So I've been tossing and turning, trying to fall asleep tonight. My brain cannot shut down and be quiet; I think "processing" through a blog post might help. I've been wanting to post on this topic for a long while now, but it seems that every time I begin, there's simply too much to write about and I give up. Well, we'll see how much rambling I can fit--just don't expect this to be particularly concise or coherent.
In the past five years or so my interest in body image has skyrocketed. Recently it's been constantly on my mind. In high school I read Can't Buy My Love by Jean Kilbourne as an assignment for rhetoric class. She writes about the power of media (specifically advertising) to shape the way women see themselves. It raised my consciousness to realize that beauty ads were meant to make me feel dissatisfied with the way I looked (so that I would buy the marketed product to "fix" my "flaws"), food ads were meant to make me crave unhealthy junk while punishing/berating myself for "indulging" in them and clothing/fashion ads were meant to make me idolize thinness, youth and whiteness. (Sidenote: I'm starting to realize more and more that women are seriously oppressed--this whole "thin" beauty ideal is just the tip of the iceberg. It's awful.)
THEN last year I'm so glad that my roomie Hillary did an internship with NEDA, the National Eating Disorders Association, which provided many opportunities to dialogue about how pervasive body-hatred is among women. (Another sidenote: However widespread body dissatisfaction may be, Hillary & Faith really opened my eyes to see what women WITHOUT it can look like. I noticed right away from living with them that they hadn't internalized all the pressures to be super thin--I never heard negative-self talk from them about their bodies! E.g. "I need to lose five pounds." "I think I'm getting fat." "Ugh, my thighs are HUGE!" Talk about a breath of fresh air.) I read The Religion of Thinness by Michelle Lelwica, which articulated well the way women perpetuate the need to be thin. She compared it to a religion with rules (be self-controlled, disciplined, avoid "bad" foods) and rituals (overexercising, binging, purging, starvation). She was also really into the mindfulness practice of "listening to your body" for hunger/satiety signals and stuff, but I'd leave that by the wayside if I were you.
And THEN this past summer I read this book called Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters by Courtney E. Martin which I really enjoyed...mostly because I share all social identities with the author except for race (young adult, female, middle class, college-educated). She shares a lot of stories from her own life and the stories of friends. What struck me most was that any woman, really, can potentially develop an eating disorder. Like, seriously. We're all just hanging by a thread. As Hillary wisely told me, all women lie somewhere on a spectrum between "I love my body and am impervious to pressures to conform to a socially constructed beauty norm" & compulsive, disordered thoughts and behavior around food.
I think about where personally I fall on that spectrum today, and I would say I'm somewhere in the middle, probably more towards the compulsive/disordered side to be completely honest. I struggle with comparing my body (especially my legs) to other womens'. Sometimes I feel like food is my enemy, trying to get me fat. Sometimes I exercise for an hour at a time to desperately avoid being fat.
Now that I've hit 21 years, my metabolism has started to slow down. The overeating, rich desserts and fatty snacks actually catch up to me instead of magically metabolizing overnight. I feel a loss of control sometimes when I see that I have gained ten pounds since beginning college.
A lot of the time I feel foolish for being a victim to my own vanity. I get down on myself for being vulnerable to societal norms and pressures to conform. I think, "I should be above this! This is all bullsh1t and I know it!" But I think this is something that I'll battle for my whole life. I pray for God's grace and for his help because I'd really like to be thinking about bigger and better/more useful things than my caloric intake and the way I can make my thighs look thinner by wearing the right pair of jeans.
In the meantime, I've found some helpful tools for fighting against the pressure without and within to be really, really thin!
1. Limit my media consumption: TV just reinforces the paradigm that thin is best. Fat people are invisible (not represented) or the butt of jokes. (I could do an entire additional post about the normalization of frighteningly skinny women in TV, movies and magazines!)
2. adiosbarbie.com This website inspires me! The women who post here are smart, savvy and amazingly counter-cultural. Extra plus: They talk about intersections with race!
3. Talk to other women about it: Every woman I know is affected by the pressure to be thin, though we rarely bring it up. Whenever I do mention it and open up about my struggle with it, I find my friends and family opening right back up to me, too. You'd be surprised with the solidarity you can encounter out there, especially from friends who are vulnerable like you but keep trying to FIGHT THE POWER (I mean you, Rachel!)!
4. Lift my eyes up: Spending time in prayer and reading the Bible really help me to gain a bigger perspective on life. Life is not just about what you can see with your eyes or being seen by others. Being thin/attractive may grant status and power in the world, but that's not really what I want, anyway. Though they are tempting (status & power). ;)
Okay, that was a lot. Glad to get it outta my system. Stay strong, my fellow women.