Over the past several years, the conversation among women and between women and media surrounding body image has risen from semi-regular thought pieces from academics to a dull roar of regular videos, confessions, posts, Facebook update essays, magazine features and more than a few books. I don't know of any woman who hasn't felt that her physical appearance has helped or hindered her in areas of her life that have nothing to do with image, and I don't know a woman who has ever said, "I don't really think about my body, face or hair much."
When I graduated college, I remember wondering how much time I had probably spent over the past 4 years doing school-related work, and how much time I had spent thinking about what I looked like. The mental energy spent on each was probably equal, sadly enough. I asked myself what I could have done with all that time and mental energy spent on worrying about my appearance. I worried daily about whether was cute enough, cool enough, stylish enough and (embarassingly true), if I had a body that guys deemed attractive—for me, it was my size and strength that always made me self conscious, whereas for other women I knew it was other things—acne, breast size, hair texture, or a pretty-enough face.
I was raised by my grandmother, who by her late 60s had developed a very healthy self-image—she told me she had gotten over how attractive (or not) she was in her 40s when she started travelling and was, by the time I knew her, mostly interested in being the healthiest older woman she knew (and she probably was). So I wasn't taught to hate the way I looked at home, and have to assume that it came from outside—from popular culture. Which should be of concern to young women and mothers (and fathers) today, because even if you show the best example at home, your influence just isn't enough; and everyone today sees more—and more extreme—images of perfection than the relatively mellow (in comparison) 1990s when I was a teenager and young adult.
It's for the reasons above that so many women are creating their own statements, mini-movements, video diaries and social media campaigns: They are the tools that we all have to fight back against what we see is wrong with the visual world around us. Here are three interesting projects/messages to inspire you to love yourself—and the women in your life—as you are.
The video above, put together by Buzzfeed, grants the very wish that many women hope for: A professional hair and makeup session, followed by a photoshoot and professionally retouched images. All four women who undergo this process seem...disappointed by the results. "Once someone else has done your makeup and done your hair, and directed the way your body looks, and taken away your imperfections, then there's not much left of who you are," says one makeover recipient.
I can relate. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to do almost that very thing, and was featured in Whole Living magazine. I was so excited about the experience before I did it—and since I had worked as a stylist I was thankfully able to pull together my own outfit—but the actual nuts and bolts of having hair and makeup done, and a photographer and an assistant staring at me, made me horribly nervous, incredibly uncomfortable and self-conscious, and I ended up hating the experience. I will never do it again, and now prefer make-up free shots for social media and headshots. In the end, though the image is perfectly fine and doesn't seem overdone, it never looks like "me" when I see it.
Recently, competitive runner Lauren Fleshman wrote an article over at Runner's World about her own experience with a single image, taken on the Oiselle (a fitness brand) runway. Her picture of a strong, slim woman with what many would consider the "perfect" runner's body went viral post-show. But Lauren wrote that she had mixed feelings about the photo: "On one hand I was really proud. Our designer, Sally Bergesen, had made the bold move of putting muscles on the runway, and each of us runner/models had conquered our insecurities to do it," she writes.
But after the runway event, "...that photo was everywhere the next week, and it made me feel good and guilty at the same time. Because, on the other hand, that photo was fantasy. That photo was me, but it was me at my most excellent. A moment in time. It showed no evidence of all of my imperfections. That picture was what we all want to feel about ourselves, myself included. I spent my teenage years looking at fantasy photos like that and feeling inadequate. And now it was my body in that photo."
She was so uncomfortable, in fact, that she decided to post imperfect shots of herself the same week, proving without a shadow of a doubt, how at the very least, that first runway image is just a small part of the real picture of what she looks like.
And finally, this video, where women talk about how they feel about their own bodies, how media and social media feeds into those feelings, what their personal struggles have been, and how they have overcome some of their issues. It certainly begs the question I first asked myself in college: What could I have done with all the time that I've spent in my life worrying about how I look?
What could you have done?
Related on MNN:
- Watch: What girls really think about body image and the media
- Why Kate Middleton's post-baby body matters