I have been thinking and talking about body image for a long time. Regardless of what topic I am asked to speak on, someone will want to talk about body image. In my office, with patients, the talk is full of pain. Shame fills the room. The air gets chilly and the room grows froid.
It is dark and sad. Sometimes when I think about all this…I just want to cry.
How and why does size and shape matter so much to us?
Why is it more important than courage or kindness?
How many women and men will go to the grave making the pursuit of some idealized body the whole meaning of their lives?
Will they regret this on their dying bed?
Will this be the sum of our lives?
These are just some of the thoughts that go through my mind. And, Yes, I actually think like this on a regular basis.
Having had the privilege of listening to Margo Maine, Clinical Psychologist and author on this topic, I want to share some of the insights she has given to me.
First, let’s try to understand some of the reasons why women spend so much time in a body project. It actually makes sense.
- Beauty is a form of currency.
- Being thin and beautiful is a way of being a serious competitor in this world. Girls and women want to compete. They want a chance at a powerful, significant, life.
- It is passed down from mothers to daughters – it is a tradition. Not only the importance of being thin and beautiful, but literally the procedures- the how to- for achieving the goals through dieting and other means. I’ve even heard mothers competing with other mothers about who has the thinnest daughter. So discouraging!
- Girls and women are taught to be nouns “I am a 58 year old woman, married, with children and grandchildren vs “I am courageous, assertive, capable, wise…I have a voice. In the words of Margo Maine, PhD “when will women be a full sentence?”
- Girls and women are sent conflicting messages to be passive on the one hand and then later be assertive… but just don’t upset any one. I think we are all confused.
- How about this message from Skinny Girl “Taste everything, eat nothing.”
Who could blame us for being preoccupied, confused, and disempowered!
The older I get the more important it becomes to me, personally, to not be part of the problem, and to be part of the solution. I have children and grandchildren. I have daughters, and lovely women in relationship with my grown sons. I want to be an effective, empowered model. I want to do and say words that are life giving. Yes, I want to be a powerful model up against the voice of this culture. That is what I want to take to the grave. So I try to be mindful and stay aware. I notice what I have taken in from the culture, try to be a critical thinker, and model an empowered truth.
Here is some of what I try to do:
- Be food positive
- Be body positive
- No body shaming about self or others
- No lookism, do not compete or compare myself or others with other women
- Celebrate size diversity
- Accept my own body changes and celebrate my own collective wisdom
- View women as people rather than objects
- Spend money on things that support women rather than objectify them
- Support politicians who fight for women’s rights
- Be a good gate keeper of my own mind and soul by not watching any form of media that devalues women or is violent toward women
Rita Freedman in her book Body Love (1998) said, “Celebrate and Believe in Massive Womenhood.”
Rita gives us all very important recommendations to help us stay body positive:
- Develop a flexible body image. (Contrary to popular belief, science supports a changing body over time. We should not have the body we had at 18 if we are 58.)
- Identify with realistic role models (I hope I can be that for some.)
- Own up to your age. (Mom, stop competing with your daughters- it hurts them. It is their time to be young…move on. There are many wonderful aspects about getting older. Embrace it!
- Hang on to your sensuality. ( So important)
- Use the wisdom you have acquired over the years. (This culture needs wise women- be one.)
I would like to add one more to this fantastic list.
CULTIVATE PROTECTIVE AND LOVING RELATIONSHIPS! A loving, emotionally safe, relationship is medicine in a women hating world.
And yes, if you are in a relationship that promotes body shame, then your partner has a problem. Seek help and support. You deserve better than that.