Girl Talk Body Image is Still A Thing, Apparently Julia Gazdag

I just hit my breaking point. If I hear one more girl sigh with utter dismay that she isn’t skinny enough, my head may explode. Or implode. Either way, it will self-destruct, because it’s the only way I can get relief from the self-deprecating rationality vacuum that so many girls and women seem to be stuck in. And it’s always while looking at a magazine, TV, or website. Occasionally a billboard. Which reminds me, thank you to all the women’s magazines that deign to throw a bone at body image issues once in a while, featured with as much self-congratulation as is possible for a publication otherwise rife with destructive images of airbrushed, aesthetically fictionalized women.

It’s not just about who is skinny or to what degree. It’s not about women like Sofia Vergara or Jennifer Lopez being tokenized as curvy women of note (and token Latinas, but that’s a whole other conversation). Skinny isn’t the issue, it’s just how some women are. Pick ten women at random and you will find ten different body types – so how is it socially responsible to raise one body type above any other in a public space like the media? I know how: not at all. One thing is for sure, though: the more women are defined by their bodies, the further back we slip into the misogyny of history. After all, we have far more to offer than our aesthetic values (or their implications), be it skinny, curvy, size 2 or 12, A or DDD. Why is anyone looking toward the media for cues, anyway? It’s all fiction. It’s an endless vat of falsified images of men and mostly women, almost all of whom represent an age and race that, in ratio to reality, barely reflects any of the people it is seen by.

To me, at this point, the question isn’t, “why do I not see myself reflected in mass media images of women.” I don’t want to look to the media for any sort of reflection, because I’m capable of forming my own opinions and don’t really feel the need to have them pushed onto me by corporations that stand to benefit financially from my insecurities. As long as I feel good about what I eat and live a healthy lifestyle, as long as my body itself is healthy and able, I feel great, and it doesn’t matter what images are being thrown at me. The truth is, no matter how much I might diet and exercise, I will never look like Natalie Portman, and no matter how much I accent my curves, I will never look like Christina Hendricks either. But I know what does work on me, and I don’t need to see my doppelganger on a red carpet to own the parts of me that make me awesome. Both those women are beautiful, just as I feel I am, all of us in our own way.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter all that much, what you look like. It’s fun to get a cute haircut, it’s fun to do makeup and wear clothes that make you feel good. But if you ask anyone who’s ever had a crush on you what they like about you, most of the time it won’t be the cute outfit you’re wearing, but the contented confidence you exude from wearing it. Sure, looks can pique interest, but even then, you’re probably more interesting in a band shirt (something people can connect with you through) than looking like you just fell out of a Vogue spread.

You’re not attractive because you look like the airbrushed neo-Barbie posing with a giant bottle in a vodka ad, or the limitlessly fancy red carpet starlet. You’re attractive because of how you tell a story, how your eyes crinkle when you smile, how you love a certain author so fervently, and any number of other trite rom-com clichés. Because there’s actually truth to those sappy monologues – the most attractive thing about anyone is what makes them unique, not what makes them blend in. Anyone who is more focused on your looks than your self is bad news and in all likelihood cares very little about you as a person, except to use you as an accessory. We’re women, not purses, and that means we can own our greatness instead of comparing it to that of others while vying for mediocraty.

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  1. Ever heard of internalized oppression? Your message is “stop it!” and is anger toward the woman. Please seek out more information on the topic. To say our patriarchal society causes much if not all of this problem does not take agency away from women, but rather explains why very sane logical women have these hang ups. Oppression in feminism is often described as a cage, internalized oppression makes the cage apart of us. We all “know” that we should be sure of ourselves, but there is a reason why we have these feeling. I appreciate your optimism, but feel that your message in this piece was handle with little care. To place this burden on the shoulders of women, on top of the initial oppression that has made them feel unsatisfied with their bodies is to blame the patient for the symptom. While I agree that we can undo damage done through the support of others as well as a kind of self actualization, that will have no effect on the outer world that is further caging our sisters. Please look at how you have women apologizing for feeling bad about themselves, or having eating disorders, or the strength not to listen to the “you are beautiful” message. Years of having the message that you are a body, and that body is only as good as it measures up more times than not will trump a mantra of “you are beautiful”. Just because you can shake it off (which I profess seems like rhetoric in a typical way) does not mean that others have had the necessary support to do that. Please understand the weight of your words as well as the impact they may have. Instead of telling women to stop it, maybe we should be explaining how we got here, and how to proceed. Without understanding why women feel this way we are just feeding into the crazy woman myth, and disregarding the real reasons women feel poorly about there bodies and in tun themselves.

  2. [...] Gazdag just can’t believe that body image is still a thing! Not the most subtle or sensitive of posts but good point [...]

  3. Excellent article. I will be passing this on to friends, cousins, and my sister! Thank you; you go girl! :)

  4. God bless you. If only everyone felt this way, this world would be a much more pleasant place to live. Great article. ‘Nuff said.

  5. We love your blog. This is the message we are trying to spread through our movement My Body Is Ok! on Facebook. Facebook.com/mybodyisok check us out and keep up the positive body image!

  6. Do you notice the ad on the side of this website for portrait photo editing software showing a young girl before and after? how ironic

  7. As a 17 year old female, I believe that society is indeed to blame; however, I am to blame as well. I have the knowledge that beauty has much more power than to swoon the opposite sex, but that beauty, real beauty, has the ability to empower others, to enhance knowledge and to enlighten the false views the media portrays. I am to blame for my uncertainty of my beauty, because I know the truth – I am beautiful. We must find the truth not in the media, but in ourselves. And when we obtain the knowledge we can alter the media, for though the media is to blame, the blame starts with us, and luckily with the truth, we can make a difference.

    • I don’t think you are to blame, or rather, I don’t believe in that choice of words. I think you have the ability to be aware, and also to bring change to yourself, and through you, to others!

  8. Julia, your article is amazing! I think that as individuals with able minds, we make an active decision of what gets filtered and what affects our thoughts from the media! I took a whole class on this and my perspective changed after learning so much and your article reminded me of this! Not to say that once in a while we let that media “noise” filter our thoughts but its up to us how much we let it affect us! Thank you for this! keep up the great writing!

  9. Preach, girl! The old saying goes “A picture is worth a thousand words”, well in this case the words outweigh the millions of images we’re hit with daily about not being good enough. Thank you for taking a stand and saying “You know what? I am good enough.”

  10. Facebook Connect is being silly, so not sure if this will post as me or anonymously but, either way, thank you for this article. Thank you also for acknowledging the groups which aren’t represented well (if at all) – I’d just like to add another one: those of us who have disabilities =)! As you said, though, there wasn’t enough space for everything. Thanks again for writing this.

    Jessi, London

  11. ….OH SCALE god, PLEASE TELL ME IF I AM WORTHY TODAY…..

    Today is Weigh-In Wednesday, where I ask you to NOT WEIGH IN ON A SCALE, (in fact feel free to throw those scales away!!!!), but to WEIGH IN ON YOUR LIFE, because the scale will never, ever, ever be able to weigh your worth, you and your life are so much more than the size of your body!!!

    

    Unfortunately, for the first 29 years of my life, my self-worth was reliant on what I was taught to believe was the magical scale god.

    In so many ways, for so many years the scale ruled my life. I would have gotten down on my hands and knees to pray before looking, to see if my prayers were answered and a magical, right, number appeared, but I was afraid that it would some how make me weigh more, to not stand up ram-rod straight and evenly distribute my weight on the scale, as well as remove my earrings, necklace, and all my clothing.

    And as I stopped breathing before looking down at the number reflected back I already knew, that it would not be right, or magical, that I could not seem to whittle and starve my weight down to the right size, no matter how thin I was, I was always looking to lose that illusive last 5 pounds.

    The last 5 pounds that would change my life.

    I never did, I never lost that illusive last 5 pounds, not when I was 115 pounds, not when I was 103 pounds (at 5 feet and 4 inches) etc. There never seemed to be a weight at which I felt comfortable in my own skin and my own body. That is, until I dieted my way up the scale to 266 pounds, and decided that “Enough was enough, the self-hate, body hate, and self-loathing had to end” . I give these numbers not for anybody else to judge their body or compare their body against. Nor do I give these numbers to “trigger” anyone, and yes, for years any discussion of numbers triggered my eating disorder. I give thse numbers to show IT WAS NEVER, EVER REALLY ABOUT THE NUMBERS, AND IT NEVER, EVER WILL BE ABOUT THE NUMBERS.

    More importantly although you may have in the past and still do feel that you are at war with your body and that your body is a battleground as to your weight and size,

    

    YOU CAN GIVE UP THE WAR WITH YOUR WEIGHT AND BODY SIZE TODAY! You can

    STOP HATING YOUR BODY, WHATEVER WEIGHT YOU ARE TODAY IS THE WEIGHT YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE , BASED ON ALL YOUR PRIOR CHOICES ABOUT FOOD AND EXERCISE.

    If you want to start making different choices about food and exercise you can, but hating your body, being at war with yourself and your body is not the solution.

    The solution is moving into your body, whatever size it is, realizing it is your friend and that it has carried you through thick and thin. It is seeing that YOU ARE SO MUCH MORE THAN THE SIZE OF YOUR BODY AND YOUR WEIGHT.

    The scale and clothing labels cannot measure the size of your heart, your creativity, your sense of humor, your intelligence, your passion, your determination, your loyalty, your hard work, and all the experiences you have had, are having and will have; and yet for years we have rlentlessly judged ourselves and the size of our lives by the size of our bodies, as per the scales.

    The size of my life is not defiend by the size of my body, and although I cannot change the past, I CAN, TODAY, ALLOW MYSELF TO BE A PEACE WITH MY BODY SIZE AND SEE ALL THAT I AM BEYOND MY BODY SIZE AND SHARE IT WITH THE WORLD!

    

    

  12. I love this article! It’s not just demanding a change but it’s uplifting and empowering! My favorite kind!! In diversity class the other day we learned that media covers what society wants to see, and as long as we hold these high expectations over ourselves AND other people, the media is going to copy that, like a vicious cycle! It’s time we reclaim our bodies as our own and nourish and respect it’s natural process, it’s not healthy mentally or physically otherwise :)

  13. (I don’t feel like my previous comment explained this adequately, SO:)

    This article is simultaneously my favorite and my least favorite. I want to cry tears of joy and tears of frustration, hug it and then rip my own hair out.

    Yes, yes, yes of course: we know. We know we are beautiful just as we are and that those models are unhealthy fifteen year olds and that a healthy grown woman should never, ever look like that, or want to look like that, amen. We, the Intelligent, Powerful Women Of The World, have been informed. At least, most of us have.

    But that knowledge didn’t stop me from wanting a flatter stomach. It doesn’t stop my mother and aunt and grandmother from discussing what they ate today, and what they /shouldn’t/ have eaten today, and how that makes them “bad”, almost every single day. It doesn’t make watching your mom weigh herself daily or your sister run until her shins break go away. It doesn’t make the feelings of not being good enough suddenly surmountable, and it sure as hell doesn’t shake the numbers from my head, the constant counting, adding, subtracting of potential calories-ingested v calories-expended.

    Disordered relationships with food and body, whether they can be classified as full-blown eating disorders or not, are not simple. It isn’t that obvious. It isn’t that easy. And their prevalence isn’t a testament to the impressionable, feeble minds of modern women. It just means that our current societal ideal has created a perfect storm for losing oneself in weightloss articles printed right next to pecan-pie recipes, in billboards, in runway shows, in the aisles of the grocery store, in front of the bathroom mirror. And lose ourselves we do: everytime we try a new “diet”, everytime we buy a magazine that guesstimates the weights of actresses who are “too skinny” (hear that sharp edge of jealously?), everytime we stand on the scale and want to cry, or look in the bathroom mirror, or try on those jeans, or compare her thighs to yours …

  14. For as long as I can remember, being fat was the size of BAD.

    It was as if being overweight was the worst sin you could perpetrate not only on yourself,
    but those around you , who had to look at you.

    I definitely grew up with the belief that I would be better off dead than obese.

    In retrospect, I believe that is why it has been part of my journey to become obese and to
    realize that I could live through it, that I can learn to love myself more than I ever did at a size 2.

    Not to minimize my pain of living through being obese, or anyone’s for that matter, but to acknowledge that
    obesity is just a size.

    At the age of 44 years old, I can say I have worn size 2/3, 4/5, 6/7, 8/9, 10/11, 12/13, 14/15………all the way up to 26.

    Over the last year I have went form size 26 to size 14.

    Of course, part of my insanity with food/body/weight/size obsession from my past,
    is that part of me still does not believe I have lost any weight.

    I don’t talk about the actual numbers that often, because they are just numbers.

    It is hard to believe I was, that most of us, were taught that being a
    certain weight was BAD, it meant you were lazy and had no willpower, as if!

    How could weight have ever been given a morality code?

    How could being overweight have been given so many unfavorable stigmas?

    My four year old, princess Alexa, said, about six months ago when I had already started
    loosing weight “Mama you are fat!”

    Fat is not a word in my vocabulary, but for today’s blog.

    I have taken it out of my vocabulary.

    My internal critical voice has not necessarily received and read that memo, but I
    rarely verbalize the feeling of fat, because I believe it is really never about
    “fat” it is about some other feeling I am trying to stuff away.

    In fact,even my internal critic does not play the fat card very often any more, because
    she knows a “fat feeling” is code that I am hiding out from another feeling.

    Nonetheless, despite the fact that my husband and I do not talk about
    feeling fat, being fat,by the way he has always maintained within five pounds of
    his body weight since I have know him for the last twenty years, the dog, it was
    inevitable , my daughter being in pre-school, that she would hear and use the
    word fat, as if it were BAD.

    So I was kind of ready for her to use the

    word in describing me, but I would be lying if I did not admit there was part of
    me that wished my daughter did not have to know me as being overweight, that I
    could have been done with this weight thing before she could talk, as if we are
    ever really done with this weight thing!

    I said “Yes mommy is fat. but
    you still love me, right? I also have brown eyes and brown hair. some people are
    thin, some are fat, some have blond hair and some have brown hair. that is just
    how we look what is important is what type of person you are.”

    As I said each word I wished with my whole heart, that she could believe that fat was not
    BAD, it just was.

    I wished she could learn not to size people up by
    their body size, but to just see people for who they are as people.

    Iwished she could see body size as merely a fact as opposed to a judgment.

    I wish I could tell you that my wishes for her and the understanding
    that fat is not equal to BAD, have all been realized, but I can not.

    In fact, just a month ago she was using the word fat a little too much for my own
    allegedly mature position.

    One day she wanted me to carry her, and my
    husband and I feel four is a little too old to be carried around, so I said no,
    and she said “Is that because you are fat”.

    I said “No, it is because you are getting to be too big a girl to be carried around, that has nothing to
    do with my size.”

    I then said “Do you think fat is BAD, because you seem
    to be calling me fat when you are mad at me.”

    She said “Yes.”

    I said “Who is telling you that fat is bad? Because it is not a BAD thing it just
    means we all have different body sizes.”

    Well mind you she did attribute
    it to a specific child and her mother, but as much as I could see that being
    true, I am really not even willing to go there, because it is really irrelevant
    where my daughter learned it , it is my job to teach her something different.

    My next approach was to say, fat is not BAD, but we do not go around
    saying things about the way people look. For example, we don’t go around saying
    I have brown hair and you only have blond. it is ok to be different, and we
    should not talk about how people look , it may hurt people’s feelings the way
    you get embarrassed when people talk about you, even if it is a compliment.

    Well suffice it to say I feel like I am fighting an uphill battle
    because there really are so many negative messages about body size and every
    other physical attribute, that it is almost scary to imagine bringing up a
    little girl in these days of surgical augmentation and people changing eye color
    with contact lenses, etc…..

    Not to make a judgment on any of that, but
    hey I grew up with fat is BAD, now she has to contend with maybe you need a nose
    job, a surgically increased bra size etc……

    I hope, by example, I can teach her it is not the size of our body, nose, breasts, that count but the size
    of our life!!!!

    Most importantly I hope I can teach her fat is just a fact not a judgment.
    Karen cigna

  15. this article gives me a lot of FEELINGS. Eating disorders run in my family.
    I can understand the exasperation the author feels. However, I don’t think it is appropriate to dismiss this as if it were a simple problem. Like, reading this article probably won’t cure a constant-dieter of her problems, or stop a mirror-checker from sucking in her stomach around any and all reflective surfaces, and implying that the fault for this is theirs is not in any way helpful.
    Some people develop shitty relationships with food. Whether they evolve into a full-blown eating disorder or not isn’t the point. The point is that the recipe for these relationships isn’t “society+impressionable women who obviously don’t get it yet”. It is society+family history, possibly even genetics+the way one was raised+a whole ton of other shit

    These aren’t simple problems. They seem that way from the outside, but it is dangerous to look at them that way.

    • It’s something you connected because it’s a relevant issue for you, and it’s not wholly disconnected. I really do wish you healing and happiness — without going into too much detail, I can tell you that even when it seems infinitely far away, it’s always within your reach.

    • I sort of realized, after posting two v long & intense comments on the topic, that body image =/= food issues automatically to, like, … most people. Oof. I guess we all see things through the lens of our own struggles.
      I do really like the message of this article. I just get so bundled up in the aforementioned feelings sometimes.

    • Mary, I think eating disorders are a whole other thing, and as someone without any firsthand experience of them, I would not feel it to be my place to write an article about them. While outside influences on body image can affect eating disorders, they are also much more complicated and as you said, can be genetic and/or psychological. I’m just talking about letting go of societal norms in order to be happier in our lives and with ourselves. I’m not trying to solve anything (goodness knows it takes more than this), merely pointing out something that has been frustrating me and discussing it. While I don’t know what I can say to ease your own struggle, I do hope that you find peace and joy in your life.

  16. Like it or not the “Beautiful Factor” in our culture is real and it’s poignant for both men and women. Certainly, some people carry this concern to an extreme and it then because a form of mental illness. I, personally, put a lot of effort into my appearance and there is no doubt that this effort has paid great dividends over the years. My avatar picture was taken when I was 54 years old. I am now 56 and look exactly the same. To stand out among one’s peers one has to put in the effort. Some can but most are unable.
    Just Be Happy With Who You Are” does nothing but assurethat you’ll never be anything else.

  17. I 100% agree with the message, but the title just bugs me.

    “BODY IMAGE IS STILL A THING, APPARENTLY”

    Yes, it’s still a thing. The title comes across as though we should be “over it” by now, when Michelle Konstantinovsky just wrote about it last week. Personally, body image is something that I deal with everyday. I am trying to lose weight because I don’t like how my body looks. I own that. I count my calories when I eat. I keep track of how many calories I burn through exercise. I am healthy about it. Body image is personal for me, I want to develop a body that is fit in my own definition; I want to be my own hero. I’m working to get there.

    We’ve all been to middle school and know what it’s like to feel uncomfortable in our own skin. Some people graduate, some people don’t, but the title comes across like, “Why haven’t you ascended to my level of self-love?” I respect that you have, but a lot of people, men and women included, struggle with how their bodies look and how they feel about that.

    No matter how many times someone says YOU’RE PERFECT JUST THE WAY YOU ARE, everyone needs time to get there. It’s a journey and a bumper sticker isn’t going to help you get there until you realize what perfect means to you.

    • That’s exactly what I’m saying in this article, though. I’m glad you also feel compelled to empower others, but I can’t connect to getting hung up on the title — it reflect my feeling that this shouldn’t be an issue, in six words, while the entire article expands on the idea of why it still is and why we can feel empowered for it not to be. I don’t think that it’s a bad thing to discuss an issue like this that can also be personal for people — that’s what makes it powerful. Every issue is personal, but can also connect people in being a common experience.

    • Like I said, I think it’s a personal journey. I agree that Photoshop is insanely pervasive, even bloggers Photoshop their pictures. By saying that we should be over it by now, you neglect that real people still struggle. It would be like asking a person with depression why they aren’t happy. Why can’t you just be happy?

      As someone who struggles with her own body image, I don’t know how to start that movement. I think we should probably be giving young kids tools to help them understand how images are manipulated, how the media works, what beauty is, what ugly is, and how we’re all beautiful but different.
      Thanks, Julia, for responding to my comment :)

    • We should be over body image. This conversation has been happening in our culture for decades, and yet photoshop is more rampant, and my brilliant, beautiful, wonderful friends still get dismayed by a single magazine cover. I’m tired of a half-hearted cultural discourse, I want it to actually move towards some kind of change. It doesn’t happen overnight, but after several decades of this, I’m wondering where the change is at all.

  18. This articles needs to be linked around the internet, sent to magazines, emailed to Hollywood, printed out and posted all over schools, offices, gyms, and various other random places stat. Thank you for this. I need the reminder that it’s actually okay to not be the ideal in terms of body. Just be happy. I’m still going to strive to lose weight (health thing) but I won’t strive to be (for me) that all impossible size of 2 by the end of the year. I’d slay a dragon just to aim at 12.

  19. At some point in life, girls will realize that if someone like you for your looks, then he’s not your Mr. Right…..at least that’s what i use to convince myself when I’m once AGAIN frustrated with my body shape.

    • If someone is too focused on the way look you today, where will you and that person be in a few years when you look different? If they see you for what’s inside strongly enough, that will be what they see every time they look at you, no matter how you change.

  20. This article is insightful, well written, and EMPOWERING! Thank you so much for taking the time to write this out because this is something every woman needs to hear!

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