her “Cheeseburger Rules,” to help us to stay sane in a thin-obsessed world.

Here are The Cheeseburger Rules (check The Complete Set of Cheeseburger Rules for the details):

  1. Eat this AND that
  2. Just Because the Magazine Said So, Doesn’t Make it True
  3. If you see a girl whose size 00 jeans are baggy, tell her to eat a cheeseburger
  4. Coffee and Salad is NOT a Meal
  5. When you go out to eat with your bff, order your own meal
  6. Throw Your Scale Out the Window
  7. Size Ain’t Nothing But a Number

April 28, 2008   8 Comments

Curvy women photographed like thin models

There are many beautiful, sexy plus-size women; however, if we never see ourselves reflected in the mirror of media as sexy, we begin to feel invisible. This is the ongoing dilema for the curvy girl: to be at once a visual spectacle, told she’s “too large” thus “too visible,” yet to simultaneously feel invisible in the domain of beauty and sexuality.

The F-Word.org has a fabulous, in-depth interview with grad student/photographer Kristin “Lou” Herout who replicated high-fashion magazine ads with “real” women as part of a study of the way the image of the ideal woman has changed in modern times–“he women progressively changed from large boned, round-faced, beautiful women to bone-protruding, thin women.

I’ve included an excerpt here regarding the treatment of plus-size women in media and advertising that for many years caused me much distress–the portrayal of larger women as anything BUT sexy:

It is extremely rare for any plus-size woman to be seen as a sexual being unless it is being portrayed as a joke. As stated in my paper, there is a “Wingman Training Manual” that is published by Maxim magazine that tells men how to keep their buddies from hooking up with a big woman when he gets drunk.

In my scholarly paper, I discuss the phenomenon of the plus-size bride; the bridal industry must represent plus-size women in some ads because the plus-size woman accounts for a large chunk of the market, but in an ad, the plus-size woman is treated very differently than her thinner counterpart. She is given a simpler dress, simpler background and loses the sexy mysteriousness that is common in haute-couture models. The plus-size girl wears a huge toothy smile, therefore there are different expectations for a woman of larger stature compared to a thinner model.

I think that campaigns such as the “Dove True Beauty Campaign” are commonly more hurtful than helpful. If this campaign, women are shown as being proud of who they are, great! But these women are average-size women; plus-size women are left out in the cold in this campaign. Also, these women still aren’t given the same attention as thin women: they aren’t shown as really sexy, they’re shown as being confident, despite their curves. They should be presented as being beautiful, sexy and proud, just as thin models are. Otherwise we are still making an exception for average-size women, instead of making them the norm.

April 28, 2008   15 Comments

“My friends don’t like me 20 lbs heavier”

I met a lovely woman, Marguerite, who made the statement in this post’s title: “My friends don’t like me when I’m 20 lbs heavier.” She is petite in frame and size, so, at 20 lbs thinner I think she’d probably disappear. But, she was at Loehman’s (where everyone strips down together to try on clothes), shopping with some college friends, and she commented that she could feel their disdain for her weight. She added, “They don’t like my glasses either (she wears stunning black frames), they think I should wear contacts.”

My questions:

  1. What is it to her friends if she is 20 lbs, 40 lbs, 100 lbs heavier than in college? Isn’t she the same dear friend of their youth?
  2. Why do we as women do this to one another? We are so vicious toward other women as regards appearance.

Hang in there, Marguerite! And keep the glasses–they’re awesome.

April 24, 2008   3 Comments

Do you run a fat-horror film in your mind?

I just read a statistic that says the average young woman (ages 12-25) spends 100 minutes a day thinking about her body image. For example, spending 5 minutes in the morning deciding if her skirt makes her butt look too big, spending 3 minutes deciding to eat breakfast or not, spending 5 minutes deciding between the salad or the cheeseburger (quick shout out to the blog Eat A Cheeseburger!) for lunch. And speaking as someone older than 25, it doesn’t get much better after 25 (just add wrinkles and gray hair to the mix).

100 minutes a day–that’s the length of a feature film. We run our little fat-horror movies throughout the day, every day, wasting precious mental energy.  Can you imagine what we could accomplish if we could spend that 100 minutes a day on something, anything, productive? And not just as individuals, but with the combined brain power of all of those men and women who nickel and dime their mental energy away worrying about whether they should eat the bread on a sandwich?

April 24, 2008   No Comments

Carrie Underwood’s body image issues

I’ve noticed that as Carrie Underwood has gotten to be more and more popular, she has gotten thinner and thinner.  She’s become a bit of a red carpet darling, and I saw one headline referring to her weight loss as her “Hollywood Makeover.”

Thus, I wasn’t surprised to see the following article on iVillage.com: Carrie Underwood’s Struggle With Body Image. The article references the feature article in this month’s InStyle magazine, an in-depth interview with the singer.  The iVillage article offered some excerpts, and I found some additional comments at People.com.  I find her comments to be telling:

The singer also admits that she struggles with body image.”I think about what I look like probably more than I should. But I think everybody is her own worst critic,” she says. “Some days I step out of the shower, put my lotion on, and I’ll be like ‘Ugh, ew, ew.’ ”

She rarely goes out without makeup and keeps a food diary: “I’m OCD like that,” Underwood admits. “I count calories, fat and fiber – which is important in making you feel fuller faster – and protein, especially when I’m working out.”

Why is she so strict with herself? “If I put on five pounds, it’s noticed immediately,” says Underwood.

Still, she says, “I’m content with 90 percent of me. I like my teeth. Sometimes I wonder if my orthodontist realizes how important he was.”

The thought of Carrie Underwood (or anyone, for that matter) counting the nutritional content of every crumb that passes her lips is sad; what’s sadder is that her reasoning is correct–if she puts on even five pounds, the media jumps on it.  She’s content with her teeth–that’s the way we are taught to dissect our bodies and rate and grade the parts.  But even that has a qualification–apparently she wore braces, because she thanks her orthodontist.  Doesn’t it see tragic that the only part of her body that she can feel 100% fantastic about was “granted” her by someone else?

April 24, 2008   3 Comments

Fitness not fatness the real health issue

Here’s a link to a great article, Fitness for All, Not Just Fat People, on The F-Word.org blog about the misconceptions still prevalent in the news media about fitness, fatness, and health, particularly the false assumption that all fat people:

eat all the Krispy Kremes we want, throw out our sneakers and kick back and watch as our waistlines expand.

Every time I speak to a group (or write on this blog, for that matter) about health and body image, I feel like a broken record: “Sedenatry lifestyle and poor diet kill people, not weight. Thus, there are fit, healthy fat people, just as there are unfit, unhealthy thin people.” Yet, there is always someone who wants to dispute this. And no wonder, given the way the news media covers these issues.

Rachel does a great job here of addressing the bias in media coverage of obesity and health in reference to an article on MSNBC.com.  I love this quote that she found by, Samuel Preston, a professor of demography at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, regarding the notion that the overweight children of this generation will have shorter life spans than their parents:

“It’s extremely unlikely that today’s children will have shorter life expectancies than their parents. From everything I see, we continue to make rapid progress at extending life as a result of improvements in medical technology and personal health practices,” such as smoking less. Yes, we are fatter than we used to be but the implications of that have not been nearly as severe as has been popularly assumed.”

April 23, 2008   2 Comments

Radio show: The Overweight Date – Fat or Phat?

Thanks to Mariellen/vesta44 at Big Fat Delicious for her post on the Blog Talk Radio show The Overweight Date – Fat or Phat?

The cultural and racial perceptions of body image and weight, and how such perceptions translate into romantic desirability for single men and women will be the focus of Sucka Free Dating – The Smart Relationship Talk Show (http://blogtalkradio.com/askheartbeat) with host Deborrah Cooper on Wednesday, April 16th, 2008 at 8:00 p.m. Pacific. The live, call-in show will feature two guests active in the body acceptance movement; Dr. Lisa A. Breisch is a Licensed Clinical Psychotherapist who specializes in working with plus-size individuals. Breisch also owns Club Round, which sponsors activities such as speed dating nights for plus-size teens and adults and their admirers. Laurie Toby Edison is an internationally exhibited photographer “Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes” and body image activist, who blogs at Body Impolitic (http://www.laurietobyedison.com).

Dr. Lisa A. Breisch and Laurie Toby Edison were phenomenal in their discussions on issues of weight and beauty. Of course, in the midst of all of this positivity, some guy just had to call in and play the “health” card–‘Men don’t want to date fat women because we’re worried they’re unhealthy and will not be able to bear us unhealthy children.’ [Oh, please, the health of your future babies I’m sure is the foremost consideration in your mind when you offer to buy a girl a drink. She’s got to present you with her cholesterol and BP before you f*%# her.] Once again, you can’t even hint at anything positive about “fat” without someone feeling compelled to point out that our cultural discrimination against fat people is because they’re unhealthy.

I was already a fan of Edison’s work, but I was also very impressed with the message and demeanor of Dr. Breisch. When she said that the motto of her size acceptance group, Club Round, is: Every Body is a Good Body – No Matter the Shape, Size, or Weight. I just wanted to cheer. She made me smile all day.

I love Edison’s book “Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes,” but I had somehow missed one important story relevant to the creation of the project. She told of a respected male colleague who made the comment that he would never visit a nudist colony for fear of seeing ‘a 300-lb woman with an appendectomy scar.’ Even though I’ve been thinking/researching/writing about body image for years, I never made the connection that there is a fear of large naked female bodies (a disdain for, yes, but fear…). Edison determined that if culturally we could move past this fear and see large female nudes as beautiful, then we could embrace the greater beauty of all. This is why I love that book. She has a great blog that is worth checking out as well.

April 22, 2008   No Comments

Size Zero the goal according to a UK survey

I wasn’t surprised that 22% of the young women in this survey wanted to be a size zero (UK size 4); honestly, I’m surprised that this number wasn’t higher.  However, I was surprised that women thought that size zero women were actually larger in size.  So basically, our eyes have become so accustomed to images of size zero women that we think they are more like a size 6 or 8.

More than one in five women (22%) aged 18 to 24 want to be size zero, according to a survey.

A body image poll also found that women struggled to identify a size zero model from a line-up of six differently-sized women, with only 3% getting it right.

Three-quarters (75%) of more than 1,200 women surveyed said the size zero model was a size 8 to 12 [US 4 to 8].

April 22, 2008   No Comments

Dr. Rosenthal’s Gender Communications Class

evolution1.jpg

I had a great time with the evening class this week, and I’m sure that we are going to have an interesting discussion on Tuesday. Here are some links and resources that I thought you might find interesting:

[Read more →]

April 22, 2008   1 Comment

Body Loathing as the New Normal

A friend of The Curvy Life sent me this item from Post Secret. Body loathing has become so normal that to even think that you like your body qualifies as a “secret.” (See the Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters post for more on this.)

Post Secret

“I love my body and think it’s perfect, but I pretend not to because that’s what Normal girls do.”

I love that this picture is from an episode of America’s Next Top Model where the models had to pose as plastic surgery “victims.” The cut lines marked on this idealized body make for an interesting visual commentary. (I spent several weeks addicted to the re-runs of ANTM on MTV, but that’s a story for another time.)

I often use the term “body loathing” to refer to hatred on one’s own body; however, there is a category of body loathing that is directed outward, particularly toward fat bodies, that I refer to as “fat loathing.”

Here is an example from Post Secret of fat loathing:

Fat Loathing

“Every time I am around my friend, I fight the urge to tell her that her kids are fat because she is a bad mom.”

Wow, could you strike a woman any more severely that to attack her children AND her parenting skills? There is an underlying viciousness toward fat people that I never seem to see elsewhere. Why all the hate?

April 21, 2008   6 Comments

To Spanx or Not to Spanx

First: Forgive the vanity of this exercise.

Second: Apologies to the guy I met last week who hates it when people turn nouns into verbs. If he thinks “Google” shouldn’t be used as a verb–as in, “I Googled it”–then he’ll pass out if Spanx becomes a verb.

Am I a sell-out if I wear Spanx? I rarely wear them–I figure, I’m curvy and cinching in my gut and my hips an inch or so isn’t going to make a difference. However, I do have the occasional outfit that I believe looks more refined with the addition of some shapewear underneath.

At the Clinton Kelly event, he really pushed the idea of shapewear, so I decided to conduct an experiment. I wore the same dress (3 part construction–defined bust, defined waist, and a skirt that flows away from the body–à la What Not to Wear) two days in a row, one day with Spanx, one day without. The Spanx clearly takes away some of the width of my hips, but does it really matter? What do you think: Spanx, No Spanx?

Spanx/No Spanx

SpanxNo Spanx

SpanxNo Spanx

April 21, 2008   5 Comments

Clinton Kelly at Macy’s ATL

Clinton Kelly (cohost of TLC’s What Not to Wear) is Macy’s ambassador of Special Sizes–Plus and Petite. Clinton was in Atlanta today at Macy’s Lenox Square to host a fashion show featuring Spring trends as available in Macy’s Plus Size department. I used the opportunity to Twitter. (If you aren’t familiar with Twitter, it’s a type of IM/blog. You can see my Twitter text in the far right sidebar.)

There were several hundred curvy women in the audience, all anxious to see Clinton Kelly and his suggestions for Spring. He hit the stage like a rock star–his presence and energy were impressive. He spoke frankly and honestly about What Not to Wear and about the state of plus size fashion. Here are a few highlights of his presentation. I’ll save my take on the clothes for another post.

Behind the Scenes at What Not to Wear

“Looking good is not easy.”

  1. It takes one hour of filming to produce one minute of the show. He and Stacy usually spend 30 minutes per mannequin just explaining the rules.
  2. The featured contributor spends 2 full days trying on clothes. S/he will try on hundreds of garments to get 7 outfits. Sheer volume creates successful outfits.
  3. Every woman gets a bra fitting. Clinton’s suggestion: if you have maintained your weight, a bra fitting once every 5 years should suffice; however, for every 5 pounds gained or lost, a new bra may be needed.
  4. The secret of the participants’ success? shapewear and tailoring.
  5. Regarding tailoring–no one can expect clothes to fit off the rack. And (painfully for most of us), you may need to go up a size to fit your largest part and have the rest of the garment downsized. (And though I know size is arbitrary and should mean nothing–it does.)

Fashion

  1. Color, texture, pattern, shine–try to combine these in every outfit, which includes accessories and shoes.
  2. Any given season there are numerous trends–there are currently 20 trends in fashion right not. If you want to follow trends, choose one (or a few) and pair them with classics.
  3. Jacket tailoring tip: if you have broad shoulders, have the sleeves of jackets narrowed from the elbows to the wrists to create a sleeker look.
  4. Clinton described plus sizes as “marginalized” and said directly, “If you are on the ends of marginalized sizes, your SOL, if you know what that means.” [Yes, Clinton, we do.]

Philosophy

Clinton shared his own experience as feeling like a gawky teen–tall and skinny. He became interested in clothes because “clothes are the great equalizer.” He encouraged the audience: “quit comparing yourself to other people,” because, “you are perfect in your imperfections.” Lovely sentiment that is good for everyone.

April 20, 2008   2 Comments

Body Image “Media Code of Conduct” in Australia

Victoria, Australia has created a “Voluntary Media Code of Conduct” through its Department of Planning and Community Development Office of Youth.  The Media Code of Conduct was released in July 2007, but I’m only hearing about it now (Aussie state moves to stamp out unrealistic body imagery, TV3 News).

The mission of the Code of Conduct:

The Code is designed to encourage the fashion, media and advertising industries to place greater emphasis on diversity, positive body images and a focus on health rather than body shape.

The Code presents four key recommendations (complete report here):

Altered and Enhanced Images
The use of unachievable and unrealistic digitally manipulated images of people in the media is discouraged. If such alteration has occurred, digitally altered images should be disclosed and accompanied by a ‘tag’ stating that “this image has been digitally altered” to help young people make a balanced appraisal.

Diversity in Shapes
Consideration should be given to the inclusion of a variety of body shapes, to provide fair representation in both editorial and advertising images.

Fair Placement
Consideration should be given to the editorial context in which diet, exercise or cosmetic surgery advertising is placed.

Modeling Health
Glamorisation of severely underweight models or celebrities is potentially dangerous; effort should be made to depict people of healthy weight and size.

Unlike the French proposal (to ban glamorization of  thinness), the code is strictly voluntary and provides no penalties for failure to conform to the rules.

I find these recommendations much more in line with my own philosophy, particularly the goal:”to place greater emphasis on diversity, positive body images and a focus on health rather than body shape.”

I also think that it’s a great idea to “tag” altered images as “digitally altered” (or perhaps “objects may be fatter/wrinkly-er/shorter/older than they appear”).  Even knowing that an image is altered doesn’t change its power to influence; however, the reminder of the plastic nature of the image is something.

Related to this issue, The Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) announced changes to the Advertising to Children Code, so as to ban the “sexualization” of children ages 14 and younger.

April 18, 2008   No Comments

French lawmakers try to legislate body image

In the post about Chloe Marshall (the size-16 British beauty contestant), I touched on the notion that positive articles/images about women who are anything other than stick thin are often accused of “glamorizing obesity.” I exclaimed:

One kind word about loving even a “normal” body and that’s glamorizing? Then what do you call the media treatment of thinness? Idolizing thinness? Deifying thinness? Canonizing thinness? I don’t think we have a word in our vocabulary.

Apparently someone in France heard me.

French lawmakers try to outlaw skinny propaganda

PARIS (AP) — In image-conscious France, it may soon be a crime to glamorize the ultra-thin. A new French bill cracks down on Web sites that advise anorexics on how to starve — and could be used to hit fashion industry heavyweights, too.

The groundbreaking bill, adopted Tuesday by Parliament’s lower house, recommends fines of up to $71,000 and three-year prison sentences for offenders who encourage “extreme thinness.” It goes to the Senate in the coming weeks… (Click here for the rest of the article).

According to the article, the fashion industry is not the only target of this legislation. The law is also aimed at pro-anorexia websites that teach readers how to become anorexic.

While I agree with the intention behind this legislation, I really have problems with this approach:

  1. Who decides what “too thin” is? How is this decision made? It is just as unfair to penalize the naturally thin, or even “underweight,” model as it is to penalize the naturally larger, or even “overweight,” model.
  2. If depictions of underweight bodies are outlawed, how quickly will depictions of overweight bodies be outlawed?
  3. No way is this really going to happen anyway. Even if French government “outlaws” ultra-skinny in France, how do they control the images and ideas generated beyond their national boundaries?

The Curvy Life advocates size inclusion and body acceptance, no matter the size. Further, I believe that health and fitness should be the goal, not the attainment of any particular weight or size. Sedentary lifestyle and poor diet harm our bodies. It is a myth that somehow an observer can look at a person’s outward appearance and judge that person’s health, or lack thereof (this would render most medical testing unnecessary).

Banning one type of image or another is not the answer. Allowing for a diversity of images and a broad definition of beauty is a better solution.

And, while I shouldn’t be amazed by this consequence of the discussion, I am: in places where I have read general comments about this article, the responses have been full of fat loathing (See the comments at ajc.com for an example). So, somehow, fat is always the villain, no matter how body image is discussed.

Finally, I’ve got to include a link to Matthew Krell’s article Fat-Bottomed Girls, Make the World Go Round at StreetProphets.com. He provides some nice commentary on French attitudes toward free speech, but you’ve got to appreciate his shout out to the curvy girls. (As for the video in the post, I can’t decide if I’m amused or just disturbed.)

April 17, 2008   No Comments