Archive for the 'Women’s Rights' Category

Learning to Hate Our Bodies, Part One: The Media

girlreadingmagazineThis 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? 

Illustration: pamf.org

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This Matters.

Make no mistake, when we think of “mom and baby,” chunky, pink, giggly babies with model-beautiful, doting moms is what comes up on our Google brain search, too. Time to wake up.

It’s getting more and more impossible to not post stuff on Facebook about me. Who I really am. What I really think. Because I don’t want to hurt anyone. I know how bad it hurts when someone you love expresses beliefs that are a million miles away from yours. And it’s always the issues that matter most to you. I feel more comfortable sharing here. It’s funny how a blog that is available worldwide feels safer than a Facebook page of 95 friends and family.

What matters most to me? Women’s and children’s rights. There are so many things worth fighting for in this world, but I can’t sit by the sidelines and let people – largely wealthy white men in positions of power – decide how it’s gonna be when it comes to all I truly own: my body and my child. I just can’t. And if anyone else who had the luxury of passing laws about my body and my child’s welfare did so lightly – regardless of sex, color or class – I would take issue with that person, as well.

The importance of protecting, loving, educating and reaffirming children – particularly little girls because they are so low priority – drives me. I’m obsessed with building strong, happy, healthy and confident kids – girls and boys. I mourn for the kids who are overlooked. Ignored. Uncared for. And there are many. And it’s not fair.

Taking care of people who can’t take care of themselves – children, our poor, our disabled – is really a sign of a compassionate, educated, civilized society. And boy, are we sucking. I am not proud of us in 2012.

I came across this response post that sums it up for me regarding children’s and women’s rights and human welfare at a time when they’re all in jeopardy. Don’t think for a second that women and children’s issues are not also economic issues, which is all most Americans seem worried about right now. I’m hoping it touches you the way it totally took my breath away today. It’s painful. The truth hurts. But it matters so much. *removes rose-tinted glasses*

To: http://speakfortheweak.tumblr.com
From: http://stfuconservatives.tumblr.com

“Let me tell you some things.

I used to investigate child abuse and neglect. I can tell you how to stop the vast majority of abortion in the world.

First, make knowledge and access to contraception widely available. Start teaching kids before they hit puberty. Teach them about domestic violence and coercion, and teach them not to coerce and rape. Create a strong, loving community where women and girls feel safe and supported in times of need. Because guess what? They aren’t. You know what happens to babies born under such circumstances? They get hurt, unnecessarily. They get sick, unnecessarily. They get removed from parents who love them but who are unprepared for the burden of a child. Resources? Honey, we try. There aren’t enough resources anywhere. There are waiting lists, and promises, and maybes. If the government itself can’t hook people up, what makes you think an impoverished single mom can handle it?

Abolish poverty. Do you have any idea how much childcare costs? Daycare can cost as much or more than monthly rent. They may be inadequately staffed. Getting a private nanny is a nice idea, but they don’t come cheap either. Relatives? Do they own a car? Does the bus run at the right times? Do they have jobs of their own they need to work just to keep the lights on? Are they going to stick around until you get off you convenience store shift at 4 AM? Do they have criminal histories that will make them unsuitable as caregivers when CPS pokes around? You gonna pay for that? Who’s going to pay for that?

End rape. I know your type errs on the side of blaming the woman, but I’ve seen little girls who’ve barely gotten their periods pregnant because somebody thought raping preteens was an awesome idea. You want to put a child through that? Or someone with a mental or physical inability for whom pregnancy would be frightening, painful or even life-threatening? I’ve seen nonverbal kids who had their feet sliced up by caregivers for no fucking reason at all, you think sexual abuse doesn’t happen either?

You say there’s lots of couples who want to adopt. Kiddo, what they want to adopt are healthy white babies, preferably untainted by the wombs and genetics of women with alcohol or drug dependencies. I’ve seen the kids they don’t want, who almost no one wants. You people focus only on the happy pink babies, the gigglers, the ones who grow and grow with no trouble. Those are not the kids who linger in foster care. Those are certainly not the older kids and teenagers who age out of foster care and then are thrown out in the streets, usually with an array of medical and mental health issues. Are they too old to count?

And yeah, I’ve seen the babies, little hand-sized things barely clinging to life. There’s no glory, no wonder there. There is no wonder in a pregnant woman with five dollars to her name, so deep in depression you wonder if she’ll be alive in a week. Therapy costs money. Medicine costs money. Food, clothes, electricity cost money. Government assistance is a pittance; poverty drives women and girls into situations where they are forced to rely on people who abuse them to survive. (I’ve been up in more hospitals than I can count.)

In each and every dark pit of desperation, I have never seen a pro-lifer. I ain’t never seen them babysitting, scrubbing floors, bringing over goods, handing mom $50 bucks a month or driving her to the pediatrician. I ain’t never seen them sitting up for hours with an autistic child who screams and rages so his mother can get some sleep while she rests up from working 14-hour days. I don’t see them fixing leaks in rundown houses or playing with a kid while the police prepare to interview her about her sexual abuse. They’re not paying for the funerals of babies and children who died after birth, when they truly do become independent organisms. And the crazy thing is they think they’ve already done their job, because the child was born!

Aphids give birth, girl. It’s no miracle. You want to speak for the weak? Get off your high horse and get your hands dirty helping the poor, the isolated, the ill and mentally ill women and mothers and their children who already breathe the dirty air. You are doing nothing, absolutely nothing, for children. You don’t have a flea’s comprehension of injustice. You are not doing shit for life until you get in there and fight that darkness. Until you understand that abortion is salvation in a world like ours. Does that sound too hard? Do you really think suffering post-birth is more permissible, less worthy of outrage?

‘Pro-life’ is simply a philosophy in which the only life worth saving is the one that can be saved by punishing a woman.”


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