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I Had No Idea… | The Power of Words

This past week was National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

I know what you’re thinking…

There’s a week for everything these days….Zzzz….Zzzzzz…

And you’re absolutely correct…there is a month/day/week for just about everything. March alone is home to National Puppy Week, Pi Day, Skipping Day, and British Pie Day just to name a few.

But, this really is a cause that deserves its own week. Up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder) in the U.S according to ANAD.

This is nothing to scoff at.

In the last 6 weeks, this blog has posted on topics ranging from eating disorders to body image to photo manipulation ethics, but this week I want to discuss something different.

I want to talk about you.

What is your struggle?

Do you look in the mirror and poke, push, and grab every part of your body that you don’t like?

Do you get anxious about leaving the house without makeup on?

Do you use filters on your pictures in order to give yourself a “better” appearance?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions: you probably struggle with some form body image issues.

You’re not alone…I’ve been there too, and so have a lot of other women.

There is no easy answer to this epidemic. If there were, we would have figured it out by now. But as it stands, three quarters of US women are unsatisfied with what they see in the mirror.

NEDA’s campaign revolved around the phrase: I had no idea…

I had no idea that so many women and men are affected by poor body image.

I had no idea that I wasn’t alone in my struggle.

I had no idea that those who meant well in my life, lied to me when I was young.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. 

Bullshit. A more honest phrase would have been:

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will crush my heart, soul, and self esteem.

I had no idea how powerful words could really be.

I had no idea how devastating words could be to my psyche.

I had no idea how uplifting words could build me up but also cause me to doubt.

I had no idea how complicated life can be.

I had no idea about you.

In life there are always insiders and outsiders. In groups and out groups as the sociologists would say.  And it seems to me, and most likely to you as well, that no matter what you and were always in the outgroup. So what happens when a bunch of so-called outsiders band together?

We become an IN group.

According to Erin Morgenstern “there are never really endings, happy or otherwise. Things keep going on, they overlap and blur, your story is part of your sister’s story is part of many other stories, and there is no telling where any of them may lead.”

Even in our darkest days, our ugliest days, our days when the darkness of our beds are the only comfort, “things keep going on,” your story is wrapped up in my story and “there is no telling where any of them my lead.”

You and I are in charge of our own stories, yet they are both intertwined. We do not exist in isolation. We were created for community. You keep me accountable for the words I say and think about my body, and I will do the same for you.

Because we are beautiful.

And no one should tell us otherwise.

Stay Smiling Beautiful! Happy, looks great on you.

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You’re More than Photoshop.

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The main promotional image used for Victoria Secret’s 2010 “I Love My Body” campaign

Victoria’s Secret is one of the biggest sellers of “sexy” in the America. They know this; America knows this. Therefore, what Victoria’s Secret sells as sexy, America literally and subconsciously “buys” as sexy. The women in this photo are extraordinarily thin and tall. I’ve never seen a woman look like these women. They have perfect skin, breasts, legs, hair, and stomachs. They don’t even have pores. In the real world, these women do not even exist. They are created. They are created using photo editing techniques (commonly referred to as Photoshop) to shrink their already tiny waists, erase any moles or lines, and airbrush a smooth look over their entire bodies. Why does this photo manipulation work? It’s because it is just real enough. It teeters on the edge of imitation and genuine. Women want to think that they could look like these models even though it is an unreasonable, even unattainable standard of beauty. 

This week in class I was given the privilege of playing with Photoshop, so I took it upon myself to see if I could manipulate an image of myself and my family from my wedding over the summer. As a Photoshop noob, I figured the realm of cinching waists and airbrushing skin was beyond my abilities. I was wrong. Within 20 minutes I had smoothed my grandmothers’ wrinkles – taking off an easy 25 years from their appearance. I had also managed to shrink my waist, slightly accentuate my breasts and hips, smooth my complexion,and overall give me a celebrity worthy experience. 

But here’s the problem. 

It wasn’t me. 

It wasn’t my grandmothers. 

They were creations. Representations of who I made them. 

They weren’t real. 

My grandmothers’ wrinkles are signs of their wisdom and years of experience. They give them character. They make them unique. And Beautiful. 

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) the average American woman is 5’4″ tall, weighs 166 pounds, and has a waist circumference of 37.5″. Alessandra Ambrosio (one of the women in the above photo) is 5’10”, 112 pounds, and has 24″ waist! How is it acceptable for the largest seller of lingerie in America to perpetuate this ridiculous fantasy? In September 2013, one VS model even exclaimed to Telegraph UK: “I don’t look like that picture.” 

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Love My Body vs. Real Beauty Campaigns

Women in America are suffering from “Photoshop Syndrome.” We are seduced by images of impossibly beautiful women with impossibly perfect features but that’s just it. They are impossible. Real women don’t look like that.

Some are slender, some are curvy, some lie in between…but all of them are beautiful.

And while Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign has met with some criticism, its overarching claim is that real women are beautiful and should always remember it. We should stop focusing on our “flaws” and focusing on the beautiful fact that , as Stella Boonshoft puts it, “Our bodies are all beautiful because they are vessels for our souls. They allow us to feel, express, hurt, love, laugh, cry, and most importantly create change in the world.”

So go out – women of America!

Go out and love your body. 

Go walk your dog, dance in your underwear, sing in the car, workout, binge on ice cream!

Do what makes you happy. 

Do what makes you feel beautiful. 

Be kind to your body. 

Love your body. 

It is the only one you get.

You’re beautiful. 

You’re more than Photoshop.

You’re you. 

Unique. Exclusive. Alluring. Dazzling. 

Beautiful.

You.

Stay smiling! Happy looks great on you

From Body Hate to BodyLove

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The above picture is of Lizzi Miller, also known as “the woman on page 194”, of Glamour Magazine. She appeared in the magazine in the September 2009 issue and started a body image revolution. She’s a size 12-14. Considered “plus-sized” by industry standards, but to you and me is a normal, happy, American woman.

The pursuit for perfection is an incessant, sometimes perilous journey that affects nearly all American women and over half men. In the U.S., this quest often manifests itself in the form of disordered eating, eating disorders, and exercise addiction. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 91% of women surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting. 22% dieted “often” or “always.” That is not acceptable. Nearly every photo that is published of a celebrity is edited in some way: some drastically, others only minor changes are made. But why is altering one’s appearance the norm? Who is setting this unattainably high standard of beauty? How is it affecting children, teens, and adults? And perhaps most importantly, how can the individual change their view of themselves for the better and what can be done to combat this unattainable standard?

This project is near and dear to my heart. As an elementary student, I was obese, depressed, and lonely. As a middle school student, I was average, critical, depressed, and deeply unsatisfied with myself. It wasn’t until high school that my body hate hit its deepest low; I found myself in my bathroom staring at a reflection, honestly believing that if I worked hard enough, if I obsessed long enough, I could make myself beautiful. I obsessed over calories. They were my God. I worshiped them; idolized them. I lovingly tracked every single calorie that entered and exited my body. In my eyes, if I were thin I would finally be beautiful and people would love me. It wasn’t until I eventually injured myself partially from over-exercise and partially due to poor nutrition for years that I realized that I was not in a good place and that only I can determine if I am happy – not a number on a scale or a flat stomach. That moment began my quest for Body Love. It’s been a long and difficult road but I can happily say that now, 95% of the time, I love my body simply because it is mine.

However, I know that this is not the case with many women my age and it’s killing them and me. I want this blog to raise attention to body hate and help women along the way to Body Love.  I will do this by doing research on the various manifests of body hate such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, disordered eating, bingeing, chronic dieting, etc. I will also look at the various medias that promote thinness as the only acceptable form of beauty. Women are beautiful and unique in their own right and there is no reason for them to not see their own beauty inside and out.

Smile, you’re beautiful, and happy looks great on you.