Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Dangers of Black/White Thinking - Body Image.

I hope this post on Feministing gets a bunch of comments because I would love to see what people think about it.You can find Jess' piece in Glamour.

 Women were more supportive than I’d ever expected, and many of them even admitted that they too wanted to lose weight to improve their health but had, like me, felt trapped by the stigma that confident, heavy women weren’t supposed to think about weight at all. Like me, they felt liberated by the idea that it wouldn’t betray their ideals to value their physical health.

"In her interview with Kate Harding, Jess summed up what I believe is the unedited truth and the real, beating heart of why this piece is important: “I think I just spent too much time in black/white thinking (caring about appearance/weight = bad — critical thinking/shunning societal pressures = good) that I forgot to really find the middle ground for myself.”

"All of us need to reflect, not just on our own personal health markers, how we measure and maintain them, but on our larger messaging and how we treat one another within this movement. Shaming people for not knowing, or not agreeing with all the facets of the movement’s accepted wisdom, leads to this kind of black/white thinking that Jess describes. It makes people misunderstand the message. It makes people feel judged, which is exactly what we are fighting against."


Kristi Ferrell said...

I'm not sure that this is exactly the kind of commenting that you're looking for, but this post spoke to me and I wanted to share.

I have two teenage(ish) stepdaughters - 12 and 14 who were morbidly obese as smaller children. When their mother walked out on them about 7 or 8 years ago, my husband had to become superdad (single parent is hard enough, but single dad to two young girls... can't even imagine!). He got the girls down to a reasonable weight by simply making them more aware of needs vs wants (and the consequences of constantly depriving yourself of wants) and how that plays into body image.

Now, I'll admit that I've always been a little self-conscious of myself - especially when I was a teenager - and it was, at times, borderline really bad... and I don't want them going through that. Middle school is hard enough, but adding a personal issue to it makes it darn near impossible.

Add to this that my mother is a WeightWatchers leader (due partially in fact to the inability to function a few years ago as her weight put such pressure on her body that she developed RA and had a hard time interacting with her small children, managing the house, and taking care of herself) and it's given me an interesting view of the black/white thinking that people generally associate with weight, food comsumption, diet/exercise and body image.

They are constantly advocating that it is a lifestyle change - eating healthy + moving more + being conscious of your daily decisions = a healthier lifestyle, less strain on your body as the unwanted toxins leave your system, etc. I wish that there was a way that we (and I say this on an advocacy note as I'm not sure how to make an impact myself) can take this "healthy lifestyle" and promote it to the masses. There is NOTHING wrong with wanting to be healthy. There is NOTHING wrong with wanting to be fit enough to do the activities that you desire. There is NOTHING wrong with wanting to not pollute your body so that you can live longer and healthier. The thing is that we need to find a way to not be hateful while educating. People who feel judged about their lack of knowledge, failed attempts, etc are more likely to rebel against coaching/support when times get tough.

Anna said...

Kristi, This is exactly the kind of comment I'm looking for.

The way the media presents body image and the importance of being "thin" is all about's about making women sexy; sexy for men.

There's a lot of backlash against that, and understandably so. Unfortunately, I think people take this to a bad extreme and allow themselves to become unhealthy as a response to American beauty a big *eff you* to the standards. And unfortunately the only person it effs is the person who decides not to be healthy.

You're right that messaging needs to change and I think in some circles it is. The best thing you can do as a mother, in my humble opinion, is always encourage your girls to be healthy and never EVER make them uncomfortable if they have more weight on them than is culturally acceptable.

Thank you for sharing your stories. You're spot on.

Kristi Ferrell said...

It's frustrating especially when you think about "thin" vs "sexy" and take into account the biological aspect and male perspective of it. Supposedly (and I don't know where I've seen this, but since it's come up a few times, I feel it to be a relatively reliable claim) men are attracted to features of women that would make them fertile: curvy hips, large breasts, round bottom, etc. in an attempt to find someone to procreate with that would further the species. Now, I have NEVER (luckily) had a guy tell me that I was too fat to be attractive. I've always been relatively average proportioned for being so short, and though I'm a little self-conscious of my thighs (thanks media!) I'm proud to flaunt my curves.

Now with the girls, I'll admit that I want them to look good, but I want them to feel good too. I want to be able to push them physically and not have them sweating/panting a minute into it. I want to know that they're going to make healthy decisions about their food and exercise choices once they get out of the house. They're both still a little "overweight" but I think that starting with making these choices and making them aware that THEY can make the right choices will even out the health aspect in time, and that they'll be more likely to avoid the drama of the media.