(Editorial note: after all this talk of modesty and body image I felt this is the right time to revisit Tapati”s entire Body Image Workshop. We all need to be reminded we’re beautiful just as we are.)
My involvement with the issue of body image came out of my encounter with the size acceptance movement in the late 1980s. I was fortunate enough to meet Ruah Bull, a body image educator. I had never heard of such a thing but soon I was exposed to her classes at Cabrillo College in Aptos, California. She had studied with body image guru Marcia Hutchinson and had joined with other large women to form a radical group that occasionally defaced billboards with thin models and went out to eat together in public—always a radical act for a large woman. They encouraged each other to wear sexy clothing and supported each other’s efforts to throw off inhibitions that they’d absorbed in our looksist society.
I soon noticed that fat women weren’t the only ones flocking to these body image classes. It seemed that every woman, from tall to short, fat to thin, temporarily able-bodied or women with disabilities, older women, women of different races and ethnic groups—every one found something wrong with her body. Women who looked perfect to me, women in bodies I would have been happy to trade for, were complaining about their bodies and particular features. Some actively hated their bodies. Some felt better about their body but were struggling with the way people judged it. I began to realize that it was a rare woman in my society that loved her body.
By now this is no longer a secret. Our cosmetics, weight loss and plastic surgery industries are booming. Poor body image has spread to men, as actors and male models are now expected to have six pack abs and rippling muscles. Men are even pressured to remove their body hair—something that used to apply only to women. The body-building look has infiltrated the mainstream.
Poor body image has been exported like much of American culture. As our movies and TV shows reach around the globe, so too does the impossibly narrow standard of beauty. While some progress has been made in combating this plague of self hatred, it is clearly an ongoing struggle.
In my work with The Body Image Task Force in the early 90s, we began to expand our classes and discussions to include body image issues other than weight and the response was enthusiastically overwhelming. Women of color had been waiting for someone to open a conversation about the pressures they faced trying to feel good in a society with a blonde, blue-eyed, straight-haired ideal. Asian women were tired of the “exotic” label and the pressure to “do something” about their eyes. Women with disabilities were also weary of being viewed as “less than” or asexual, and struggle for visibility. Older women found that they, too, became invisible and completely disregarded as beautiful and sexual beings. Naturally thin women were tired of being called anorexic. Transgendered people were struggling to find a way to make the outside match the way they felt inside. Queer people had their own set of body image issues, some similar to others and some unique to queer identities. Everywhere we encountered issues that had not been addressed.
It is past time for those concerned with body image to address all of those issues and more. It is my belief that as long as women suffer low self esteem connected with body image we will limit our lives in many ways. We might stay too long in that abusive relationship—told daily that no one else would want us. We might not have the confidence to put ourselves forward at work and push for advancement. Preoccupied with our perceived flaws we might waste precious time and money trying to re-make our bodies and faces into something we believe is more acceptable. Some will even develop an addiction to plastic surgery or refuse to be seen—ever—without make-up. When we hate our body, we may find ourselves refusing to take good care of it—to the detriment of our physical and psychological health.
Please join us in the next few days on a journey towards a more positive body image.
Tapati McDaniels is a freelance writer who started a forum designed to meet the needs of former Hare Krishna devotees at http://www.gaudiya-repercussions.com.
She is working on a memoir and her personal blog can be found at http://tapati.livejournal.com.
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