The Beauty Myth

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Jeans: Pilcro
Boots: Frye Paige Tall Riding Boots

"And show you all the beauty you possess if you'd only let yourself believe that." - Sarah McLachlan

So, I've gained some weight. How much I couldn't tell you, because I don't weigh myself, but I can definitely tell my jeans are tighter. I've been cutting back in little ways over the past couple of days. No soft drinks and no bowl of ice cream before bed. Damn, I miss my Heath Bar ice cream! Due to the extra pounds, I've found myself being really judgemental and sensitive about my body.

I went to Durham on Saturday, and Jerry and I wandered into one of those Halloween stores that pop up this time of year. I joked around with him that I was going to get a slutty costume. However, the truth is I don't have the body or the self-confidence to wear most of those costumes. I managed to find a tribal goddess costume that covered up all my unattractive parts but still looked cute. I left the store feeling good about my purchase, but also feeling a little down that my body wasn't good enough to wear some of the sexier offerings. Last night, I decided to look on the Internets for some cheap Native American fringe boots to go with my costume. Jerry came and stood over my shoulder. During my search, a picture of a different tribal costume came up on the screen. It was a girl with a killer body wearing basically a bikini top and a low rise skirt.  Anyway, Jerry said, "That looks good." I said, "Yeah, but I can't wear that," and then clicked off of it onto another page. He said, "Wait a minute, go back." I snapped, "Why, so I can go back and stare at the costume I can't wear because my stomach looks horrible?" I felt bad that I had gotten upset over a stupid Halloween costume, but I couldn't help the way I felt.

You see, I've always felt inadequate when it comes to the way I look, but I've never been able to really figure out why. It's just a feeling that comes over me. For example, I've always felt really uncomfortable around attractive women. I compare myself and feel like I'm not as good as them. I have a difficult time watching TV shows and movies with my boyfriend that contain female nudity, because I feel ashamed that I don't look as good naked. Anyone I have ever shared this with has told me that my feelings are not normal. I'm supposed to be proud of my body and not be bothered by images of more beautiful women. Believe me, I don't want to feel this way, but it's easier said than done. I've also been told that my feelings would get better with age, but as my body gets older, I find more things wrong with it. Some days I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle.

In the throws of my body-image despair, I did what I always do when I feel bad and can't take solace in ice cream. I looked up inspirational quotes. I ran across some quotes by a lady named Naomi Wolf. As I read, I found myself saying "yeah" and "that's so right" out loud. I realized I had finally found an explanation for my feelings. Here are a couple of quotes that really spoke to me:

“The more legal and material hindrances women have broken through, the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us...During the past decade, women breached the power structure; meanwhile, eating disorders rose exponentially and cosmetic surgery became the fastest-growing specialty...pornography became the main media category, ahead of legitimate films and records combined, and thirty-three thousand American women told researchers that they would rather lose ten to fifteen pounds than achieve any other goal...More women have more money and power and scope and legal recognition than we have ever had before; but in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may actually be worse off than our unliberated grandmothers.” 
 Naomi Wolf

“As soon as a woman's primary social value could no longer be defined as the attainment of virtuous domesticity, the beauty myth redefined it as the attainment of virtuous beauty. It did so to substitute both a new consumer imperative and a new justification for economic unfairness in the workplace where the old ones had lost their hold over newly liberated women.” 
 Naomi Wolf

Like so many others, I've bought into the "beauty myth." I've been conditioned to feel ashamed of myself for not looking "ideal." Surely I'm not the only one to feel this way since the beauty industry is such a big business? I happened to overhear a conversation today, and it struck me just how many women have bought into this myth. Someone spotted the local "boob doctor" at a golf tournament. They knew he was there because his Ferrari was in the parking lot. Even in my small town, the plastic surgery business is booming.

I don't want to buy into the beauty myth anymore. I don't want to feel ashamed for who I am. I want to love my body, even the imperfections. I'm not sure how I'm going to do it, but I'm determined to change my way of thinking. I think I'll start by having that bowl of ice cream. ;-)

Adia - Sarah McLachlan

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37 comments:

  1. Amen, sista. Have that ice cream. You look great. I'm 5'10" and a size 6, and I totally struggle with my image. I look "thin" but hate how my stomach looks. I work out regularly and can do a 10-mile run without batting an eye, but I STILL don't think of myself as 'ideal' and, like you, am always comparing myself to other thinner women or women with 6-pack abs. I totally agree that it's so warped and that I just need to be happy with what I have and who I am. It might take a while to get there, but I'll do it! Thanks, this post did make me think. (It also made me hungry for ice cream.) :)

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  2. Based on the research you did, you should see that your. Insecurity with your appearance- especially your weight, is perfectly normal. Unfortunately..... Don't let others tell you that this is not "normal"- or it will lead to yet another insecurity. You are just like the rest of us. We are never pretty enough or thin enough. Let's fight back and show 'em that we can be happy even if we are not perfect- and don't get mistaken for Heidi Klum.

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  3. LifestoughwearahelmetOctober 11, 2011 at 9:27 PM

    Well, you look great in those Pilcro Jeans. I am going to buy myself a pair of them because they are really flattering.

    Don't be so hard on yourself, you really do look good. Pretty is a state of mind, if you feel it, you are.

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  4. Bonnie, Bonnie, Bonnie--- this is a very powerful post (particularly the last sentence!). I have really struggled with this over the years, ever since I was a little girl, really, which is sad. Even at my smallest, starved, underweight size 0 in my college years, I thought I was fat. MESSED UP! I have become more comfortable in my own skin now that I am 35 but I do still struggle with it from time to time (example- I will avoid going to the doctor because I don't want to get on the scale, though I am by no means fat- I just am never happy with what that number is). There is just so much pressure placed upon women in our society. The images, albeit a lot of them doctored up by a computer of idealized beauty, uber thin women are everywhere. I think it is impossible for it not to be almost hard wired into our brains at an early age that this is what we should strive for, that this is what beauty is. It is a struggle for many women. You are not alone.

    I am hopeful that your blog helps you a bit in this area. I hope you see the beautiful pictures and realize that you are beautiful, extra pounds (though I have no idea what you are talking about and don't see it at all- just the killer body that has always been in the pics!) and all.

    The more we talk about this together, as women, I think the more liberated we become from our body image issues.

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  5. Hi Bonnie, I thought that you might be interested in this website. The National Organization for Women does an annual campaign called "Love Your Body". There is also a "LYB" Day on Oct. 19th. http://loveyourbody.nowfoundation.org/

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  6. Funnily enough, I looked at that first photo and thought, "has she lost some weight?" You look truly lovely in these photos. (And that backdrop coupled with that top just looks extraordinary.)

    No one is perfect, physically or otherwise. Even models take hours of makeup and airbrushing to look the way they do. And though I'm as guilty of the physical self-loathing as any other girl out there (though I know I'm no worse-looking than the next person), the people I find beautiful are never the model-thin pinups with perfect hair and flawless makeup. I think the beautiful people are the ones with interesting faces and intelligent eyes, people with stories in their features. People who have that aura of being both interested in you and interesting themselves; people whose expressions are sincere, who look like they are likely to be thoughtful or kind or curious about the world. Truly happy people are always beautiful.

    If you can look for that sort of beautiful in these photos, and in yourself, I don't think you'd find yourself lacking in the least.

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  7. Awww....girly I think you look great! Every woman has body image issues - even ones that we look at and think they are perfect! Nobody can be perfect and you are so beautiful! You have lovely hair and eyes. Don't let a few pounds get you down. And I bet your boyfriend loves you in any outfit or costume that you wear! You look fabulous and don't forget it!

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  8. I guess it depends on the situation. No one should feel bad about their body, but I do get concerned when I see heavy women saying it is ok to be unhealthy and overweight and love themselves anyway. That is not your situation, but the fact is we could all use more exercise and strive to get in better health, and one thing I don't like that society is doing lately is having large numbers of women saying it is healthy or fine to be fat. Not good.

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  9. It's worth reading 'The Beauty Myth' - it's a very thought provoking book.

    For what it's worth, I think you've misunderstood the problem people might have had with the rape joke. It's not about appearance, it's about the suggestion (and the still distressingly widely held belief) that any woman might invite sexual assualt based on how they look or how they are dressed, that rape is a crime of sexual desire, and therefore within a woman's ability to prevent, rather than a crime committed out of a desire to debase, dehumanise and humiliate the victim. Outrage at the rape joke is not due to women being sensitive about their appearance but rather at the suggestion that the victim of a rape is ever, in any way responsible for what has happened to them.

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  10. PLEASE change the name of your costume: native american, not indian! unless of course you are wearing a sari.

    (and heath bar crunch ice cream is my favorite, too - i always end up eating the whole damn pint.)

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  11. Loving your body also means taking care of it. You don't eat the ice cream not just because of the extra weight it might cause you to carry, but also to improve the health of your body and practice some self-control and delaying of gratification. People look at this junk food as evil because we equate it with extra pounds, but we really also need to acknowledge that it's also not good for other health reasons, like cholesterol and sugar levels for example. And then there's also something called emotional eating. Yeah, we all deserve to treat ourselves once in a while, but when it comes to be so frequent as to coincide with our good times or our bad, then it's no longer healthy. Most women today have a problem with emotional eating and that's just as harmful as those who are feeling self-conscious about their bodies, and often the two feed each other. Women need to find healthier ways to deal with issues in their lives, not to hide behind or bury their emotions in food, to become less dependent on donuts and chips, and have the self-insight to look in and deal with things head on.

    Ok, getting off my soapbox now.

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  12. I have to tell you Bonnie I am in this boat big time with you. In High School and College I had the same body issues but I was a size 7. Then as I got older I got heavier and heavier and now after being pregnant for almost two years straight, and having a one year old ( I had a miscarriage over a year ago) I am having severe body issues. To make matters worse I have family that think only of appearances and everytime they see me I can see the disapointment in their eyes and they treat me like I am less than worthy. Life gets in the way and all of a sudden you turn around there staring back at you is a complete stranger who doesn't fit the mold of societies' norms. Its easy to say to someone you need to work out, eat better, don't feel so badly about yourself, but to do something about it isn't always so easy. Human beings have a tendency to sabotage themselves, and I know I am one of them. So all I can say is honey, I sympathize with you completely. I am right there in that boat with you, unfortunately I am weighing down that boat a lot more than you are. :) lol! Love you honey!

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  13. Thanks for clearing this up for me Roisin. I thought by appearance people meant the way a person looks, but I see now that it was meant to describe the way they dress. For what it's worth, I didn't think the joke was appropriate either. Rape is not something to joke about. I was just pointing out the hypocrisy in the fact that women who pick on others for their looks and religion would be offended by this type of joke.

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  14. Thanks M! I went to the doctor today, so I had to get on the almighty scales. I've gained 5 pounds, so weight gained confirmed. :-( I'm attracted to "interesting people" as well. I just seem to hold higher standards for myself than I do others. I'm going to try and start thinking of myself as one of the "interesting ones."

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  15. Thanks! Pilcro is my favorite brand of jeans. I just hope I don't outgrow these. You're right, pretty is a state of mind. Now if I could just figure out how to control my mind...

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  16. LOL! I had the ice cream. A great big ole' bowl. Wow! 5'10" and size 6? Sounds like you have a great body. It's crazy that someone like you would have body issues. I get it, though, believe me. Good luck with changing your attitude. Keep me posted on your progress!

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  17. Aw, Steph... You are such a beautiful person, inside and out. You're right, it's easy to say, "If you don't like your body then do something about it", but that is so much easier said than done. I love what you said here about human beings sabotaging themselves. I do it all the time! Case in point: I ate that big bowl of ice cream last night, but man, was it good! LOL!

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  18. Thanks! I guess I wasn't being very PC in my description of the costume. Sorry for the confusion! I will make the change.

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  19. I was also thinking you look very thin in these photos! I can empathize with you though. I've lost 10 pounds since the spring and my size 2 are getting too big, but am still not happy with my appearance. I run 25 miles a week but still think my legs look fat. Every cellulite dimple annoys the hell out of me. I just need to accept the fact I'll never look like I did at age 20 before two kids. And try to focus on the parts of me that I like...um still trying to come up with those! Let me know if you figure it out, I would love to love my body as is too!

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  20. Before I read the post, I actually thought you had lost weight! Those jeans look amazing on you.

    I can, unfortunately, relate to your body image struggles. I'm in the same boat. I feel so unattractive most of the time. I'm 5'1", 101 pounds, so I know I'm not objectively fat, but I carry all my weight on my bottom, have almost non-existent boobs, and just generally feel short and dumpy. To boot, I've gotten similar comments as you about my "manly face" (I have a prominent jaw line) and often harshly compare myself to other women.

    Society does put way too much pressure on us. It's easy to say "just focus on what's inside," but that's so hard to do when we're being bombarded by unrealistic and damaging messages from the media.

    Thanks for the great post!

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  21. Hi Bonnie,

    I emailed Cam and his bosses at Bojangles today to understand why they allow their employee to brag publicly about sleeping with another employee ON COMPANY TIME. I think it is a very poor reflection on their company, especially when your blog includes pictures of Cam's office and other parts of the office as a whole. No matter what YOU think about your actions, I feel your employer may feel differently.

    Cassie

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  22. The Catalan Tee looks fab on you! Beautiful photos, Bonnie!

    I recently did a polyvore with the tee if you'd like to take a peek.:)
    http://www.polyvore.com/catalan_with_purple_mary_janes/set?id=38022842

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  23. Thank you for an important post, Bonnie. It's important to apply a critical lens to our insecurities, especially ones that we feel pressured into by society. However, I do agree with other commenters above about other bad reasons to eat lots of ice cream--don't get me wrong, I love chocolate and eat a lot of it, but I try to compensate in other ways with my diet and certainly my exercise :) Health is important, too! And health doesn't just mean how much we weigh, though that is a (small) part of it.

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  24. I think it's too bad that you shared this with people and they just told you it's not normal. I think it IS normal! It's not healthy but it's definitely normal, which is pretty obvious when you see how prevalent eating disorders and plastic surgery are in our society. You look great in your pictures - healthy and pretty. I know that just hearing that from people isn't enough, though. It's a difficult mental issue to get over - I've been dealing with it since I was a teenager and it's just frustrating.

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  25. It's funny, because I used to think that I'll be happy if I can just tighten up my stomach or lose a few pounds (since that's the only place that I lose it when I do). However, now I'm just trying to focus on being HAPPY without the scale, and having that bowl of ice cream or eating at that mexican restaurant. As long as I'm healthy and in relatively good shape, I need to let go of those insecurities. I really do appreciate this post. It's nice to know that others have the same thoughts, no matter how unjustified they may be. :)

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  26. Be careful with making generalizations about the preferred terminology of what Native Americans, American Indians, or First Nation People want to be called.

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  27. Bonnie, you just don't get it. By appearance people mean dress and looks. Rape is not about either the way people look or dress. It has nothing to do with that. Rape is about brutalizing the victim. Please, read a book on sexual assault. You have a little girl. She doesn't need to grow up thinking rape happens because someone is pretty or busty or wears a short skirt. God forbid, should she ever be a victim of sexual assault, you don't want her thinking it was her fault due to her dress.

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  28. Hi STF, I don't think you are a bad person but wearing a Native American costume is culturally insensitive. This is a great blog about Native appropriations:
    http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/
    It may help you re-evaluate your decision in wearing that as your costume.

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  29. I've never said that I thought people got raped based on appearance or looks. I've been referring to a joke that was made by another person. Other women said they were offended by the joke because it implied that people get raped based on appearance. I was confused as to what they meant by appearance. That's all. I don't need you to tall me how to raise my daughter.

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  30. I loved this comment! It seems that many women at every weight have an issue with their weight! At one point I was 5'0" and about 80lbs. I was very thin and very unhealthy at the time (very stressed and working night shift...slept so much I didn't eat right). Now I am between 100 and 105. At times I think to myself...ok girl, we have to watch what we eat. Which is silly because I fit into 25 and size 0 clothes. I think sometimes that we will never be happy with ourselves! Not just with weight but with everything. Curly haired girls often want straight hair. Straight hair girls often want curly hair. We have to stop and love OURSELVES for what we are, which will never be perfect!

    http://headtotoeinanthro.blogspot.com

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  31. OMG!! Get a life!! Its a Halloween costume!!!!

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  32. Fan, my comment was nothing against her. You just don't get it...

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  33. OMG, whatever your body issues are, they need not apply with this outfit!!! It is another one of those really really good looks for you. Every piece of it, I can't decide which I like most though, the top or those fabulous boots!

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