As an adolescent girl, writer and TV host Janet Mock desperately wanted to look like the supermodels and singers she saw on television. In her first autobiography, Mock describes the effects that these idealized images had on her young self like this: “Holding myself to that impossible beauty standard led me to pick myself apart critically. The incessant comparing and measuring of my body and physical attributes against this ideal occupied my mind, and the chasm between my physical reality and the illusive ideal lead to personal discontent.”* Mock is far from unique; every person who lives in an appearance-obsessed culture like our own internalizes negative beliefs and attitudes towards their bodies.* None of us are immune to feelings of inadequacy in a place where athleticism is exalted, thinness is demanded, and eurocentric standards of beauty are reinforced across all forms of media. Overwhelmed by these feelings myself, I decided to reach out to Rosie Molinary ‘96, author of two books on body image and self-acceptance, to find out how Davidson can strive to become a more body-positive environment and how I and other college women can come to be at peace with our own bodies.
Her Campus: Could you give us background on who you are, what you’re working on right now, and how you spend your time?
Rosie Molinary: I am the author of a couple books. One’s called Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image, and Growing Up Latina and the second is called Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance. In terms of my daily life, I do a lot of workshops and retreats and keynoting around issues of self-acceptance, body image, media literacy, being Latina in America, and intentional living. I do some of that locally and some of that around the country. I am the founder and board chair of Circle de Luz, which is a nonprofit that works with Latina girls in Charlotte and we work with them from 7th grade until high school graduation. And then I still do some freelance and contracted writing. I typically teach in the Women and Gender Studies Department at UNC Charlotte but I’m taking this year off.
HC: What inspired you to found Circle de Luz?
RM: After I wrote my second book, I went around on speaking tours. Let’s say I was going to Brown, for example; I’d be speaking at 7 at night, but I’d get there at like 10 in the morning. So I would have all this time before my speaking engagements in the evenings. So I started asking everywhere I spoke if there was a middle school or a high school that I could visit during the day. And almost 75% of the time the school would ask, “Could we bring a group of Latina girls in to speak with you? We don’t have a lot of Latina role models.” And as the girls would tell their stories, they would talk about wanting to become a preschool teacher, a veterinarian, or a pediatrician, and every single thing they wanted to do required a high school diploma or a college degree. And what I knew at the time was that (this is no longer the statistic, but at the time,) 44% of Latina girls did not graduate high school and only 10% of Latinos in general would get a degree. So I would leave and I would say, “Ok, so there were 20 girls in there, and 10% of them get their degree. So which two get their dream?” And that was really unsettling for me. And that pretty quickly led to the creation of Circle de Luz.
Rosie Molinary ’96
HC: Can you talk about what body positivity at an institution like Davidson might look like?
RM: There are two components I consider in terms of thinking about being a body positive institution. One is: the folks who are charged with delivering the mission of the institution really being intentional about thinking through whether or not language is positive and accommodating and whether or not spaces are positive and accommodating.
Often times body positivity is thought about really traditionally in terms of weight issues and sexuality issues, but we also need to think about it in terms of whether or not spaces are accessible to bodies that have different abilities…. Sometimes we get caught up in doing things how we’ve always done them or in expediting things and I think a lot of times what these conversations need is the ability to still to rethink and reconsider and turn things on their side if needed.
The second component is: on the part of the folks who make up an institution on all levels, and in this case, in thinking about Davidson, it would be students and folks who are employed by the college, needing to think really intentionally about changing language, in terms of programming or spaces, and being willing to challenge things that are uncomfortable or unfair, challenging gendered or sizeist or ablest things. All of it really comes down to intentionality.
HC: When you’re thinking about language or spaces, which offices or which organizations on campus would it be especially important for them to be intentional with body positivity?
RM: It’s not just about the language they use, but also about recognizing the role they can have in teaching others. And so, I think the Dean of Students Office, Residence Life, and the Counseling Center can be real leaders in teaching others about inclusive, positive, and accessible language and spaces.
HC: Do you have any PSAs for Davidson students, faculty, or staff who might be struggling with issues of body image and self-acceptance?
RM: My fundamental belief is that every single one of us is here on purpose. We all have gifts and talents and solutions that we’re meant to share with the world that are part of the healing that this world needs and too often it’s our relationship with ourselves that gets in the way of our ability to really live that purpose, and not that our purpose won’t change in time….There is something we are meant to give to this world, and for me, certainly, I found that my relationship with myself when I was young could get in the way of my ability to do that really intentionally if I wasn’t purposeful about putting aside limiting beliefs and limiting behaviors to allow me to be sort of intentionally out in the world and so I think the big thing to realize is that and yet that’s not what we were made for, we are so much more than our bodies, and our bodies are these incredible vehicles that are meant to take us through life so we can live that purpose. So, there’s not a singular body that is imperative for that work. So, finding a way to relate to yourself and to navigate spaces and experiences so that you can live on purpose is time and energy well spent because of how significant our contribution can be and that’s probably never been truer than now.
Rosie doing a reading at a bookstore.
HC: Do you feel like in spaces that are combating fatphobia or promoting body positivity, would you say that the focus on women’s bodies is needed, or that there’s not enough sharing of the testimonies of agender, genderfluid, or nonbinary individuals, or even the testimonies of men?
RM: I would love to see that focus broadened and I think that is becoming more prominent, which is nice, but yes, there are so many stories on the gender spectrum that aren’t shared about the pain that we inflict on those whose bodies do not fit those ideals that we sell, and all that is for a reason, one is certainly to encourage our consumerism and the other is to encourage our following of norms, which then, if I am so distracted by what I see in the mirror and I’m focused on a body project, then I am disempowered. So, for those who are in power, that’s great, because I’m not coming at them. So i think that the more that we hear all of the stories about body and limiting beliefs around body, the better it is for all of us because we can more astutely and deliberately change our messaging and our behaviors and reject some of them.
HC: So, we’ve talked a little about the intersectionality about body positivity and disability, and body positivity and gender expression, so what in your work have you learned about how body positivity and class or body positivity and race converge?
RM: I think that was a large part of my experience growing up and going to Davidson, because I’m Latina and I was at Davidson at a time when you could literally count the number of Latinos on campus on your two hands and so that has long been the lens, looking at both class and race and ethnicity, the lens that informed my personal viewpoints, when I was starting to think about and challenge this and I think that I used to really struggle with wanting a consistent reaction from others about me, I wanted to always be seen as exotic or uninterested, like I wanted it to be consistent, and if I wasn’t pretty that was ok, but could I just consistently see that. And then one of the things I realized was how much profound power I gave away seeking a consistent opinion from others, and that it was going to need to be my reaction to myself that was consistent in order for me to feel power, so when I think about a race or a class and body positivity, I think a lot more about the person who is in that space and empowering them to recognize that even if you are the other in that space, there’s an incredible amount of power that can be found in realizing that your otherness allows you to have a voice and to be an instigator and to be a change agent in those spaces and that finding your healing can go a long way towards allowing you to then raise your voice in those spaces because one of the things that I’ve appreciated over the years is recognizing that I can use my access despite my class or ethnicity to create change and that I can speak up. And perhaps I don’t escape the painful things that people have said to me, but that I can use my voice and my access to say things and lead in a way that allows others who come after me to avoid those situations.
HC: How did your time at Davidson set you off in the direction that you ended up going in your career or change some of your ideas or your values?
RM: I think that my time at Davidson was foundational, and not because it was always effortless in terms of navigating what people thought what being a Latina might mean and what people thought about who I was both typically socioeconomically and just viewpoint-wise on campus. And so, one of the things that really was valuable for me from my Davidson education was realizing my privilege. I would not have thought that I was really privileged before arriving at Davidson. I grew up in a family that really struggled. My Dad was a soldier, but I still got to Davidson. I had to say to myself, “Yes, comparatively here I may not be privileged and may be very poor compared to my peers, but in the grand scheme of things, I’m privileged.” And I had to learn how to use that privilege and how to use the skills that I had and the knowledge that I acquired to be a conduit to progress. And I found that though, at the time, I had really contrary ideas and points of view, that Davidson and the staff at Davidson and the faculty at Davidson very much took a “yes approach” to what was academically interesting to me, to what was interesting to me from a service perspective, so I got a lot of very direct exposure to what I very deliberately wanted to be doing in terms of being an activist at Davidson because I had the audacity to ask and people were willing to say “Yeah, let’s figure out how to make that happen for you.”
I designed a major [through the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies] in African American Studies and Urban Education Issues, which at the time, in the mid ’90s, was incredibly controversial. People contested whether or not that was a valid course of study. But it was approved. And I got my teaching certification at Davidson and I student taught. Everything I’ve done since has been another step in the journey.
HC: When you were in college, what kind of issues were you organizing around or preparing yourself to organize around?
RM: I was a Bonner in the second class of Bonner Scholars at Davidson, and my service area, which I was really passionate about, was working with young men who were gang-affiliated: young men in the Crips and the Bloods and La Raza. What I was looking at was, how do schools partner with young people in a way to facilitate nonviolence? That was a key question in the school that I chose to student teach at. That’s what I wrote my senior thesis on. Part of my thesis was studying best practices around the study on youth intervention programs, youth support programs.
My college roommates are all fascinated by my trajectory. They say, “You used to work with young men in gangs, and now you work around self-acceptance,” which largely happens to be in female-identifying populations, but isn’t always. And so, they always think that it’s super interesting how that happened, and what I tell them is that it’s actually almost the exact same work. If you are unhappy and angry with others, that is often because of an internal pain and a lack of self-acceptance. If you are unhappy with and hard on yourself, that is often because of an internal pain and a lack of self-acceptance. And so, the work in many ways is very similar around helping people to better understand themselves, to get to know themselves, and to begin a practice towards being self-accepting and that was true whether I was working with 18-year-old boys who were in the Crips or if I’m working [in a workshop] with 44-year-old women who have had a closeted eating disorder for a long time. People looking at the surface say “Wow, that’s really different work.” But I’ve found that all the work is about helping people to have healthy, accepting relationships with themselves so that they can go out and really do what they’re meant to do, which starts with not being so hard on themselves.
HC: Can you tell me about your personal journey with body positivity and self-acceptance?
RM: This probably is a super common problem on Davidson’s campus; I had long tied my worthiness to how helpful I was and how good I was, and so for me that meant that I said all the yeses, and I did whatever people asked of me, because then I was helpful and that meant I was good, and that meant I was worthy. And so as a teacher, a young, really energetic teacher, my administration would come to me like, “Hey, will you do this?” and “Hey, will you do this?” like “Hey, will you coach the soccer team?” and “Will you teach the AP History class?” and “Will you take the kids to DC for spring break and raise all the money for it?” and all these things, and be the director of Student Activities! And I would say yes to all of these things and I was really, really exhausted. And so, my third year of teaching I got really, really sick, and one of the things I realized was I didn’t have a lot of boundaries around saying yes or no and I couldn’t do that in a healthy way. I got really burned out.
Later, as a speaker, I realized that I had lost years to that, that done a lot of work to get to a place where I understood that my work was my birthright and that I was worthy simply because I was born and that I didn’t have to say every single “yes” in the world in order to be good and in order to have worth. Some of that foundation was laid down at Davidson. There were some stressors and professors that began to show me that way and I just had to work very deliberately to continue it, and also to be that kind of person while I was working at Davidson for other students, and so that then became a large part of what I talked about… well how do you get to that place of self-acceptance? Like, practically how do you get there? That’s what informed book two.
Rosie’s second book, available on Amazon here.
I think self-awareness is a really key tool to self-acceptance. Whether or not someone does that through therapy, whether or not someone does that through journaling, or through a different type of modality, that is up to the person, and how they get there. I think the underpinning of self-acceptance is really gaining a profound awareness of yourself and being at peace with “Well, that’s just the way I function in the world” and “Well, I get anxious without these things.” And that is not anything to be ashamed of, those are just the facts. I really like to think of self-acceptance as a position of neutrality about myself, and so thinking, “I am neither good nor bad because of my weight” or “I am neither good nor bad because of my depression” or “because I have a tendency to run late” or whatever the case may be. It is when we begin to be keenly aware of ourselves and our responses to that awareness… that can help us have a growth mindset that’s not about our being wrong, but about how every step’s a journey. I like to think of things as just information, so if something goes sideways that I’ve planned, like if I’m not the mom I intended to be and I have a reaction that I’m not particularly proud of, that’s information. So, I can ask myself, “Well, what was going with that?” So I can start to gather information as opposed to getting upset with myself and criticizing myself. I can just be aware of whatever factors influenced me and be deliberate moving forward.
HC: So, you’re talking about moving away from a place of self-judgment, and instead trying to understand yourself and why you would respond to certain things a certain way, and just trying to grow based on that information?
RM: Yes, and I know for me, self-judgment has never been anything but defeating. We think judging ourselves and criticizing ourselves will lead to growth, but for me, it has always just dampened me and defeating me. I shifted that to say “I am worthy simply because I was born and there is nothing wrong with me.”
It bothers me when people say “I know there’s no such thing as perfect, but…” and the subtext is “…I get as close to it as I can,” and one of the things that I fundamentally believe is that if perfect cannot exist, and we all agree on that, well then, imperfect cannot either. So there actually is not a continuum between perfect and imperfect. So, it’s not that we’re all imperfect; we’re not. We are just each unique beings. Because imperfect is as impossible as perfect is. There is nothing imperfect about any one of us. And so instead of accepting our imperfections, it’s more like accepting the unique nuances of who we each are. There is nothing that we’re meant to be compared to.
HC: Thank you so much for your time and your insights!
* Mock, Janet. Redefining Realness My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & so Much More. Atria Books, 2014: 123.
* Rothblum, Esther D., and Sondra Solovay. The Fat Studies Reader. New York University Press, 2009.
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