This is the first part in a series of personal stories about how I learned to hate my body, little by little, from as far back as I can remember. I’m seriously now just beginning to not pick on myself throughout the day. I am 35. Thirty five!
It’s not just me. I have friends of all shapes and sizes and ages who are still dealing with this, too. What we have in common is that we are all women who essentially came of age in the ’80s and ’90s in suburban America with its white girl mall culture and expectation of flawlessness. Ads, the media, peers, relatives, teachers, boys – their message has always been clear to us: You are imperfect and you need to be fixed.
How does this relate to my blog? Well, if I do nothing else as a person, I want to raise children with positive body images who respect their own bodies and other peoples’. I want confident kids. And that starts with being comfortable in your own body despite the mixed messages that are sent all day long. And that starts at home. So yeah. Totally relevant stuff here.
So here goes.
The media and its advertisers are EVER SO EAGER to help you be the image of feminine perfection. It’s a business model. There is money to be made off of your intrinsic desire to not be disgusting. I have been a member of the media since senior year in high school when I got my first newspaper clip. Despite my passion for journalism and fierce support for the First Amendment, pop media largely grosses me out. It editorializes stories like Angelina Jolie’s mastectomies, the “chunky” cheerleader and that pathetic Abercrombie & Fitch CEO who hates fat girls. At the same time, I’m so guilty of watching, reading and reposting.
The relentlessness of the media when it comes to telling you about your crappy body is alarming. You think it’s going to get better when you get older, wiser, get married, get a job, have kids. But, oh no. IT NEVER GOES AWAY. It just changes a little. When you become a mom, for example, suddenly you’re being marketed to as a new demographic: the ideal mother. Wholesome, nurturing and impossibly SKINNY with flawless skin. This same illusion of a mother always does the right thing when it comes to child-rearing, but that’s another post.
When exactly does the media begin digging in? For me, who knows, maybe it was the first time I saw a Barbie commercial. The first time I remember it really resonating was when I was a teenager pouring over Delia’s catalogs and YM and Seventeen magazines. Trust me, I hold all those teen glossies near and dear to my heart because they are synonymous with the best parts of adolescence: Sitting around in my friend’s bedroom, gossiping and prank calling randoms while listening to Weezer, Green Day, Mazzy Star and Milla Jovovich CDs on repeat. Outside of that otherwise joyful context, though, teen magazines are toxic.
They were and continue to be a huge contributor to our very specific self loathing be it our faces, hair, bodies, odor, biology, clothes, friendships, boyfriends – pretty much EVERY aspect of our lives and specifically those that make us uniquely women. You know, stuff we should embrace, but were taught to HATE till they go away or are fixed. That’s why we starve. That’s why we cover up our bodies. They’re why we are still chasing some ghost of an ideal woman. At 30, 40, 50 …
Through being bombarded by self-help, diet, exercise, dating, beauty and fashion advice in teen mags, we’re basically led to think we are physically inferior, un-dateable and need improvement. And we by no means can do ANY of this by ourselves. We need help.
Teen mags are chock-full of pictures of pretty, skinny girls with good clothes and TONS of advice on how to fix your ugly self.
And forget about when we graduated to Cosmo (basically within the same year – we could not wait to check out this scandalous women’s magazine! It was our version of Playboy!).
Cosmo had fashion spreads of unachievable womanliness, Victoria’s Secret ads and hordes of graphic information about how to do sex right FOR YOUR MAN. I will never forget the how-to B.J. story that had us giggling for an hour. My friend read it out loud in a haughty professor voice. It was hilarious. But you know what? It essentially informed us how to be an object of pleasure for someone else.
My older sister had Sassy around the house – for skinny, alternative girls of all colors. It was a start. I didn’t see BUST till I flipped through it at a comic store in Chicago. It wasn’t love at first sight. BUST was so boldly sex-positive it scared me off at first. Not because I’m a prude, but because it went against everything I thought I knew about being a woman. The beauty tips featured normal-looking people. Normal people can’t be pretty! The sex guides were for, um, the reader (What? What a concept). It was only really when I bought my first issue of BUST that things began changing for me. Christ, I was in my 20s. Riot Grrrl and women’s studies classes were another big part of the change. I guess that sounds like a cliché feminist coming-of-age story, but it’s true, and studying women’s sociology, reading women’s lit and listening to angry lyrics about social injustices still happening IN OUR COUNTRY, IN 1998 certainly improved upon how I looked at myself and other women.
Then in my 30s, I began discovering intelligent and funny bloggers like Emily McCombs who writes through her body and addiction issues. The Internet has allowed me to totally hone in on writing that I care about by smart writers who are not interested in cashing in on making people feel bad all the time. Pretty sure Rookie, an incredible e-zine by Chicago teenager Tavi Gevinson, would have been my jam if we had the Internet as we know it in 1995.
I still subscribe to BUST – now in its 20th year and still writing intelligently for women (I even had the pleasure of interviewing its owners for a story and freelancing for them for a while). BUST is still helping all of us women like our bodies, right now, not in some fake future when we lose all the weight and buy all of the designer cosmetics. They’re still publishing awesome DIY guides and sharing information that actually matters.
Still, not a day goes by that most of TV, magazines, the Internet and all those ads in-between slam us with images of skinny, pretty, clean, smart, nice-smelling, unachievable womanhood.
I LOVE Pinterest, but between pictures of unreachable beauty standards, and “inspirational” quotes about what you’re doing wrong and how to do it right, plus endless tips and tricks to “live your best life,” sometimes I feel like I’m flipping through the absolute worst of those teen magazines.
True, I should really get off the Internet.
So tell me, did you grow up with teen magazines? Do you think they impacted how you feel about yourself today or were they just a girl’s rite-of-passage/get over it?
If you’ve ever felt like the media’s influence has harmed your body image, do you still feel that way or are you moving past it? What’s helped?
How are you ensuring your kids aren’t being beat over the head with the media’s seemingly never-ending Perfect Body Image Campaign?