'body image' meant to friends and family when they asked what I

Five Lessons in Loving Your Body
Today is Love Your Body Day (#LYBD), inspiring all of us to take stock of our personal
relationships with our bodies–an area where we all have room for improvement. For 15 years,
the NOW (National Organization for Women) Foundation has encouraged us to challenge
society’s messages that our worth as women is measured by physical appearance. Every October,
the blogosphere lights up with LYBD posts, full of body-positive wisdom and testimonial.
Today, you might tweet your support, or indulge in a massage, or simply be kinder to yourself.
But while Love Your Body Day comes once a year, loving your body isn’t a one-off event.
So how do we make lasting change? Surrounded by constant messages that our bodies are the
problem, it’s easy to fall into the trap. We know, deep down, that the only way to improve your
body image is to change the way you think, but let’s face it: it’s much harder to put together an
action plan to address negative thinking than it is to go on a diet or get a new wardrobe. That’s
why this Love Your Body Day, I want to present several straightforward, actionable ways to start
making self-love a concrete reality in our lives.
Birds of a feather… Psychological studies show us that the more we hang out with people of
the same mind, the more extreme we become in our views. While we often see it discussed in
terms of politics, this “group polarization” occurs every day in our relationships with other
women. It seems like common sense; we all feel worse about ourselves after lunch with dieting
girlfriends, right? But on a larger scale, frequent interactions of this kind produce a greater, more
lasting body dissatisfaction. Instead, you can use the polarization effect to your advantage.
Choose to spend more time with those who share your views on body acceptance and
health at all sizes. Consider making a pact with your friends to avoid conversations
centering around negative self-talk, diet, weight, or appearance.
If the shoe doesn’t fit… For years after I had supposedly “recovered” from my eating disorder, I
kept clothing from my worst relapse in the back of the closet. Though I knew logically that I
could never fit into those sizes again without sacrificing my health, I was leaving room (both
literally and mentally) for the possibility that I might, by holding onto the physical items. While
my case is extreme, I’ve found that many women do keep their “thin clothes” tucked away in a
similar manner.
Giving away or donating the clothes that don’t fit can clear out mental (as well as
physical) clutter, freeing you to focus on accepting yourself in the present, rather than
pining for the past. Buy clothes that fit you now, not yesterday or next month, no matter
what the number on the label.
Words, words, words… Studies show that the words we use affect how we perceive things. For
example, colors with distinctive names actually appear more different to our minds than those
with similar names. Popular culture is full of language that shapes our thinking, especially by
applying traditional moral adjectives to things like diet and body, which are not in and of
themselves moral issues.
Avoid using words like “good” and “bad” to categorize foods. Removing the moral
implications strips away the power. A piece of chocolate is not a moral dilemma, it’s just
a piece of chocolate. There may be pros and cons to eating that chocolate, but the item of
food itself is just that–an item of food. Eating it doesn’t make you a bad person, and
passing it by won’t earn you your wings.
You are what you read… We are used to restricting what goes into our mouths, but we often
completely neglect to control what goes into our minds. We’ve known for a long time that
activities like looking at fashion magazines lowers self esteem. A 1992 Stanford study illustrated
that women’s magazines–even with real informative content on health or sexuality–make most
women feel worse about themselves. Years ago, during my internship with a famous female
advice columnist, I noticed that reading more fashion mags and gossip blogs was starting to
affect my own priorities. I couldn’t maintain the job without keeping up with the latest trends
and juicy scoops, and that fact played a large role in my decision not to take a more permanent
job with her when my internship was up.
Take stock of the TV shows you watch, the blogs you read, and the magazines to which
you subscribe. Is the content (or the advertising that inherent to it) body-positive?
Consider cancelling those magazine subscriptions, and watch your favorite shows ondemand or record them via DVR to fast-forward the commercials.
Take a timeout… Ever think there just aren’t enough hours in the day for everything you want
to fit into it? Considering that a market research study by TimeInc claims that the average
woman spends 50 minutes a day on her beauty routine, chances are that you do have the time–
you’re just spending it standing in front of the mirror, rifling through your closet, or under the
blow dryer.
Take 15 minutes off of your morning beauty routine to do something productive for
yourself: cook yourself a more satisfying breakfast, read Adios Barbie, write a letter to a
friend, go for a longer walk with your dog. At the end of the day, your clothes and
makeup are coming off anyway.
In the end, falling in love is deeply personal, and learning to loving your body is no exception.
Just as in a romantic relationship, it can take a little while to figure out what works. But it’s also
worth remembering that loving your body is not only an individual journey. In a world where
self-love is a battlefield, it is also a revolutionary stand. As Abra Fortune Chernik wrote in the
Body Politic, “Gaining weight and pulling my head out of the toilet was the most political act I
ever committed.” While the old cliche that “you need to do it for you,” holds true, it is
sometimes a comfort to know: Every step you take toward loving your own body is a giant leap
forward for all womankind.
In the Name of Girls: The AMA Calls for
Magazine Ads to End Photoshopping Bodies
When we first launched the Adios Barbie website 12 years ago, I had to explain what the term
‘body image’ meant to friends and family when they asked what I was up to. I was leading a lot
of media literacy workshops at the time where I often had to prove to skeptical teachers and
students that the media affects our perceptions and self-esteem. Many didn’t believe they were
impacted. But eyes and minds opened when they saw examples of body after body in magazine
ads that had been digitally altered. “It’s impossible to look like that!” they’d finally exclaim. And
I’d smirk, in a self-congratulatory way, thinking that my work was done.
In 2001, two media literate students produced this image to raise awareness on the media and
body image.
Today, a lot of awareness has been raised around the digital and plastic manipulation of models
and actresses in magazines. The likes of Kim Kardashian no longer hide the work they’ve had
done and instead flaunt their new bodies on anything they can plaster their image across.
Regardless, thousands of girls and women continue to hate what they look like and strive for the
impossible–to look like women that don’t actually exist.
The primary message that most ads send to girls is that above all else their most valuable quality
is their body and appearance. The most prominent image girls see of women and teens in the
media is one that is hyper-sexualized and centers on an unrealistic ideal of beauty and size. As a
result, studies show that mass media consumption is linked to obesity, eating disorders, and poor
body image. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 42 percent of girls in first
through third grade want to be thinner, 81 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat, and 51
percent of 9 and 10-year-old girls feel better about themselves if they are on a diet.
The good news is that the American Medical Association (AMA) announced they’ve adopted a
policy against what I’d call false advertising.
The AMA adopted a new policy to encourage advertising associations to work with public and
private sector organizations concerned with child and adolescent health to develop guidelines for
advertisements, especially those appearing in teen-oriented publications, that would discourage
the altering of photographs in a manner that could promote unrealistic expectations of
appropriate body image.
To drive the point home, Dr. McAneny of the AMA states, “We must stop exposing
impressionable children and teenagers to advertisements portraying models with body types only
attainable with the help of photo editing software.”
This institutional stand is definitely a cause for celebration, but don’t put on your party hat just
yet. While the first step is always the most important, I hope AMA doesn’t end at only
“encourag[ing] advertising associations” to stop their practices. Because it’s not just the
advertisements in magazines that are the problem. It’s ads everywhere. In fact it’s other media
like billboards, commercials, music videos, movies–even cartoons. I applaud the AMA for taking
this first step. It’s powerful and important and will hopefully lead to great strides towards longterm change in how women and girls are portrayed everywhere.
A Body Positive Approach
Body Positive explores taking up occupancy inside your own skin, rather
than living above the chin until you're thin. It is a set of ideas that may help
you find greater well-being in the body you have. One of these ideas is to define
"healthy weight" not from a generic height/weight chart or even arbitrary Body Mass Index cut-offs,
but rather as the weight your body is when you are living a reasonable life. It is the weight at which
your unique body seems to "settle" when you are not obsessing about food and exercise. It is the
weight your body may try to "defend" if you diet, or (conversely) if you eat more than your body is
hungry for. For most women, this weight is higher than they want it to be, since our culture deems the
leanest bodies as the most desirable. It seems probable that people come in a range of fatness, just like
they come in a range of heights. We don't think it's bad for someone to be tall or short, but lots of
people feel bad to be heavier than average (or even average!) these days.
In practice, the focus of Body Positive is not on weight at all, but rather the decisions you make dayto-day about how to parent yourself and meet your needs.
The Context
This viewpoint is the outcome of my experience as both a fitness instructor and a psychologist. For
many years, I taught a class called "We Dance - Exclusively for Women over 200 Pounds," which was
then featured in the book, Great Shape, co-written with Pat Lyons. At the same time, I ran an inpatient
program for women with eating disorders. I was working with the healthiest fat women in my dance
classes and the sickest thin women in the hospital! It became very clear to me that health was not
automatically linked to thinness, that I couldn't really tell by looking at someone's body what they
were doing with food (or whether they were healthy), and that I couldn't ask a fat woman to embrace a
diet mentality if that's what I thought was partly responsible for ruining the lives of my eating
disordered patients.
Moreover, the evidence that dieting didn't work was mounting, decade after decade. We were not able
to show that dieters could maintain weight loss more than a couple years. We were not able to show
that fat people and thin people ate differently. Instead, we began to see studies showing that different
bodies use fuel differently, and that genes play a substantial role in that process.
The Dilemma
I became interested in the dilemma faced by large women about whether to even try to lose weight,
when their own experience and much of the research was showing that weight loss didn't last. I
wanted to know how the experience of "failing" repeatedly was affecting their self-esteem and sense
of control, and I also wanted to know how the large women who maintained their self-esteem did it,
despite the cultural hostility toward fatness. It seems like pretty valuable information, both for
members of stigmatized groups in general, as well as for women across the weight spectrum who live
in fear of their weight ruining their lives. My research study shed light on some of these issues.
After working for years with people at every point on the weight spectrum, it became obvious to me
that we can't choose some arbitrary number on the scale and turn our lives upside down to achieve it.
This is what we call an eating disorder in a thin or average-weight person. We can't then turn around
and prescribe it to a fat person.
There is probably some range that is your genetic heritage, a range where your body "settles." You
could be "underweight" on the height and weight charts and be above that range for you. You could be
"overweight" on charts but below that range for you. How do you find it if you can't trust the charts? It
is the weight your body settles and defends when you are not compulsive about dieting, exercising,
and eating. You can't get away from the truth about how you are living your day-to-day life. You can't
live in an unhealthy way and achieve a "healthy" weight.
Whether you are a thin, average-weight, or fat person, if you are struggling with food and weight, the
recovery process looks much the same. You have to learn to let the focus on weight recede, and
instead cultivate weight neutrality. You have to work with your body, make it a partner - and there is
joy in this. You have to learn to be a good parent to youself, to care about what you need and desire and there is joy in this. You have to strengthen your "emotional immune system" to withstand the
culture's nasty messages about femaleness and fatness and failure - and work to change the culture and there is joy even in this.
May you find joy,
Debby Burgard, Ph.D.
Focus on Fitness, Not Fatness
Critics and experts challenge the goal of thinness as unrealistic and
unnecessary; they say fitness is better for health in the long run.
Obesity is a real problem. But the myths we build around it make the problem worse.
The first myth: Fat is bad; thin is good.
The second myth: If you weigh more than "normal," you must lose weight to be healthy.
The third myth: Anyone who is overweight can -- and should -- become thin.
That's the central theme of the new book The Obesity Myth: Why America's Obsession With Weight Is
Hazardous to Your Health. Author Paul Campos, JD, is a University of Colorado law professor. He's not a
medical doctor -- but he can cite medical literature with the best of them. Perhaps more importantly, he
interviewed more than 400 people about their relationship with food, body image, and dieting.
"We are in the grip of a moral panic," Campos tells WebMD. "It is a form of cultural hysteria in which a risk
is tremendously exaggerated. Weight has become a dumping ground for neurotic behavior in the culture
as a whole. It is this tendency to think in eating-disordered ways that grips American culture."
Focus on Fitness
When we think about "getting in shape," the shape we think about is thin. Being in good shape means
improving fitness, but we focus on reducing fatness instead.
Campos points to several major studies often cited as proof that fat kills. A close reading, he says, leads
to a different conclusion.
"The crucial variable was not weight but lifestyle changes -- healthy eating and exercise, which seem to
be very beneficial whether they produce any weight loss or not," he says. "When people do become more
physically active and are cognizant of their nutritional intake, they get real health benefits. Just a little
weight loss -- or even no weight loss -- was as good as a lot of weight loss."
CDC data support this idea. CDC epidemiologist Edward W. Gregg, PhD, led a team that analyzed data
from some 6,400 overweight and obese adults. They found that people who tried to lose weight -- and did
-- live longer than those who don't try to lose weight. That wasn't a surprise.
"What was unexpected was those who tried to lose weight -- but didn't -- those people had a mortality
benefit," Gregg tells WebMD. "And our best speculation as to the reason is there are behaviors that go
along with weight loss attempts that are good for you. These may have positive effects regardless of
whether a person is able to maintain weight loss. They adopt more active lifestyles, they change diets.
Over the long haul they are not successful at losing weight, but these lifestyle changes seem to help."
Steven N. Blair, PED, president and CEO of the Cooper Institute, Dallas, is perhaps America's leading
advocate for a focus on fitness. He contributed a blurb to Campos' book cover.
Focus on Fitness continued...
"I've never said we should just ignore overweight and obesity," Blair tells WebMD. "But I do think the
health hazards of the so-called obesity epidemic are overstated. That diverts attention from a bigger
public health problem: declining levels of activity and fitness."
Stanford University's William L. Haskell, PhD, leads a large study of physical fitness, obesity, and heart
disease. He's an expert in exercise, health, and healthy aging.
"It is very important that despite being overweight, physical activity has a lot of health benefits," Haskell
tells WebMD. "The idea that's out there is if you are not losing weight, you are not getting a benefit from
exercise. People think is the case but it really is not."
More Fit Doesn't Mean More Fat
It may actually be healthy for an overweight person to gain some weight - if the new weight comes as
muscle and not fat. Los Angeles psychologist Keith Valone, PhD, PsyD, helps a number of patients in the
entertainment industry with issues such as exercise, weight loss, and body image.
"The first thing I do is tell patients to stop focusing on weight loss and to focus on changing their body
composition," Valone tells WebMD. "Weight loss really is the wrong goal. The real issue is to reduce
percentage of body fat and, parenthetically for most, to increase percentage of muscle mass. Actual
weight may increase, but body composition must change. And that comes from changing one's diet and
altering one's exercise patterns."
Getting active is only half of the equation. Diet -- as in healthy eating -- is just as important.
"The idea that maybe overweight individuals should focus on activity and not weight loss is probably not a
bad idea for a number of people," Haskell says. "But the problem is, we can always eat a lot more
calories than we can burn."
Changing to a healthy diet means cutting back on high-fat food and on starchy carbs. It means eating a
balanced diet that includes protein, whole grains, vegetables, fruit, fiber, and, yes, some healthy fats.
People who do this, and who get moderate exercise, can lose body fat and gain lean muscle.
"The studies suggest that if a 300-pound person drops 30 pounds, that person will have substantial
reduction in several risk factors," the CDC's Gregg says. "And also that person will probably see an
improvement in physical function and musculoskeletal problems and reduce his or her risk of
osteoarthritis. And there would be a whole effect on health-related quality of life that is independent of
these risk factors."
America Has an Eating Disorder
People with eating disorders have a distorted body image. They think they are fat even though they are
dangerously thin. They are disgusted by fat. They exercise not for health, but to burn away calories. They
weigh themselves not to check on their health, but to see how much weight they have lost. They starve
themselves on crash diets until their brains rebel, forcing them to binge. The guilt makes them even
harder on themselves.
Americans, Campos argues, have a collective eating disorder: We see normal people as fat. We are so
disgusted by fat that the only perfectly acceptable prejudice is prejudice against people who are
overweight or obese. We go on all kinds of crash diets, then feel guilty for binging on fast food. We are
obsessed with weight, to the detriment of our health.
"The emaciated anorexic who looks in the mirror and says, 'I am fat' -- she is just working out the logical
consequence of how we have demonized body fat in this culture," Campos says. "It is astonishing what is
considered fat in this society."
According to Census data, the average American woman is about 5'4" tall and weighs a little more than
150 pounds. Her body-mass index or BMI -- a measure of weight adjusted for height -- is 26.3, which puts
her in the "overweight" category. Yet she's leaner than half the population.
Campos criticizes those who argue that healthy body mass is between 18 and 21.9 BMI -- "for the
average woman 5'4" tall, this is between 108 and 127 pounds," he says. "People flinch if you even say the
word fat. It is seen as a poison. We see the elimination of fat as desirable. That is eating-disordered
thinking. The difference between fashionable thinness and anorexia is whether you have been
hospitalized or not."
People come in all shapes and sizes. Yet we think one size should fit all -- and that size is thin.
"We have turned into a disease the fact that there is a huge variation in normal body mass," Campos
says. "There is a huge number of people who are physically active and have nothing wrong with them in
terms of anything measurable. They are being 'pathologized' because of this ridiculously narrow definition
of what health means."
Blair says Cooper Institute studies show people at much higher BMIs than 25 can be quite fit -- although
he stresses that extremely obese people, with a BMI of 45 or more, are almost never fit.
"We find that around half of obese individuals -- those with BMI of 30 or more -- about half do well enough
on a maximal exercise test to get out of our 'low-fit category,'" Blair says. "Not only is it possible to be fit
and fat, a substantial proportion of fat people are fit. I suspect that 15%-20% of normal-weight people are
unfit. I'd like to shift the focus away from BMI."
BMI is an excellent tool for epidemiologists looking at weight across a population. For example, BMI quite
accurately shows that the heaviest people are at the highest risk of diabetes.
But on an individual basis, it can yield some absurd results. For example, Campos notes, more than half
of the players in the National Football League have a BMI of over 30 -- making them "obese." This
includes more than three-fourths of the league's linebackers and tight ends. And nearly all of the league's
quarterbacks fall into the "overweight" category.
"It is silly for a doctor to just look at someone's BMI number and recommend weight loss," Blair says.
"Suppose you have a person with a BMI of 30 or 31, who doesn't smoke, who eats a diet high in fruit and
vegetables, who has good [cholesterol] levels, and who runs a mile every day. Do you tell that person to
lose weight? Some fanatics would say yes, you've got to get that BMI down. I think that is silly."
Just because it's possible to be heavy and fit doesn't mean that gaining body fat is a good thing. It is not.
"To normalize being fat as healthy and appropriate is not the answer to the problem," Valone says. "To
move away from obsessing with thinness to normalizing fatness is substituting one problem for another."
But telling everyone who's overweight or obese that they're bad unless they get thin isn't helpful.
"If shaming fat people about their bodies made people thin, there would be no fat people in America,"
Campos says. "If dieting made people thin, there would be no fat people in America."
Blair says we should face up to the facts.
"After all, we don't have very effective methods for weight loss," he says. "Let's focus on what people can
do -- which is eat a healthy diet and improve fitness. If everybody took three 10-minute walks a day, ate
better, and consumed no more than moderate amounts of alcohol, they would be healthier whether they
lost weight or not."
Haskell stresses a balanced approach.
"Early on, if an individual has a tough time losing weight, I would suggest they not focus on weight loss
but focus on 30 to 40 minutes of moderately intense activity on most days," he says. "If they focus on that,
they may see some weight or body composition changes. You may not lose a lot of weight, but you may
see a smaller belt size. But you have to eat fewer calories, too."
Take, for example, a man who weighs 220 pounds, consumes 3,000 calories a day, and gets no exercise.
"If that person increased his activity with a good walk every day after work and reduced to 2,500 calories
intake, he will produce a 1,000-calorie-a-day negative balance -- that is two pounds a week," Haskell
calculates. "He won't lose two pounds every week, but if he does it for 10 weeks he will lose 20 pounds.
And that is hard to do by just activity or dieting alone. Doing each moderately can have a sustained
And for heaven's sake, Campos says passionately, let us end what he calls our neurotic obsession with
weight loss.
"If you got this nation to stop obsessing about weight, stop dieting, stop paying attention to BMI or these
ridiculous definitions, people would be healthier, happier, and weigh less," he says. "Stop chasing this
thing you are not going to catch. People say, 'If only I could be the same weight I was when I started
dieting. People notice that when they diet they gain weight. The cure is right in front of our faces. ... The
way to win is to stop fighting."
Body Image
Our Body Weight, Ourselves
Why can't we be happy the way we are, the way we look?
For many women, weight is a complicated, emotionally fraught issue. Many of us feel stuck between our knowledge
of the importance of healthy eating and our desire to accept ourselves.
I spent so many years endlessly dieting and trying to be skinny, skinny, skinny. It was so freeing to finally stop and
accept my body. As I reach middle age, I know I should eat better, but as soon as I put any restrictions on what I can
eat, I feel deprived and instantly crave the very foods that are bad for me.
While there are clear health risks to being overweight or obese, the solution most often proposed—for individuals to
diet and lose weight—oversimplifies complex realities. We live in a world where highly processed, refined foods are
cheap and readily available. Processed foods are far more profitable to the food industry than whole, unprocessed
foods, and ads incessantly push fast food, soft drinks, and other high-calorie, low-quality products. The government
subsidizes the production of grains including corn and wheat, which are used primarily to make corn sweeteners and
refined carbohydrates, but not far healthier foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts, thereby creating
artificially low prices for the foods that are worst for us.
In addition, people’s exercise and activity levels have radically declined. Changing technologies and lifestyles mean
that fewer people engage in sustained physical activities. Television, computers, the lack of public safety in cities,
suburban sprawl, and cuts in physical education programs in school mean that many of our of us spend the vast
majority of our days sitting. This is in stark contrast to only fifty years ago, when most labor was manual and chores of
everyday living demanded that people moved their bodies throughout the day. These factors, along with other
economic realities and food politics, have translated into greater numbers of overweight or obese people. In 1980,
just under half of U.S. adults were overweight; by 2000, this figure had jumped to 64.5 percent. 19
Dieting is a big industry in North America, with estimated annual revenues of $35 to $50 billion. 20 Many of us struggle
endlessly with our weight. Yet this chronic dieting has not slowed the rise in the number of Americans classified as
overweight or obese.21 Dieting is notoriously unsuccessful at producing substantial long-term weight loss: The
majority of people who lose weight regain it within five years. 22 In addition, preoccupation with thinness and dieting
are risk factors for the development of serious eating disorders. 23
Given this dismal reality, what can we do?
Focus on a healthy diet, not dieting. "Dieting" implies deprivation. Instead, we need to adopt lasting ways to
meet the needs of our changing bodies.
Learn to tune in to your body's cues. Paying attention to what we feel can help us learn to eat when we're
hungry and stop when we’re full.
Increase exercise and movement. Add short periods of activity to your day.
Make small changes in your diet, like substituting a whole grain cereal for processed breakfast cereal or tofu
or beans for red meat in a main dish.
Don't let your weight determine your self-esteem. The number on the scale tells you one thing: how much
you weigh. It says nothing about your value as the person or your chances of happiness.
Aim for healthy habits -- choosing healthy foods and exercising regularly -- and let your weight stabilize
where it will.
Learn to accept and even appreciate your body. Body shape is not as changeable as we are led to believe.
Genetics plays a strong role: most of us will never look like supermodels, no matter what we eat or how
much we exercise.
Advocate for changes in our food system. Join your local food co-op. Become involved in communitysupported agriculture. Get your local Y or school to substitute healthy foods for the junk food in the vending
machines. Educate yourself and your community about nutrition and the politics of food.
Body Image
A Conversation about Body Image and Self-Esteem
This is an excerpt from an online conversation that developed into the “Relationships” chapter.
Kali: It is painfully easy for us, as women, to find reasons not to like our bodies. Because of my disability, I’ve had joint
problems since I was twelve. Hating my body is something I have struggled with for as long as I can remember. It fails, it
breaks, it betrays me. Add to that a few periods of sudden weight gain due to hormonal problems, and let’s just say that me
liking my body is a very touch-and-go sort of thing.
The thoughts about my body and relationships aren’t pretty. “That guy must like me in spite of my appearance.” “What is
wrong with him? How can he like this?” “When he finds out how easily and how often I get injured, he’s going to get fed up
with this and leave.” “I wish I could hide my bulges!”
It may seem odd, but I’ve found that what helps me with my body issues is creating my own comfort with my body and
pushing societal expectations aside. Standing naked in front of a mirror and looking at my body as a statue, with graceful
and interesting lines. Finding clothing that actually fit, especially clothing that felt flirty and feminine, or bold and dashing!
The less it mattered to me what other people—especially prospective partners—thought, the more confident I was about
how other people would perceive my body. It seems utterly paradoxical and I’m not sure why it works, but it does.
Jordan: It really is frustrating how much perceptions of our bodies play into our perceptions about worthiness for
relationships. I’ve definitely experienced that “I’m so lucky to be with someone who isn’t repulsed by me” feeling and I’ve
also had that exploited; people have used me secure in the knowledge that I won’t protest because I am afraid of the
consequences. And, for the most part, I like my body! I am just aware that the social constructs which surround it make other
people think that it is less than acceptable.
Danielle: I want to echo what Kali is saying, about how easy it is to assume someone likes you in spite of something. Just
last night, I was talking with my therapist about an ex. I was saying that it was really easy to imagine that the relationship
had fallen apart because I’m trans, because transitioning was so hard on both of us, because of my body issues. My
therapist asked, “Okay, but what if you’d been together because you were trans? Maybe if you weren’t transitioning when
you were, you never would have been together in the first place.”
That had honestly never occurred to me. All women are bombarded with media indicating why our bodies aren’t perfect
enough. But I’d say trans women (and trans men, to a lesser extent) are additionally laden with messages that our bodies
can’t be attractive. That my very existence is “naturally” repugnant and repulsive.
I’d agree with Kali, too, that finding things to like about your body is incredibly important. (And clothing that you actually find
happiness and comfort with.) Likewise, I think doing something physical is really useful. I feel much better about myself
when I’m able to say, “Yeah, I just biked those miles” (or whatever). And exercise endorphins are awesome, even if I don’t
exercise as often as I’d like.
Cody: Kali, I love what you’ve written here about creating bodily comfort for yourself and pushing those ugly societal voices
out of the way. This has been true and incredible for me as well! I have moments of discomfort in my body, wishing I was
smaller or shaped differently, and one of the things that feels best in those moments is to look at my naked body in the
mirror and appreciate what I see: broad shoulders, muscle-y arms, strong thighs. Hips that keep the frame of my body
grounded and competent, rough hands.
I have to love this body because it’s what I’ve got, and it’s healthier to love my body for what it is than to wish it looked
different. If I don’t love my body, appreciate my contours, find myself sexy, how can I expect anyone else to feel this way
about me? Sometimes I just need to remind myself that I’m hot and perfect and it’s an act of bravery and defiance to think
such things, in the face of this misogynist culture that wants me to hate myself. Then loving my body becomes political, and
so much about me and so much not about anyone else or what they think of my body.
For more from this conversation, check out the “Relationships” chapter.
Excerpted from Chapter 3, Body Image, in the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. © 2011, Boston Women's Health
Book Collective.
Body Image
Building a Better Body Image
It may seem impossible to avoid the persistent images and messages that confront us every day—and inevitable that at
least some of the constant chatter will make its way into our heads. But being aware of the way media and advertising distort
girls’ and women’s appearance and cultivate a body-obsessed culture can go a long way in helping to fight their influence.
Progress is also being made politically. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) have introduced the
Healthy Media for Youth Act to promote and fund media literacy and youth empowerment programs and support research on
the role and impact of depictions of girls and women in the media. It also calls for the establishment of a National Task Force
on Girls and Women in the Media.84 In the wake of an alarming report by the American Psychological Association’s Task
Force on the Sexualization of Girls,85 multiple advocacy groups convened the first-ever summit to campaign for change. The
SPARK Summit (spark summit.com), which stands for Sexualization Protest: Action, Resistance, Knowledge, was held in
2010 at Hunter College in New York City. Younger women activists learned about media literacy skills and how to create
their own media and build alternative representations. (See p. 818 for more discussion.)
One of the most underdiscussed issues regarding body image and our eating-disordered culture is the loss of joy and
authenticity that it engenders. When we become obsessed with our weight and appearance, not only are we unwell
physically; we also settle for lives less vivid and fulfilling.
When we are counting calories, overexercising in rote, uninspired ways, and/or spending so much of our mental energy on
self-criticism, we forget what we used to enjoy doing, such as spending time with friends or pursuing our passions. We also
have less time and energy for productive social and political activities that make our communities better places for everyone.
It is totally radical for a woman in today’s society to heal her relationship with her own body. You can be a model for
everyone around you.
Courtney Martin, author of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, offers these suggestions on how to stop settling for self-hate
and reclaim your right to wellness and joy.
Reconnect with your authentic hungers. What do you feel like eating? When are you hungry? When are you full?
All of the wisdom you need lies within, not in the next diet book.
Move in ways that make you happy rather than getting caught up in strict exercise regimens. The more diverse and
joyful your physical activity, the better.
Don’t weigh yourself. Instead ask: How do I feel in my own body right now?
Interrogate your own self-talk and dispute it when it is either self-hating or judgmental of others’ bodies. Invite your
biggest fan into your head to counter the criticism. What would your best friend say about the viciousness you just
unleashed on your belly?
Change conversations about weight to conversations about well-being.
Speak up against fat discrimination.
Ask yourself: When and with whom do I feel happiest and most beautiful? How can I be there, with them, more of
the time? Consciously choose your community.
Put your money where your heart is. Don’t buy products from companies that make you feel inadequate, dirty, or
insecure in their advertising.
Get involved in feminism! It offers an empowering lens by which you can understand what you are going through.
Redefine your notion of what a successful girl or woman looks like. She’s not just a high achiever. She’s also
healthy, resilient, joyful, and full of self-love.
Make intergenerational friendships that help you see the big picture. Suddenly life may seem long and the size of
your thighs might just prove irrelevant.
Shift your priorities from achievement and appearance to fulfillment and joy at every opportunity.
Learn to love the beauty of your own true nature.
Say it out loud. If you tell a trusted friend or family member about your struggle, you help make it real. This creates
Never diet. It is documented that this industry is the gateway to eating disorders.
Get professional help, if needed, as early as possible. It’s critical that you trust your own instincts, not the medical
profession’s definitions of wellness. Only you know what it’s like being inside your own head.
Seeing an individual struggle with body image as part of a larger social and political struggle can be helpful as well.
Organizations and movements, such as NOW’s Love Your Body campaign, provide a full context for understanding the role
of corporations and the media in keeping women dissatisfied with their bodies and offer easily accessible ways to take
action on the issue. Check out the presentation on “Sex, Stereotypes and Beauty” at loveyour body.nowfoundation.org,
where you can also find other guides to help develop a critical eye toward beauty standards. Plus, there are tips on
everything from staging a mock beauty pageant on a college campus to sounding off to offensive advertisers.
Altering our attitudes and behavior is only a first step in chipping away the prison bars of the beauty culture. In the long run,
the only way for any of us to truly break free is to change girls’ and women’s position in society. As Rose Weitz writes in
Rapunzel’s Daughters, “Only when all girls and women are freed from stereotypical expectations about our natures and
abilities will we also be freed from the bonds of the beauty culture.”86
Fostering this affirmative environment for all of us is ultimately a collective project, where we join forces to educate new
generations and transform our present one.
Excerpted from the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. © 2011, Boston Women's Health Book Collective.