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Body Positivity Continued

By Sharri Greenwald

My life consisted of summertime play dates in the park and red-white-and-blue popsicles. I was just a kid. The only thing I worried about was losing my mom in the grocery store (Ok, let’s be honest, this is an eternal concern). I don’t remember when I started to hate my body, but I can also barely remember a time when I didn’t. The hate seemed to slowly creep into my life, undetected. I began to blame all my problems on it. If someone didn’t like me, there was no question that it was because of the rolls my stomach made when I sat down. If I were sad, it was so clear to me that if my thighs didn’t rub together as I walked, I wouldn’t be feeling this way. I felt fat. The only problem was, that fat is not a feeling. So what was going on?

Cut to middle school, when bras become a constant and boys begin to awkwardly realize that you are female and sexualize you as such. I remember looking at Aerie window ads on my way home from school. I felt physically sick; I didn’t see any of myself reflected back at me. Why was there not one sleek, flat plane from my hips to my chest? Why didn’t my kneecaps protrude as theirs did, unlike the plush layer of fat I had surrounding mine? I was obviously in the wrong if everyone else looked the same, if everyone else looked “right”. My body had to be the problem because in the pictures, these girls (who were probably around 22 advertising to an audience that is primarily tweens and teens) were smiling and laughing, with boys hanging off of them in hot pursuit. They were confident. Their model friends seemed really happy to be around them too. That’s not what my life looked like at 13. The clothes didn’t look the same on me as they did on these girls, and no one told me that was okay.

For someone who has not experienced this type of self-questioning and body hate, you might not get it. I am not obese; I have never been even more than a little overweight. You might look at me and be perplexed as to why I spend more time than I would like to admit thinking (and stressing) about my body, and about how it is the cause of everything bad in my life. You might say it’s all in my head. Well, you would be right, and there lies the problem.

I grew up with a constant bombardment of beautiful visual aids to my stress. They almost always consisted of tall teenage girls with clear skin, lanky bodies and perfectly straight, bright white teeth. Oh, and don’t forget the cute and barely there button nose. I looked up to these pictures so much. Naturally, I thought that one day I would blossom into a creature of their species, and everyone would value me as much as they did the images.

I wasted years of my life having how I looked be my top concern, embarrassed of my horribly damaged self-esteem. Although these issues will affect me and be in the back of my head throughout my life, I have managed (over a long period of time and with lots of help from a wonderful therapist) to break away from the boxed-in mindset I had for so long. I have come out on the other side. Because of this, it breaks my heart to see so many people where I used to be, doubting their worth, stuck in the cycle of self-hate. I feel that because of my personal experience, and because I am able to identify the issues that caused me so much distress for so long, I have a responsibility to become part of the solution. If I don’t take action, I am simply paving the way for so many other young people to get sucked into this media vortex that creates and capitalizes off of their lack of self-love.   

Wherever you are on the spectrum of struggling with your body image or general self-love, you can probably see that the media has given its stamp of approval to one kind of body: thin, tall, slightly muscular, completely smooth… I bet you can count on one hand the amount of times you have seen bodies that stray from this type in a mainstream magazine. However, the problem is not that these types of bodies are in the media. These bodies are beautiful, but we have been made to think that their beauty is the ultimate one, the only one. The problem is that the media acts as a world stage with a singular type of body on it. This makes it easy to forget that there are so many other types of bodies out there, and that they are equally as beautiful! It others these bodies, it devalues them, and it deems them not fit for public viewing. Beauty has been defined as singular, which is tragic. It’s quite the opposite.

If this has thoroughly depressed you, here is a bit of good news: There have been breakthroughs in the past few years, (and especially very recently) that celebrate different kinds of bodies in the media. For example, American Apparel had ads and campaigns like “Swimsuits for All”, Lane Bryant has “This Body” and “I’m No Angel,” and even Aerie has a new campaign; it’s called Aerie Real. It features models outside the normal body type as well as models in it, and has a strict policy of no retouching. It aims to encourage women and girls to love their own unique bodies exactly as they are; the tag line being, “The real you is sexy”.

While seeing this type of progress is amazing, there is still some work left to be done. It’s kind of a separate but equal thing; Aerie is preaching the right messages, but most of their ads still consist of multiple girls in one picture with virtually the exact same body. It’s about putting different bodies on an equal playing field, and physically on the same page. This is why something that happened a few days ago is so exciting… On Saturday, February 13th, Sports Illustrated revealed that they have chosen not one, but three covers for the 2016 swimsuit issue, all featuring women with different body types. The three women are Hailey Clauson, who is tall and skinny, Ashley Graham, who is tall, curvy, and the first size 16 model to be featured, and Ronda Rousey, the muscular, insanely talented mixed martial artist and former UFC champion. By giving them each a cover, a statement has been made by Sports Illustrated that different types of bodies are equally valued, equally beautiful and equally worthy of exposure in the mainstream media. In an interview on si.com, MJ Day, the editor of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, said that, “The three covers of Hailey, Ronda and Ashley celebrate the new SI Swimsuit. All three women are beautiful, sexy and strong. Beauty is not cookie cutter. Beauty is not ‘one size fits all’.” This really was a huge step forward for the movement. However we still have a long way to go in undoing how we’ve been programmed to think about our own bodies, bodies in the media, and all bodies. 

 

P.S. If you are a student at Skidmore and are interested in discussing and learning more about these issues, as well as becoming part of the solution, join H.I.P.S. (Health. Image. Power. Success.) Club! Also, follow my body positive instagram account, @bodies_for_all to stay updated on the movement towards a body inclusive media, and for general tips on body positivity and self-love!   

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