The Problem with BMI

Body Mass Index (BMI) is used to categorize an individual into one of the following four categories: underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese. BMI calculations use height and weight measurements to calculate a BMI number – high BMIs supposedly being an indicator of high levels of body fat. However, this calculation is flawed as it does not take into account body fat versus muscle weight in the calculation; therefore, people may be labeled as overweight or obese, yet they are actually athletic and healthy. One study even found that over half of individuals labeled as overweight by BMI actually had a healthy cardiometabolic profile and 1/3 of individuals labeled as “normal” had an unhealthy cardiometabolic profile.

Using this flawed system may be problematic, especially among adolescents and young adults, as many individuals already suffer from low body image and self-esteem due to pressure to fit the “ideal” body standard. One 8th grader, who had suffered from body image issues in the past, took a stand against an assignment where students were required to calculate and report their BMI to the class. Instead of completing the assignment, she wrote an inspiring essay describing why BMI is inappropriate and shouldn’t be used to label students’ health status.

Her essay goes on to say that:

“Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a “bigger girl,” and I’m completely fine with that; I’m strong and powerful. When you put a softball or a bat in my hand they are considered lethal weapons.”

She explains that she has had severe body image issues in the past – to the point where she wrapped her body to compress her fat so she would look skinnier. However, after visiting a doctor, he explained while she is a “bit overweight,” she is active and healthy and he is not at all worried about her health.

She concluded with this powerful sentiment that all young women and men should remember:

“I am just beginning to love my body, like I should, and I’m not going to let some outdated calculator and a middle school gym teacher tell me I’m obese, because I’m not.”

So remember, don’t let society tell you that your body makes you less than.

By Sarah London

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Celebrities and Body Image

Celebrities and body image are a notoriously fickle combination.  Whether they want to become a point of comparison or not, actors, musicians, and other entertainers are thrust into the public eye.  Despite having some sort of skills or talent that initially made them famous, this is not what the paparazzi chooses to focuses on.  Instead, if you open any magazine at the checkout counter of Publix, you’ll see celebrities being ridiculed for their body shape, hair styles, and clothing choices.

After decades of this being the norm, celebrities are speaking out.  This Buzzfeed article features some of my favorite celebrity come backs, as powerful individuals speak out to stop the paparazzi and other celebrities from commenting negatively on their body and choices.  Although only women are featured in this article, I am sure that there have also been great quotes from people of all genders in the industry, fighting back against rude and unnecessary remarks.

So in case you’re feeling down about how much attention is placed on superficial things like looks, check out what these women had to say in response.  I’ve put some of my favorites below!

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By:  Julia Greenspan

Toy Like Me

In a culture where ideal body standards are created and perpetuated by the beauty industry, it may seem like there is nothing you can do, but it’s not out of your hands. You can take a stand and make a difference in creating a more body positive culture. A group of parents did just that by creating a social media campaign called “Toy Like Me” in an effort to encourage parents to customize their children’s toys to include accessories and physical characteristics of children of all body types and with various disabilities. Creating these dolls is important because children with disabilities deserve to see their own characteristics reflected in their toys. Parents across the world responded to the campaign by customizing their children’s dolls to include hearing aids, walkers, birth marks, prosthetic limbs, etc.

In response to the campaign, a British toy company, Makies, designed a new line of dolls that are representative of children with disabilities. Makies uses 3D printing to create hearing aids, walking aids, and even facial birthmarks for the dolls. The company even allows parents to customize the dolls to personally resemble their child’s specific physical characteristics. The company “hopes that a more positive representation of children through their toys will help make our society more inclusive, and kids with disabilities will stop trying to follow the impossible and unnatural ‘beauty standards’ and standards of conformity which we’re all used to when they get older.”

So remember, you have a voice and you can create a more body positive society.

makies dolls

By Sarah London

Sexual health and body image

As a sexual health educator, body image is not something I often think about.  Yes, I want to empower students to make the best sexual decisions for their life (which may include not being sexually active).  While I think it is important to have a positive body image to ensure that you are being sexually active for the right reasons (and you are not searching for someone else’s validation), body image is not a normal discussion point when I am talking about sexual health.  I stumbled across this article and I think it is important and manages to frame body image and sexual health in a provocative and important way:  through the lens of STIs.

Simply put, the rates of STIs in this country are pretty high- especially among individuals aged 15-24.  The CDC estimates that of the 20 million STIs that occur in the US each year, half of them are among this age group.  Luckily, many STIs can be quickly treated with antibiotics.  One of the STIs that cannot be quickly treated is herpes.

Herpes is a STI that carriers a huge stigma.  I remember rumors in college going around about one girl who “had the herp”.  My friends and I all shook our heads, thinking about how awful it’d be to have herpes.  The author of this article, however, states the truth about herpes- that it just isn’t a big deal.  It really is just a skin condition, and compared to STIs like gonorrhea, which can cause infertility if left untreated, herpes is just an annoying thing to have to deal with when it flares up.  Approximately 2/3 of adults have the herpes virus.

I think the author of this article was incredibly brave.  By writing about her body on the internet, she had the potential to face extreme backlash.  However, instead she was able to highlight her positive body image, for being able to accept her body for what it is, herpes and all!

 

Disclaimer:  Even though it is not a big deal, you should still protect yourself from herpes and other STIs!  Free safer sex supplies are available around campus through the Get Yourself Protected Campaign.  STI testing is available at Stamps Health Services.

 

By:  Julia Greenspan

Fashionista Barbie

When I was younger, despite having access to my older brother’s LEGOs and racecars, I favored one type of toy- Barbie.  I used to play with my Barbie for hours, brushing her hair and dressing her up.  Barbie has a “look” with which everyone is familiar.  Despite the fact that I am also Caucasian, that is where my similarities with Barbie end.  I have brown hair while hers is blonde, green eyes to her blue ones, and I spent most of my childhood being shorter and rounder than my peers.  Although I grew out of playing with dolls for many reasons, one of the reasons was realizing that I didn’t look anything like my formerly beloved Barbie doll.

This spring, Mattel is launching a new line of Barbie- the Fashionista Barbie.  The Fashionista Barbie will feature a plethora of options for skin tones (seven choices), eye color (22 choices), hair color (30 choices), hair style (24 choice), face shape (14 choices)… and body type.  Yes, Barbie is finally going to have options other than the unrealistic version that has existed for decades.  She will now be available in tall, petite, and curvy.

In short, I love this new line of Barbie.  Throughout daily life, you are bombarded with expectations about how you should look.  Young children are exposed to these messages at a young age from their surroundings, which includes, among many other things, their toys.  Having the opportunity to promote a healthy body image from a young age is a remarkable accomplishment.  Children do not innately hate their bodies, but rather, they are conditioned to do so.  One of my favorite parts of this article is that when playing with the new curvy body, one of the children describes her body as being “stronger”.  In addition to body type, Mattel also took this opportunity to ensure that other features of Barbie will be customizable, ensuring that a larger number of children will be able to relate to the new dolls.  Although it was years in the making, hopefully the Fashionista Barbie will provide a venue to promote healthy body image and acceptance for children from a young age!

Projecting the Good

The definition of the verb “project” has changed in meaning for me since I entered college.

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When I was in high school, it meant to speak in a way so that everyone could hear. When I watch the weather, it allows the forecaster to anticipate rain. When I was in geometry and calculus, I didn’t understand what it meant.

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The geometric meaning is what distorts how a map looks when hanging on a wall. Because projecting shapes that are on a spherical Earth to a rectangle cannot be easily done without distortion.

Oddly enough, the geometric meaning has been the most significant in my life in the past few years. As I have slowly learned to identify what projecting my beliefs, opinions, and habits onto others looks like and the effects it can have. By applying personal standards to others, they are often distorted and take on different meanings and unseen implications.

This distortion is what we do when we expect women all to have the same body type. At Georgia Tech, it is the distortion that the value of your work depends directly on how related it is to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). It is the expectation that your GPA must meet a specific standard to be successful enough.

Sometimes, projecting is done with a shallow sense of love: wanting to help others towards a goal you have set for them. However, the conflation of encouragement and projection is a dangerous mix that I have seen end in catastrophe. It pushes people towards impossible standards that have been set for them externally. Whether the source is family, friends, school, magazines, or ‘society,’ the outcome of projected expectations can be eating disorders, self-hate, and much more.

Ultimately, learning not project expectation to those around you is one of the best things you can do as a friend, partner, child, or human. Allowing others to exist in a space of love that does not expect anything from them but themselves. It is a lesson I learned the hard way. It is a lesson that is not always easy to identify and follow. However, it means understanding that we all come from different background and are living under different daily truths no matter our size, tone, weight, or accent.

 

By Christine Gebara

 

5 Important Ways our Lives Could Change by Being Pro-Period

Positive body image isn’t just about the surface level, external body.  It’s about knowing, understanding, and being proud of the whole body that you have and what it does for you.  Easier said than done, at times, for those of us who experience periods!  It can come with pain, insecurity, cost, and shame.  It’s easy to view periods as a negative thing, but it is important for women and men to become more comfortable with periods. It’s time we start to explore a stronger positive body image through pro-period conversations! 

What difference does it make? Well, here are five important ways our lives could change by being pro-period: 

1. It stops being a burden and starts to become a celebration. There is pain involved, and extra effort in daily routines to maintain self-care when you have a period. Not every moment is easy and many women struggle with moderate to severe complications connected to their cycle. Still, periods don’t have to be synonymous with burden.  In fact, one could argue that having a period is something to be celebrated. Yes, you read that right. Hear me out. As I mentioned above, body image isn’t just about how we look.  It’s about celebrating the way your body works for you.  Having a period lets women know they are healthy and that their bodies are doing what they should be each and every month. This information is a critical part of short and long-term health! Viewing periods as a burden may cloud our ability to notice the things that could indicate a need to follow-up or get more information. 

2. Our language will become more confident. Aunt Flo, “That time of the month”, my worst nightmare.  These are just a few of many ways women might refer to their monthly cycle.  But why call it all of these indirect names, when we could just call it what it is? Menstrual cycle. Cycle. Period.  Having nicknames for periods makes it less awkward to talk about (maybe), but it creates a self-made barrier from having authentic conversation.  Having a menstrual cycle is something many women experience for several days a month and for many years of their lives. We can’t move forward if we aren’t willing to call it what it is. Period. [Pun intended.]

3. We can have better access to resources. There are experts on menstrual cycles and women’s health all over the world who can be consulted as questions arise.  Even still, there are experts on periods who are often forgotten – women themselves.  As people become more confident and comfortable talking about periods, a shared platform of understanding and experience will continue to be created.  Ingrid Nilsen, a content creator on YouTube, has become one of many important voices in normalizing conversation about periods. She has created videos, viewed by hundreds of thousands of people, that work to create a culture of understanding and comfort in discussing periods and women’s health.  This has allowed her audience to also learn new information they may never have considered.  In her recent “Your Vagina Matters” video, Ingrid speaks with founders and members of Conscious Period, an organization working to make feminine hygiene products available to women who are experiencing homelessness and may not be able to afford these essential products themselves. It was eye-opening to me to become more aware of this need, and I anticipate it was new information for many watching her video.  The ability to share information and create awareness allows for better and stronger resources to be developed for women.  

4. State legislators would be challenged to stop applying luxury taxes to essential feminine hygiene items. Did you know that 40 of the 50 states in the U.S. charge a “luxury tax” on feminine hygiene products including sanitary napkins and tampons? This is a problem.  Fusion author, Taryn Hillin, says it best in her article – “Yet as every woman who has ever gotten her period knows, feminine hygiene products are not a choice; they’re a required part of being a woman.” To be charged an additional cost for something that is biological and part of women’s everyday experiences, means we are experiencing a form of discrimination. Women and men need to band together to address this issue of unjust costs applied to an everyday, essential item.  But this step of coming together must be preluded by our own comfort with having these conversations and being open about the concern. 

5. A culture of advocacy is created.  Difficult conversations about menstrual cycles are prominent in the U.S., but creating a shared, pro-period culture is a larger, global issue.  There are many religions across the world, for example, that enforce a culture of shame toward women during their periods. Depending on the religion practiced, women can be told their periods make them unclean and unholy. Women might be banned from their places of faith, their schools, and even their homes. They may be forbidden from cooking, touching other people, or having sex with their partners.  Women could be viewed as sick, unclean, and untouchable by others. When exploring these types of practices, it is imperative that a strong level of perspective is maintained.  Not all followers of a faith will practice shaming in the ways listed above, and certainly, many areas of the world are growing to understand this part of a woman’s experience more and more.  Some is not enough, however, when women are being treated as less than human for an essential and important part of their lives.  Willingness to have open conversations allows for this to become a larger movement, one based in confidence and education.  

A pro-period culture isn’t going to happen overnight.  It will take time, energy, and a willingness to step outside of our comfort zones to engage in difficult, but meaningful conversation.  

What are your thoughts on a pro-period culture? How might your life change by taking a pro-period stance? 

By: Sarah Strohmenger

Waist Training: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

In trying to live up to the ideal body image, women try many different ways to get their “dream” body including dieting, exercising, surgery, and the like. Currently, waist training to get the perfect hourglass figure has become the new craze among celebrity icons with the likes of Jessica Alba, Amber Rose, and the Kardashians posting to social media praising the waist training corset and the miracle it has created in giving them a teeny tiny waist. With hashtags such as #HourGlass, #WaistTraining, #WaistGang, waist trainers are taking over the fitness world. So should you run out and buy a waist trainer to try and mold yourself into an hourglass shape? I think not…

But first, what is waist training and how do you do it?

According to a popular brand of waist cinchers, waist training is a process women use to reduce the size of their waist by wearing a tight corset for approximately 8 hours a day and/or while working out. Wearing the corset creates a smaller and smoother appearance while enhancing the bust and butt.

Okay, this sounds a little crazy. With some of their popular corsets called “Bye Bye Belly” and “Very Aggressive Miracle Waist Shaper,” it doesn’t sound like a pleasant experience. Most fads in the fitness world run their course because there is no quick fix for changing your body and the healthiest and longest lasting changes are ultimately made through lifestyle changes that you can stick with for more than a short period of time. This theory raises the questions of “Does waist training actually work” and “Is it safe?”

Weight loss and nutrition experts agree that long-term use of waist trainers can have negative health consequences because as it puts pressure on your midsection, it compresses your lungs making it harder to breathe deeply and can ultimately lead to organ damage as it pushes your lungs and liver up and your intestines down. Check out this picture to see changes in internal anatomy from long-term corset wearing.
waistThe United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority even went as far as to ban an ad by Velform Miniwaist for “being ‘irresponsible’ and promoting ‘unhealthy body perceptions’ by encouraging women to aspire to … an impossibly proportioned Jessica Rabbit lookalike.”

So is it worth risking bodily damage to shrink your waist to fit the “ideal” hourglass figure? I hope your answer is no. Although waist training may define your waist while wearing the body shaper, it won’t create lasting effects and should be used more as a fun piece for a night out than as an everyday tool to change your body.

By Sarah London

Fat Positive New Year’s Resolutions

By Lo Denmon

Several years ago on New Year’s Eve, I started a tradition with a dear friend to list the things we wanted to be cognizant of for the next year. Some people might call them “resolutions,” but those get a pretty bad rap in the public eye. I, for one, am not especially interested in traditional resolutions because they seem to maintain an overarching theme that fatness is bad and every action of the new year should be dedicated to becoming less fat. But I always find that these resolutions are impossible to stick to because they aren’t healthy habits. They are put in place to avoid being shamed and rejected by other people, as if living up to someone else’s expectation of attractiveness will allow you to be happy or comfortable living in the body you’ve got. So I’m sharing with you some of my New Year’s Resolutions, the hobbies I’d like to explore and habits I’d like to develop for a happier, healthier (still fat) me.

1.) I will eat whatever I want, in public places, without worrying what other people think. Everyone needs to consume food everyday. There’s no way around it. But I refuse to justify my caloric intake with statements like “It’s cheat day!” or “Well, I’m eating a salad, so it’s healthy.” Nope. It’s my body, and they’re my choices, and I’m going to eat what makes me feel good. Invasive thoughts about how others who see me eating, as a fat person, do nothing to bolster my self esteem or make me feel good about myself, and they have zero frame of reference for my personal circumstances. Can you imagine being so restricted in your day to day life that you feel obligated to eat based on what other people perceive you as deserving? It’s ludicrous to live by someone else’s expectations. Whose expectations are they expected to live by? It’s okay to eat fast food. It’s okay to choose to eat salads. It’s perfectly acceptable to recognize that certain foods make you feel perky and others make you feel sluggish and you can eat whatever you choose.

2.) I will be photographed with a fat body. I will send snapchats with a double chin. I will Instagram photos of me out doing things. Do you know the angle I have to orchestrate to avoid having a double chin in photos? If I constantly presented myself to others with that upward turned face with a stretched out neck, my friends would never see my face. They just aren’t that tall. But they’ve all seen my face in person. They know what it looks like. My double chin on snapchat will not be much different from what they see in real life, and because they are not infants, they have grasped the concept of object permanence and know that my face is not miraculously going to change just because of a few angles.

3.) I will buy a kayak and go hiking. You will not find me in a gym. You won’t find a lot of people in gyms come February. I think that gyms are intimidating and miserable for fat people. It’s not that gyms are inherently bad, but they can cause a lot of people, myself included, to leave feeling worse than when they entered. You get caught in this vicious loop where gym rats are either angry that you’re fat and in their gym (presumably to lose weight, which might appease them) or you’re fat and not in a gym and thus not losing weight. And then there’s that thing about being the star of an amateur filmmaker’s snapchat movie about being fat in a gym. (Not that being fat on social media is horrible – See #2 – but that’s some unnecessary antagonistic behavior that most people would call bullying.) Gyms are miserable for me because “working out” is miserable for me. Aside from the intimidating and unwelcoming environment, gyms don’t make for good habits for some people because they aren’t mentally stimulating and folks go with the intention of only losing weight. I see gyms as a punishment for not measuring up. A better way to approach this goal is to develop a sustainable and meaningful habit. Go outdoors and explore the world. Engage with the environment you exist in. Exercise your body in new ways for the sake of exploration and feeling better about your body. No matter your size, your body is capable of propelling yourself. Barring some issue with accessibility, your arms are strong enough to propel a watercraft with a paddle, no matter the pace. Your legs can carry you across wooded trails, regardless of how much time it takes you. It’s completely acceptable to move your body and feel good about how much you are capable of doing. In the process, you will probably lose weight, but you might also learn that you don’t need to lose weight to be happy and comfortable in your body as it is.

It’s important to recognize that these are not simply body positive resolutions. These are fat positive New Year’s Resolutions. These resolutions speak to the way that fat bodies exist in the world, and that they deserve to exist as they are. It’s acceptable to have fat on your body and continue living and existing.

“I say, ‘I am sick’. They say, ‘no, you’re an inspiration’.”

This weekend I was perusing the internet when I found a YouTube video of the 2015 National Poetry Slam.  In the video, Blythe Baird is performing her piece called “When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny”.  She explains how she grew up an overweight child, but was happy with her body until she realized that being overweight was something society viewed as “bad”.  Once she recognized that her body was something that society perceived as a problem, Blythe developed anorexia.  Often, anorexia is imagined as a disorder that requires medical attention as it transforms someone who has a “normal” weight into an emaciated person.  However, as Blythe was overweight, others saw her anorexia and resulting weight loss as an accomplishment.  One of the lines from the piece that stuck out to me the most was

“If you develop an eating disorder when you are already thin to begin with, you go to the hospital.  If you develop an eating disorder when you are not thin to begin with, you are a success story.”

Weight, society, and eating disorders intersect every day to frame perceptions about body image.  Beginning in elementary school, our formal education teaches that the key to achieving optimum health is a good diet and exercising.  However, there is far more that is learned outside of the classroom.  As a young child, we learn about nutrition and exercise from our families.  This knowledge is influenced by many factors, including economic position (in the case of accessibility and food deserts) and cultural background (and the resulting varying ideals of beauty).  Classmates, friends, and siblings also shape our perception of our own body.  Although it has been close to two decades since I stepped foot on an elementary school playground, the recent media focus on bullying lets me know that young children are probably still being teased and taunted in the schoolyard about their body size.

In short, it is no wonder that like Blythe, hundreds of thousands of young people of all genders develop eating disorders each year.  Blythe’s experience provides an important and rarely heard insight into the world where anorexia is not treated as a dangerous, life threatening disorder.  Rather, it is idolized because it results in a lower number on the scale.  In the throes of her eating disorder, Blythe explained that when she had initially lost a significant amount of weight, her father said he was “proud to see me taking care of myself”.  Therefore, as we enter 2016 and you begin to hear about New Year’s Resolutions that center on losing weight, remember that it is far more important to get healthy.  Weight truly is just a number on a scale and not a reflection of your self-worth, education, abilities, or personality.  Just as we learned in elementary school, the key to a positive body image is balance- with your diet, exercise, health, and happiness!

Disclaimer:  If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, please contact the Georgia Tech Eating Disorder Treatment Team at 404-894-9980.  An online anonymous screening for eating disorders can be accessed here.

 

By:  Julia Greenspan

Social Media and Body Image

In 2015, we live in a culture that is ruled by social media.  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… these websites reign supreme.  It is estimated that 90% of young adults use some form of social media.  Although social media can be a great way to keep in touch with others and share information, there are also negative outcomes.  Within the last year, studies have been published that highlight an association between increased use of social media and negative mental health impacts, including depressive symptoms and decreased life satisfaction.  This is because it is easy to compare yourself to the life that someone is posting on social media.  The Instagram users with the most followers are Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian, Selena Gomez, Beyonce, and Ariana Grande.  Millions of people follow these women, and therefore millions of people compare themselves to the posts these women make.

It is well established that unrealistic body expectations exist for people of all genders, and that celebrities often perpetuate these expectations.  But there are also thousands of Instagram accounts run by people who do not fit in to our traditional definition of “celebrity”- they never starred in a movie or released a Billboard hit song.  Rather, these people are famous because of what they post on social media.  Since they aren’t what you normally expect from a celebrity, this may make them seem more relatable, even though they have hundreds of thousands of their own followers on social media.  But what sort of impact does this proliferation of social media have on body image?

At the beginning of November, Essena O’Neill spoke out against social media.  Just in case you aren’t familiar with her, Essena is one of those women who became famous because of what she posted to social media.  For years, Essena posted pictures of her lean, toned body in form fitting clothing.  She became known worldwide as a “fitspiration”, or fitness inspiration.  However, at 18 years old with over 600,000 Instagram followers, she changed her approach.  Posting a video describing the unrealistic nature of her pictures, Essena encouraged others to realize that so much of what we see online is “contrived perfection made to get attention”.  Essena explained that while others felt she was “fitspiration”, she was eating unhealthily and mistreating her body to become a social media star.  After posting the video, she also went through and edited the captions of many of her Instagram posts.

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In choosing to be transparent about the unrealistic life she posted on Instagram, Essena was incredibly brave.  Next time you see something posted on social media that makes you question yourself, take an extra second to consider if things are really as they seem.  The next time you choose to post on social media, don’t succumb to the pressure to look a certain way.  Remember that everyone’s body is beautiful!  Confidently posting a picture of yourself may be just the inspiration that someone else needs to accept themselves!

By Julia Greenspan

Pictures from:  http://www.cosmopolitan.com/style-beauty/beauty/news/a49366/essena-oneill-reveals-diet-and-exercise/ and http://mashable.com/2015/11/04/essena-oneill-explained/#wWJGPIg7RSqZ

 

Building a trans-inclusive body positivity movement

Body positive movements, lovely as they are, more often than not center only the experiences of cisgender folks. For folks who trouble the cultural lines drawn between sex and gender, finding space within body positive movements can be especially challenging.

As a nonbinary trans person, I often wonder what potential a body positive movement might have for transgender communities. Too often, transgender people find their bodies removed from their own experiences, needs, and understandings, and placed into narratives that are unfamiliar, pathologizing, and violent. When most folks understand transgender people as “born in the wrong body,” or share sticky gossip about genitalia, anatomy, and transition, building a trans-inclusive body positive movement seems not only an especially steep hill, but also an absolutely necessary climb.

Certainly, in the history of many body positive movements, reclaiming bodies and parts of our bodies that have been labeled “gross,” “excessive,” or “offensive” has been a revolutionary goal. For some transgender and gender non-conforming folks, reclamation is not only a fight for correct and validating language (to name your body as you know it), but also a struggle to quite literally reclaim physical bodies that are controlled by external and cisnormative forces, such as health insurance and medicine, dress codes in educational and professional settings, and bathroom/locker room policies, to name a few. Transgender people also face criticism that their bodies and their gender identities are inauthentic, incomplete, and inadequate because they do not conform to dominant ideas of how bodies should reproduce, desire, or look. When transgender people are denied the power to name, dress, or alter their bodies as they need, we become all the more susceptible to further physical, interpersonal, and internal violence.

Arguably, building a trans-inclusive body movement hinges on a fundamental idea: bodies and parts of bodies must be allowed to exist, become, and thrive no matter their birth assignment or perceived gendered purpose. By challenging and rewriting how we think about how our bodies exist in and interact with society, we create space for more authentic and loving ways to engage with ourselves and others. For cisgender and transgender folks alike, learning to love our bodies outside of the things they’re supposed to do or outside of how they should appear, feel, enjoy, desire, or function is an act of radical self-love and care.

With this idea in mind, here are some ideas for how both transgender and cisgender folks can build trans-inclusive body positivity:

1) Gender your body only and no one else’s. Our bodies are gendered (understood by others as either man or woman) by how we perceive their sex (male/female); this means that telling someone to love their shape (their curves or their angles), their size, their height carries with it a deeply engrained idea about what kind of person those characteristics should belong to.

Thus, when talking to someone whose gender supposedly “shouldn’t” exist in their body, saying something like “love your curves” can pack an extra punch. If those curves are associated with a gender that is not yours, and those are afforded to you because of the sex you were assigned at birth, or your hormones or your chromosomes or your access to medical care or what have you, then not only am I trying to accept a rhetoric for a gender that is not mine, but I’m also trying to convince myself that those curves do, indeed, belong to me.

2) Support other people in how they gender (or don’t gender) their bodies. While concepts of masculinity and femininity are not useful to everyone, they can be very useful and validating tools for folks of many different gender identities and expressions. Similarly, even folks who identify with the same gender identity can present and name themselves in very different ways. Trans-inclusive body positivity not only encourages folks with all gender identities and bodies to gender themselves as they please, but also finds support and validation from others.

3) Challenge other practices that exclude or harm our bodies. White supremacy, ableism, classism, and sizeism tell folks of all bodies that their difference makes them undesirable, unintelligent, unlovable, or without value. As we build a trans-inclusive body positive movement, we must remember that the things that tell us that transgender bodies are less than cisgender bodies are the same ones that tell us that people of color, disabled folks, poor folks, and fat folks are in excess for our society.

Led by acts of self-love, care, and reclamation, trans-inclusive body positive movements challenge what it means to move through a world that both creates and ridicules excessive bodies.

Men in the Media

Many people suffer with body image issues due to our perfectionist, media-driven society where unrealistic beauty standards reign supreme. With the recent push towards promoting self-love and positive body image among young girls and women, it is important not to forget that men often struggle with self-image too. With a largely male student population here at GA Tech, it is essential to address this issue and help young men feel comfortable and confident with who they are as an individual.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association and an AOL Body Image Survey, 43% of men are dissatisfied with their body, 63% of men “always feel like they could lose weight,” 53% of men don’t like having their picture taken, and 41% of men said they worry that people judge their appearance. These are staggering numbers that highlight the gendered discussion of body image and dismissive atmosphere surrounding men’s body insecurities in the U.S. Furthermore, transgender individuals are almost always left out of the conversation.

While we know that the “ideal” women is portrayed as tall, thin, and perhaps blonde, what is the “ideal” man as depicted by popular culture? First, he is extremely masculine and almost always portrayed with a “hot body” meaning strong and muscular – just think of how all the super heroes and movie stars look like today. The loveable yet schlumpy male icon is no more. The pressure men now feel to be lean yet muscular is synonymous with the pressure women feel to be thin. That’s a lot! Second, he is confident and stoic – i.e. men don’t show emotion. How many times have you heard the phrase “Man Up,” “Be a Man!” or “Grow some balls!” to encourage young boys and men to toughen up, hide their feelings, and soldier on. This can greatly affect a man’s self-worth and create deep feelings of inadequacy and shame for showing or even having emotions. Finally, he is portrayed as tidy, groomed, and well-dressed – he must be the best to get the ladies, right? This is highlighted by the more than 70% increase in the men’s beauty and skin product industry globally between 2012 and 2014. Ultimately, men are supposed to be protectors, providers, warriors – just manly all around.

So what does this mean? The body image conversation in the U.S. needs to expand to include men’s issues and to create an open environment where men are encouraged to share and where they feel comfortable voicing their opinions about topics not generally viewed as “manly.” Ultimately, we must break through the hypermasculinity ideal rampant throughout society and embrace the diversity of shape, personality, and manner of all men.

By Sarah London

Guys remember…
fab

by Lo Denmon

Do you know what it means to have a good body image, really? What it means to be in touch with your body and be aware when something is wrong with it? Or to have the self-esteem to take care of it when something bad is happening? A significant part of having good body image is understanding your own body. It is absolutely necessary to “be in touch” with your body, or know the processes that are normal for it and normal for you, individually.

I really love BUST. They publish a lot of cool articles about interesting feminist topics and they have the nerve to ask the women on their covers about their careers. Recently, the editors at BUST posted the most disgusting (and maybe fake?) article I’ve ever read, written by a woman who had a menstrual cup in her body for a really ridiculously long time.

To preface this, I recently started using a Ruby Cup instead of tampons. A dear friend hosted a program at her intentional living community about menstrual cups and sustainable periods. I had been wanting to try a menstrual cup, and this was a really exciting opportunity to get one for free and decide if I really could commit to it. Everyone at the event discussed their love of their menstrual cups, but every one of them stated that there is a learning curve attached to using the cup. First, you have to learn how to fold it for placement. Then you have to practice how to insert it without it unfolding. After it’s in place, you have to wait to feel the -pop- as it unfolds. You have to learn what it feels like when it’s full and ready to be emptied, and finally, you must learn how to remove it. Preferably, you remove it without spilling anything, but that concern pales in comparison when you can’t reach the cup to pull out. I didn’t understand this until I had used my cup for about two months, but your body really has to get used to this object being present and being removed in a certain way. Until I learned that, I spent nearly half an hour in the bathroom each time I tried to remove it, always on the verge of tears because it was STUCK. My body did not want to release it and I feared that I needed a gyno to pull it out. But I did not leave it in for more than twelve hours.

So when I stumbled upon this article called I Had A Diva Cup Stuck Inside Me For A Long Fucking Time, I thought for sure that it was an article reassuring first time users and new converts that it might seem like your menstrual cup is stuck inside you, but it can actually be removed and there is no need to worry. And then I read the article. Well, I read part of it. I lost all hope when I arrived at the varying hues and smells of her discharge and I was embarrassed when her partner announced that he hadn’t noticed anything… odd. I am not the first person to come to this conclusion and probably not the last, but WHAT A LOAD OF CROCK!

When I ask what it means to have a positive body image, I really mean that you can’t ignore some of the symptoms of a potential illness in your body. As a pretty dedicated cup user, I cannot in good faith believe that this woman, drunk or otherwise, simply forgot, and I am angry that BUST presented it this way. As the name describes, it is a cup; it fills up and eventually overflows. Preventing a leak is high on my list of things to worry about when I have my period and I would have been concerned that this was a continuation of my period and sought to end it. Perhaps it was not of similar importance to her, just as changing colors and smells of discharge were not of concern to her. Beyond leakage, I would be further concerned that my body is expelling things that are unusual. No two bodies are the same, but the standard for judgment is not based on the difference from another’s body. It’s based on the difference from one’s own. If she had had a positive body image, she would have been terribly concerned and sought medical care immediately. (I understand that this implies access to appropriate medical care and not everyone has that privilege, but she later mentions seeking a medical professional anyway.) She would have understood that the abnormal things happening with her body could have been seriously detrimental to her health, and done something about it.

She even describes asking her partner if he had noticed anything when they were intimate. Part of the premise of a menstrual cup is that it must be removed and emptied when it is full. A short stem is worked into its design so that it can be grabbed and tugged out. Even when my cup was “stuck” as I learned to use it, I could still feel that stem. It is always there and unavoidable. What a terrible assumption to make about her partner that he either couldn’t feel the stem or his understanding of female anatomy is so lacking that he did feel the stem and thought it was meant to be there! But she didn’t trust her own conception of her body and its abnormalities

No amount of playful GIFS interspersed in her narrative can allow me to forgive this horrible representation of menstrual cups. Let’s be clear. This BUST article was an irresponsible portrayal of menstrual cups and the title was a lie. It was not stuck. She forgot it. Experiences like this are not common with appropriate use of a menstrual cup. I’m not sure how little this woman had to care about her body to ignore obvious changes to it, but I was embarrassed for her. If she had left a tampon in for a month and a half like she did her menstrual cup and proceeded to ignore signs indicating something was wrong, she could have died from toxic shock syndrome. (Some sources claim that menstrual cup use has no risk of TSS, but other brands suggest erring on the side of caution when using a cup)

If you’re interested in menstrual cups and how to use them properly, drop by the Women’s Resource Center in the Smithgall (Flag) Building on November 10th at 1PM for a conversation about Sustainable Cycles.

Happy Halloween, Georgia Tech!

To quote one of the most legendary movies of our generation, as Lindsey Lohan famously said in Mean Girls,

“Halloween is the one night a year when girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” 

Women are encouraged to take their standard outfit and make it sexy.  Forgo your cop outfit to be a sexy cop!  Don’t just be a convict, be a hot prisoner.  Knock it out of the ring as a seductive boxer!  So what’s wrong with the idea of women (or people of any gender) wearing a minimalistic outfit that toes the line between “sexy” and “inappropriate”?

Long story short… there’s nothing wrong with it!  It is important to celebrate and embrace your body, and to wear a costume that you are both excited to wear, and one that makes you feel comfortable.  Tall, short, thin, fat, white, black, and everything and in between… you should feel empowered to wear a costume that you love.  However, looking at the costume offerings on popular Halloween websites, it becomes clear that they are marketing to a very specific demographic- women who are tall, lean, and white.  After looking at the costume offerings on four popular websites, the most diversity that I saw was a single redhead, dressed up as a certain Disney Princess mermaid.

The message that these websites are sending is that it is only acceptable to dress up in a costume that shows your stomach and your legs if they are toned and you have less than 15% body fat.  While that may be what many women struggle to look like as they view it as ideal, the reality is that most people in the United States do not look like that.  From the type of hair you have to the size of your feet, you’re a completely unique individual.  There are many distinct characteristics that make you “you”, and as a result of this, there are many different body types.  All of them are beautiful, and all of them are completely capable of wearing and looking awesome in a “sexy” costume.

So this Halloween, ignore what websites or stores advertise as the necessary body to wear certain costumes.  Whether it is funny, goofy, or sexy (or some combination of these things!), find a costume that you love, and rock it!

By Julia Greenspan

Happy Pride!

by Lo Denmon

Atlanta Pride is the largest gay pride celebration in the southeast and one of the largest in the nation. Attendance ranges between 200,000 and 250,000 people. Hundreds of thousands of queer folks arrive in Atlanta each October to join a community celebrating visibility and equality. The celebration prides itself in its diversity and representation, but are some identities more readily accepted as “equal” than others at Pride?

I’m no stranger to the event. I’ve attended eight times, eight different years, and I’ve learned a thing or two about body image in the process. Near-naked bodies abound at Pride, whether they line the streets of the parade or dance atop parade floats. Some women go topless, with duct tape across their breasts; others are covered in body paint. Some folks tape their chests down; others wear harnesses. And of course, there is no shortage of speedo. But most of these bodies have one thing in common, a trait which I do not share with them: thinness.

pride1 pride2

In his piece for Black Girl Dangerous, Caleb Luna discusses being fat, brown, and femme in the queer community, where male fatness is only acceptable in the bear community when the masculinity of a beard balances the feminization of being fat. I could not begin to adequately summarize his experiences or stance as a person of color, but his writing touched on many of my own insecurities, including my first romantic relationship beginning well into my twenties (after some of my peers had already been married and divorced more than once) and most of my romantic interests going unreciprocated, often because a thinner, more masculine presenting individual was in sight.

I’ve become desensitized to the lack of clothing on certain bodies at Pride, in part because of Luna’s same anti-romantic stance, knowing that those bodies are not meant for me and my fatness to desire. I am no longer surprised by the size and shape of bodies on floats; I’m usually  more or less disinterested. They are chosen specifically for their thinness, especially those promoting LGBT bars and businesses, and they will probably never reflect me. Perhaps somewhere in that desensitization, I lost any apprehension I had about my own nakedness at Pride.  Why should I need to be brave to bare some skin at this accepting and welcoming community event? For the last year, I prepared myself to wear what I wanted at Pride, to challenge those norms and feel as free as everyone else. I put on a cropped teal bralette and jeans, and at the last minute, lost my nerve and added a shirt. At some point during the day, I spilled chili cheese fries on my shirt; when I was unable to clean my shirt off, I took it as a sign that I should take the shirt off and wear what I had wanted all along.

What was the result? Lots of insecurity. Lots of apprehension. Lots of crossing my arms over my tummy. Lots of trying to cover up with a button up and being too hot. Lots of perceived side-eye. Lots of actual full-on not-even-hiding-the-fact-that-they’re-staring-at-me from gay men. A hostess noting my group as “teal bra.” Lots of reminders that “Fuck it, I am babely.” Lots of meditating on the tattoo on my ribs, near my heart, reminding me and everyone else “I am heaven sent, don’t you dare forget.” I didn’t end the day feeling great about myself, but it was a step in the right direction. Maybe I wasn’t getting side-eyed at all. Maybe someone else saw me faking my confidence, assuming it was real, and it inspired them to be fat at pride. But I did absolutely challenge which bodies are acceptable and welcome in queer spaces, and I hope the future brings more fat, fabulous, and diverse bodies being out and proud.

The Gap Between Ideal Beauty Standards and Real Women

Great strides have been made in combating the unrealistic image of women in the media through campaigns, such as the DOVE Real Beauty movement, and through individual advocates, such as model Erica Jean Schenk who was the first “plus-sized” model to appear on the cover of Women’s Running.  However, the main image continued to be portrayed to young women through social media is that of tall, skinny, and lanky as being the ideal beauty standard. This creates an unrealistic expectation for many young girls growing up in today’s world and this message is perpetuated by the Miss America Contest, which although advocating for education, intelligence, and community service as desirable attributes continues to judge contestants based on ideal beauty standards and how she looks in an evening gown or a bikini.

In fact, when looking at the BMI of Miss America contestants versus the average American women throughout the decades, there is a large discrepancy between how contestants look and the average women looks. Using information from this study, the educational website PsychGuides.com found that the only decades where the two had similar body types were the 1940s and 1950s, and since then, Miss America contestants have grown thinner and thinner while the average American women has gotten heavier. Read More Here

Graph

This contributes to young women feeling inadequate in terms of how they look and can lead to body image issues and feelings of shame about themselves as a women. It is sad when intelligent, capable, talented, unique young women are unhappy with themselves as a woman because they do not fit this unrealistic beauty standard. Women come in all shapes, sizes, styles, and personalities and this diversity should be embraced. Who wants a world full of robotic “ideal” women?

There is so much more to being a worthy person than your outward appearance and I challenge you to:

BE BOLD, BE BEAUTIFUL, BE YOU

body image

Sexuality and Body Image

What comes to mind when you think about your body and how it relates to your sexuality and sexual experiences? I’m willing to bet (depressingly) that quite a few people would relate the two concepts with words such as “embarrassed,” “shame” and “not good enough.” If I’m wrong in using these words to describe your particular narrative, then great, keep doing your thing boo-boo. But unfortunately, this is the reality for a lot of people in a culture where we are conditioned to feel that our bodies are never good enough. Not only are our bodies never good enough, we believe that we must strive to look like the photo shopped people in magazines and print advertising, all of which are portrayed to have a completely unattainable body type.

The problem is, these images are so pervasive that we are made to feel that these body types are actually attainable since they’re literally everywhere. When we see nothing else in popular culture and media other than these ‘perfect’ body types (i.e. thin, toned, usually “curvy in all the ‘right’ places” for female-identified individuals; muscular and tall for male-identified individuals, and not to mention, ‘white’ for all identifies), we think these are the standards of beauty that everyone desires to obtain as well as desires to ‘get with’. When we don’t fit in these body-type categories, we pick ourselves apart and highlight the things that are ‘undesirable’ until there is not a shred of self-love left.

So what effect does this have on your sexuality and sexual experiences? Well, it can completely ruin them for one thing. When you’re worried about how your stomach looks when bending over your partner, you’re not focused on the sensations and pleasure you could be getting from that experience. When you’re worried about what parts of you jiggle when rolling around in bed, you’re not focusing on connecting with your partner. When you’re worried about not having completely shaved legs, pubic area, armpits, or back, you’re not able to focus on how it feels when your partner touches those areas. It goes even further and deeper when we delve into trans folks’ body images, how they navigate their partners’ reaction to them and th10.5 - 1eir bodies and how it relates to their identities. All these issues have a powerful pull over where our minds go when we’re engaged in sexual activity, and usually, that isn’t a good thing.

In the last few years, we have seen a big push in the body positivity movement. People are speaking out about false notions of what is conventionally attractive and desirable. 19 year-old Samm Newman brought national attention and dialogue to social media bias in what they deem ‘appropriate’ on their platforms. Instagram deleted her account after she posted a picture of herself in a bra and boy shorts (pictured below, far left), saying the picture violated their community guidelines about nudity. Samm rightly took to other platforms of social media to point out that her picture was exactly the same, and much tamer than a lot of pictures you usually see on Instagram (examples beside Samm’s picture), and that the deleting of her account was discrimination against fat people who love their bodies the way they are.   10.5 - 2

Samm’s account was quickly reinstated after the attention she received, with Instagram releasing a statement that said the deleting of her account was a “mistake,” when we all know it wasn’t. It is certainly not a mistake that the above pictures were allowed to stay on Instagram (still), and that there are literally millions more like them that don’t seem to violate their policies.

What we’re seeing play out here is media creating our culture’s regulations about who is allowed to be proud of their bodies and who should be ashamed. As a product of our society, sexual confidence is inextricably linked to how we feel about our bodies and how we think our partner(s) view them. So how are people supposed to feel confident in themselves if the world is telling them they have no reason to feel it? How is someone supposed to tune out a lifetime of schema of what a desirable body looks like and begin to love every inch of themselves when we’re constantly being fed these images of unattainable perfection? The first step is simply realizing these perceptions are given to us by outside source, and that there can be a totally10.5 - 3 different view of ourselves that comes from within us.

On a personal note, I can illustrate this point that the outside sources become our inside voices. I did an interesting thing a couple months ago when about 15 girls got together for one of my best friend’s bachelorette parties. I told everyone I was making a rule that whenever someone said something negative about themselves, someone else needed to call it out and correct it or say something positive. It was shocking the amount of times someone called others out, because with a group of 15 girls, the negative comments seemed to ALWAYS be there. If it wasn’t something about how someones arm looked fat in a picture, it was about how their hair looked bad, or their stomach was poking out too much in their dress. A lot of the girls said they hadn’t realized the amount of times a day they say negative things about themselves. It’s ridiculous the lengths that we go to to point out of flaws in ourselves, and the amount of times we criticize and beat ourselves down for things that are completely natural and normal to 99% of the population. So, the take away here is to realize when you think negatively about yourself, try to take active steps to think a different way about it, realizing that outside sources shouldn’t dictate your personal self worth. This takes time and practice. It takes a lot of effort to break down years and years of learning to hate your body. But trust me, when you start accepting and loving your body, your self-image, confidence and sex life will be a lot more fulfilling. So treat yo self to some body positivity!

Science, Technology, and Transsexual Identity

Growing up in the 1950s, I remember being fascinated by Christine Jorgensen, who is described today as the first person to become widely known as transgender. So when I first taught LMC’s 3304: Science, Technology, and Gender eight years ago, I chose to look at how scientific discoveries had impacted the human awareness of gender. As I planned the class, I knew I wanted to go beyond Charles Darwin’s binary division into male and female. I was also excited about four recent studies: Sexual Selections: What We Can and Can’t Learn About Sex from Animals by Marlene Zuk; Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation: The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex by Olivia Judson; Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex by Alice Domurant Dreger; and Changing Sex: Transsexualism, Technology, and the Idea of Gender by Bernice L. Hausman.  Learning more about the science and technology involved in aligning one’s body with their gender identity, I decided to revisit this icon from my childhood to learn more about the personal reasons an individual might choose this path. In fact, like most cisgender people, I can honestly say that I didn’t “get it.”

While I don’t remember anything lurid about Jorgensen’s transformation – my parents were contemptuous of the tabloid press, so I must have learned about her from mainstream publications such as Time and Life – her obituary In the New York Times reveals her courage facing awkward questions:

Rather than withdraw from public attention, she turned the notoriety to her advantage with a series of lucrative tours on the lecture and nightclub circuit. Her nightclub act featured the theme song, ”I Enjoy Being a Girl.”

”I decided if they wanted to see me, they would have to pay for it,” she said.

The obituary, though, also reveals sadness in her life. In addition to fielding questions of a highly personal nature, she was prevented from marrying a man because her birth certificate identified her as male.

Her obituary doesn’t say anything about the violence that transgender people experience, and nothing I read about Jorgensen indicates that she was ever threatened by violence. Such violence is real and often deadly. I learned about the violence that transgender people face when I read Crossing: A Memoir, in which the economist Deirdre McCloskey tells of her transformation from Donald (the name McCloskey was given at birth and known by for fifty-two years) to Dee (the name she adopts as she is going through hormone replacement, facial reconstruction, electrolysis and sex reassignment surgery), and finally Deirdre, the name she adopted  once she felt she fully transitioned into a woman.. McCloskey angrily addresses the violence that transgender people face:

A sincere by detected attempt to jump the gender border from male to female . . . creates anxiety in men, to be released by laughter if they can handle it or by a length of steel pipe if they can’t. A 1997 survey claimed that 60 percent of crossgendered people had been assaulted. Deirdre knew a gender crosser who had been beaten by four young men outside a bar even in peaceful Iowa City.

McCloskey published her memoir in 1999, sixteen years before Caitlyn Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair and before transgender characters gained increased visibility in mainstream film and television. . I assumed that things were getting better for people who chose scientific and technological solutions to bring their bodies in accord with their gender identity.

I was surprised to read an Op-Ed piece in the August 22, 2015 New York Times. Written by Jennifer Finney Boylan, a transgender woman who teaches English at Barnard College and is the author of Stuck in the Middle with You: Parenthood in Three Genders, it describes the violence experienced by many transsexual women of color, looks at the deaths of eleven transgender women, and refers to news reports “about the deaths of at least five more trans or gender-nonconforming people.” Boylan ends her editorial by noting that transgender people of privilege have an easier time making the change:

My mother told me that love would prevail, and for me it has, as it often does for people in this country, people who can find themselves insulated from injustice by dint of race or class or education or accident or accident of birth.

For many trans women, though, especially those of color, something other than love prevails: loss. Did their lives matter any less than mine?

At a time when people can use science and technology to change other things about themselves, why is their decision to use that science and technology to live as another gender such a big deal? The hostility that individuals face when they choose to change their gender reveals that the issue has less to do with science and technology, and more to do with our deep humanity, or lack thereof.

-Carol Senf

#NappyHair

As I was strolling through the Internet a few months ago, I came across an article entitled “13 People Who Totally Have Nappy Hair”. Fascinated, I clicked on title and redirected to the blog Tea & Breakfast. Not quite understanding what I was witnessing, I continued scrolling until I had reached the 13th person. This person, whose eyes had the customary black square shielding her identity, had long straight blond hair and fair skin and had a hashtag making reference to her “nappy hair”. Obviously, I was missing something, because none of the 13 people featured in this post had nappy hair. Matted, frizzy…perhaps, but nappy…nowhere close. So, why were these women who were non-black with various colors of straight and thin hair, make a term that describes black hair, a negative depiction for them having a bad hair day.

Now, you are probably wondering what type of hair is to be considered nappy hair and why can’t any ole body say they have nappy hair. Well, I will explain it to you as eloquently as Wikipedia and life experience would allow me. So, without further ado, let me paraphrase what my trusted comrade, Wikipedia told me about black hair. The Afro-textured, black hair, is a term used to refer to the natural hair texture of certain populations in Africa, the African diaspora, Australia, and Asia, when this hair has not been altered by hot combs, flat irons, or chemicals such as perming, relaxation, or straightening. The overall effect is such that, despite relatively fewer hair shafts compared to straight, wavy or curly hair, black hair appears and feels denser and is described with adjectives such as “woolly”, “kinky”, “nappy”, or “spiraled”.

This explanation does not correlate with the images I saw in this article and leads me to the thought that throughout history, black women have waged a war with our tresses. We have altered its natural state in order to conform to European standards of beauty and have singled handed, along with our mothers, aunts, cousins, sisters, and friends supported, and continue to support a $500 billion hair care industry. We have lost ourselves and found our pride in loving our natural hair in all of it wooliness, kinkiness, and nappiness. From twists to braids, from blow-outs to hair weaves, black hair is uniquely ours for better or worse, so when I see #nappy hair, I can’t help but to feel “some type of way”.

So, to answer the questions that I posed earlier about what type of hair is considered nappy hair, my answer, none of the hair seen in the images below:

NappyHair1               NappyHair2               nappy hair

And to answer my second question, any ole body can call themselves a tree, but it doesn’t make them a tree, and eventually, I would hope that someone will explain to them what a tree is; and what it means to be a tree. The struggles a tree have to deal with on a daily bases to remain standing even when their leaves aren’t always blowing in the same direction.

I digress. #nappyhair is an interesting phenomena that I hope goes away soon, because although me and Sheila, my hair, don’t always see eye to eye, she is beautiful and uniquely mine. Besides, she nor I appreciate being compared to someone having a bad hair day, especially when we are who we are.

Challenging the Stereotype

Know what it takes to be on the cover of a magazine?  All too often, it’s a thin (but curvy) woman or a well-built (and hairless) man.  And don’t forget that they’re probably wildly famous.  Lately, several magazines have challenged this stereotype, and have celebrated diversity and healthy body images to boot.  In recent issues of Women’s Running and ESPN Magazine’s Body Issue, athletes and models who don’t fit the typical mold have been featured on the cover, and have spurred fantastic conversations on health and beauty at every size.

August’s issue of Women’s Running highlights Erica Schenk, runner and model.  Editorial staff were excited for their role in inclusion of all body types.  I love that the editor stated that the only qualification to be on the cover was to be a person who runs.  True, all kinds of bodies run, not just the fit appearing ones.  Schenk states in her cover interview, “Women of all sizes deserve to be praised for good health and have a presence in the media.  Some women believe that since they have curves they can’t run or shouldn’t run. Running is for every body anytime.”  Whatever your chosen activity is, the focus here is to do it!

In similar fashion, ESPN’s Body Issue has Amanda Bingson, Olympic hammer thrower, on one of its 6 covers.  Amanda, like Erica, is an active woman with –gasp– rolls.  In her interview, Bingson embraces her skills and embodies confidence, stating “I’ll be honest, I like everything about my body.  Now I just think, “I’m just going to throw far because I’m confident with myself and I don’t have to worry about what I look like anymore.””  In last year’s Body Issue, Prince Fisher of the Texas Rangers had a similarly great attitude, saying, “You don’t have to look like an Under Armour mannequin to be an athlete.  Just because you’re big doesn’t mean you can’t be an athlete. And just because you work out doesn’t mean you’re going to have a 12-pack.”

12    3

It’s inspiring and comforting to see a variety of people succeed in the activities they love.  And that it’s becoming more of a norm.   How awesome is it that we’re now seeing so many more body shapes positively represented in the media now than we were even just a few years ago?  While there is still body shaming in athletics today (just ask Serena Williams), it’s looking more and more like the publishing world has recognized that customers want to see themselves represented in their magazines and on their covers.  That influence has a ripple effect on many of those who feel they don’t have the right “look” to be active, be heard, or be body confident.  They are now seeing themselves on the covers, seeing themselves as one of the many people who can enjoy being active without needing to look like a fitness model.

What’s our takeaway on this one?  Don’t just accept your body, love it.  Love what it does for you, love what it will do for you.  And as Bingson notes, “Whatever your body type is, just use it.”

Leveling the Playing Field: On Beauty and Sexism at the Women’s World Cup

Tuesday, 9th June 2015 marked two historic moments in soccer.

First, 37 year-old Brazilian midfielder Formiga became the oldest player to ever score a goal in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, nudging the ball past Korea Republic’s goalkeeper, Kim Jungmi.

Then, in the 53rd minute, Marta stepped up to take a penalty and scored her 15th World Cup goal, setting a new record for the most goals scored by a player in the tournament’s 24-year history. Marta, a 13-year veteran of the Brazilian soccer team, is an exceptional player who has won the coveted FIFA World Player of the Year award no fewer than 5 times.

Yet the celebrations following Brazil’s record-setting game were short lived. Just days after Marta and Formiga made history, another Brazilian stole the headlines, but this time, it was for all the wrong reasons.

On June 14th, Marco Aurelio Cunha, the coordinator of women’s soccer for the Confederation of Brazilian Football, told Canadian paper The Globe and Mail:

“Now the women are getting more beautiful, putting on make-up. They go in the field in an elegant manner. Women’s football used to copy men’s football. Even the jersey model, it was more masculine. We used to dress the girls as boys. So the team lacked a spirit of elegance, femininity. Now the shorts are a bit shorter, the hair styles are more done up. It’s not a woman dressed as a man.”

The FIFA Women’s World Cup is a month-long display of the very best in women’s soccer around the globe. From breathtaking displays of skill and tactical acumen to edge-of-your seat penalty shootouts, the tournament showcases incredible female athletes who have reached the top of their game, not just by being the most technically gifted, but by overcoming enormous social, cultural, and financial hurdles. Athletes in this tournament have reported being denied access to proper training and preparation, having their team cut so the money could support a failing men’s team, and being banned from playing for being a girl, among other injustices. Cultural attitudes towards female soccer players have created huge barriers to girls and women participating in the sport, stunting its growth from the grassroots level all the way up to the international stage.

It’s encouraging, then, that the scale of the 2015 Women’s World Cup – in terms of attendance at games, viewing figures at home, and media coverage – seems to indicate that women’s soccer is on the up here in the US and many other participating countries.

Yet Cunha’s comments underscore just how far these women still have to go to be taken seriously as athletes. In a tournament where two of his own players break records, Cunha thinks the only aspect of their game worth mentioning is how good they look on the field.

And Cunha isn’t the only one. In 2004, FIFA President Sepp Blatter infamously suggested that one way to raise the profile of the women’s game was to dress the players “in tighter shorts.”

The pressure on players to appear more aesthetically pleasing for the fans is unique to the women’s game, and it underscores a prevailing assumption that female athletes are only worth watching if they have sex appeal. In addition to carrying the weight of representing their country and making their fans proud, female soccer players also face extra scrutiny about their appearance, a burden not placed on their male counterparts. Instead of focusing on players’ many stellar accomplishments on the field, Cunha and Blatter choose to reduce world class athletes to their looks alone, reaffirming the tired and sexist notions that women’s sports are inferior and that audience interest is contingent on the sexual attractiveness of the players.

The Women’s World Cup final between the Japan and the US attracted over 20 million viewers. That’s more than the NBA finals and the Stanley Cup finals. We’ve reached a point where the Women’s World Cup has gone mainstream in the US and in many other countries, yet still the men in charge of FIFA and the national governing bodies would have us believe that fans care more about a player’s beauty than her prowess with a soccer ball.

It’s time for Blatter and Cunha to recognize that the growth of the women’s game is not dependent on how hot a player looks in her kit, it’s dependent on increased funding for youth programs, sustainable salaries for professional players, and robust pipelines for women seeking careers in coaching and development.

-Aby Parsons

From Tomboy to Uber-Femme

Before leaving for my Peace Corps service as an English language teacher in the country of Turkmenistan, I was the classic “tomboy” who didn’t take any stock or effort in how I looked. As an undergraduate, I was the girl that wore medical scrubs. Not because I was studying medicine, but because they were comfortable. I never wore make-up and generally made no effort to make myself “pretty” for myself or others. That all changed when I returned home to Atlanta after my 27 months of service.

Turkmenistan is a country in Central Asia (one of the ‘stans). It’s an incredibly interesting place and I encourage you to learn about the government, human rights, and the Pit of Hell. It’s a place where I truly experienced my highest highs and lowest lows in life. It truly is my second home, complete with family, and I can’t wait to return.

One of the most interesting aspects of my experience was because I was reminded every day of being a female, something I had never encountered before. I spent my mid-twenties in Turkmenistan constantly causing surprise that I wasn’t already married. I had to cook for and serve men before eating the leftovers with other women and children. I couldn’t look men in the eye in the street. I had to wear long dresses every day. I didn’t dare show any chest without expecting and accepting the consequences. I couldn’t interact much with my male students without them being mercilessly teased. I wasn’t allowed to sit in the front seat of cars without an epic argument. Everything I did was informed by being female.

When I returned home to Atlanta, I couldn’t buy enough high-heeled shoes. I wore dresses nearly every day, bought good make-up for the first time in my life, and generally wouldn’t leave the house without being completely done up. I had basically changed from “tomboy” to “uber femme.” It was a hard transition and it took months for me to be able to make eye contact with men I didn’t know. My family understood my reservations with men, but thought the original Emily had disappeared when I bought pink clothes!

Ever heard of Judith Butler? She’s a critical theorist who focuses a lot of gender and came up with the idea of gender performativity. Butler is notoriously difficult to read so you can learn more about this theory on Wikipedia. The general idea is that every day we perform our gender. As a cis female, I perform my gender when I wear a pretty dress, apply make-up in the morning, or choose to swing my hips just a bit more when walking.

What caused this dramatic shift from pre-Turkmenistan “tomboy” to post-Turkmenistan “uber femme?” It wasn’t until I took a Queer Theory course during my graduate degree that I had a chance to dissect my experience.

Every day in Turkmenistan, my female-ness was shoved in my face, but I couldn’t perform my gender like I had been taught. I chose not to wear make-up because of the extra unwanted attention it would garner. I would never swing my hips just a bit more because I would get more catcalls than I was already receiving. If I wore something that didn’t cover my chest fully, I knew what the consequences would be. Upon the opportunity to reflect upon my experience, it dawned on me. During my time in Turkmenistan, I was constantly reminded that I was female, but I could never perform it like I had been taught in the U.S. When I came back and regained my U.S. identity, I was able to perform my cis female identity and I did this with gusto!

My pendulum shift of how I performed my gender showed me that while we still have a long way to go in this country, I have the ability to wear pink and high heels and still be a total badass. I can enter a professional meeting wearing a skirt and make-up and be taken seriously. This allowed me to embrace my cis female identity like never before. I was glad to be in a space where I could be both “pretty” and smart.

I’ve been back for six years now and have settled somewhere in the middle between “tomboy” and “uber femme.” I enjoy wearing make-up, but sometimes forget in the morning and couldn’t care less. I like wearing high heels, but only very comfortable ones that won’t hurt my feet too much. I encourage my nieces to wear their pretty pink tutus and kick ass rather than just look pretty. While I don’t tend to wear pink anymore, I’m not judgmental of those who do. We can embrace our female identity and still run the place and that’s pretty great.

I do look forward to the day when females are breaking glass ceilings with their heels and men can then borrow those heels to break their own ceilings and everyone’s happy. I have hope that this time is coming, but will embrace whatever I want to wear in the meantime.

Have you ever had an experience that made you look differently at your assigned gender or your adopted gender?  How often are you reminded of your gender and how much does it affect your everyday life?  How do you perform your assigned or adopted gender every day?

Emily Dolezal, International Student Advisor, Office of International Education

Disclaimer: While I describe a very difficult part of my Peace Corps service, I wouldn’t change it for the world. Neither would I change the country in which I served. This was a small part of my experience that typically didn’t bother me, but definitely caused issues at times. If you may be considering Peace Corps, please find me and I’ll share all the good I experienced as well!

#TakeBackTheBeach

Welcome to summer at Georgia Tech, or wherever you might be reading from!

The start of summer brings positive energy, sunshine, and a slightly relaxed (or is that just me?) vibe as we continue through our day to day lives.  For many, summer also means pressure.  I can’t walk through a grocery store without seeing at least a few magazines featuring easy ways to get my body beach or bikini ready.  I get that summer often brings vacation and time outside, but I question the implication that my body wasn’t already beach or bikini ready.  The mindset that there’s a specific way my body should look before I head out for vacation is just another example of how engrained concepts of body image are in our everyday lives.

I was interested in learning more about this idea of “bikini body” and what it means for those trying to achieve it. I was quickly drawn to a recent article on Refinery29 titled “What Millennial Women REALLY Think About Their Bodies” by Kelly Bourdet.  1000 millennial women were surveyed about feelings and expectations surrounding their bodies.  The information is fascinating.  Of those surveyed, 54% say they are mostly happy with their bodies, while 7% say they are completely satisfied with their bodies.  I found this to be higher than I expected, and a positive step in the direction of self-love! Quickly following, however, is the statistic that 80% of respondents avoid activities because they are self-conscious of their bodies.  The highest reported activity avoided? Going to the beach.  Interestingly, they also asked respondents what things cause the most “body panic” – both vacation and beach season were in the top three.

Most poignant to me were visuals of responses to “How would you describe a ‘bikini body’?” and “How would you describe your body?”  In amongst positive messages of individuals viewing their bodies as perfect or okay, were strongly negative statements that their bodies were fat, average, overweight, or ugly.

The “bikini body” descriptors were, perhaps, not shocking – summer, thin, toned, and wish all made the list.  I was very surprised at the amount of specific body parts mentioned in this portion.  Abs, waist, big boobs, body, and stomach were all highlighted as the things that made a bikini body recognizable.

We may also assume that just having these isn’t enough, or we’d all be “bikini ready”, but there is a connotation of these body parts and how they should look in order to be prepared for fun in the sand.

The pressure to look a certain way, even for a day at the beach, may seem miniscule, but these kinds of expectations can have a long lasting impact.  It is telling that 80% of women surveyed avoid certain activities because they are self-conscious of how they look, that we need to conceptualize what it means to be ready for summer.  Exploration of the roots of body guilt or shame, the ways in which we assume of each other, and what we accept as the norm are all things is necessary.

Refinery29 continued their conversations with a campaign called “Take Back the Beach” filled with stories of how women looked past the “bikini body” expectation and ways in which you can feel good about yourself on vacation! I won’t say it’s rid of cultural expectation, but it’s a great place to start.

How will you take back the beach, the lake, your vacation this summer? Do you feel pressure to look a certain way in the summer time?

#takebackthebeach

SS

Spring Farewell

boldThanks to everyone who has read and participated in the conversation sparked by topics mentioned in the BOLD blog this academic year! Unfortunately, my time as a Graduate Intern at Health Promotion is coming to an end, which means I will no longer be one of the main contributors for the blog. This will be my last post for the spring, but Sarah Strohmenger will still be a contributor.

This academic year, we’ve discussed body image with different communities- from communities of color to those living with disabilities. We’ve brought up topics surrounding everything from clothing to current pop songs. My hope is that these discussions will continue and that you will thoughtfully engage with each one and work to promote healthy body image among your community. With the help of students, faculty, and staff at Georgia Tech, BOLD will continue to grow!

-Leandra Lacy

#ImNoAngel

There’s another body image campaign going around! This time it’s Lane Bryant’s #ImNoAngel campaign. The plus-size clothing company recently released the video below promoting their Cacique bra/lingerie line. The video shows plus size women of different races (yay!) essentially giving the message that all women are sexy and that they are “no angel.”

Now it’s obvious that this campaign is taking a little jab at Victoria Secret, whose models are referred to as “angels.” Victoria’s Secret is also known for having thin models and being an “icon” of sorts when it comes to lingerie modeling. Of course, Lane Bryant is intending to promote positive body image and self-talk by celebrating all women. And I think that’s awesome! However, are they really celebrating ALL women by seeming to pit Lane Bryant against Victoria’s Secret? At least it seems like they’re pitting them against each other to me. Here’s an interesting article about one woman’s similar critique of the campaign.

I really hate pointing out issues with campaigns that have such positive intentions, but this kind of critique and dialogue is necessary. I want to see a campaign that doesn’t make a space that seems like it has to be one group of women versus another group. I love that Lane Bryant is challenging conventional beauty standards, but do they have to use the #ImNoAngel rhetoric, which is clearly referring to Victoria’s Secret, to do that? What do you think?

I’d like to read your thoughts on all of this, in general! Do you agree or disagree with my opinions on it? Sound off in the comments below!

-Leandra Lacy

Average or Beautiful?

Dove is known for its soaps and body wash, but perhaps more so, the company has created an image of advocacy for positive body image and self-talk.  Just this week, a new video was put out by the Dove #ChooseBeautiful campaign called “Women all over the world make a choice”.  It showcases women all over the world, reaching a point of walking under one of two signs – “Average” or “Beautiful”.  Seemingly, the women participating were not prompted in advance and were filmed in the moments before choosing which path to take; which sign to walk under.  There is a moment of choice as the two signs lead to two different paths.  As we watch woman after woman walk under the “Average” sign, it becomes apparent there’s a pattern.  The video goes on to allow some of the women to explain their experience and thoughts about this social experiment.  
I was particularly moved by one of the women who, after walking under the “Average” sign, commented (1:08), “I regretted my choice. Because it was different from what I live. From who I am.” This reflection was supported by another woman’s reflection as she explored her reasoning for choosing “Average”.  She discussed that she wasn’t sure if she chose it because she believed it, or if she felt like that’s where others would have told her to go.  That is a powerful moment.  When deciding how we might view ourselves, often we put the labels of others for us over the labels we would place on ourselves.  This has been a topic of conversation in previous blogs, but seems to be at the heart of many conversations around body image as we explore where we find the definitions of who we are and how we view ourselves.  The balance of self and others is powerful and all-encompassing in our everyday lives.  It is impossible (or nearly) to live separate from the influence of others.  It’s difficult to imagine how one might truly create an opinion without considering the larger impact.  This is an important point of conversation as we discuss issues like body image.  Being able to explore individual opinions and values is a process and takes practice.  It requires moving through stages of learning and experience in order to feel comfortable forming a belief.  This kind of learning is at its peak in college-aged students, and as such, it’s so important that these kinds of topics be explored during the college experience.  
 
While this video is empowering in many ways, there is healthy dialog through articles and comment sections about the ways in which this activity of choosing a title can be damaging.  Forcing women to make a choice between being beautiful or average is more complicated than how it’s presented.  Are beautiful and average comparable terms, on a similar spectrum? By choosing average, does that mean someone is not also beautiful? What if one of the women didn’t believe that either word fit how she wanted to describe herself? There are implications to simplifying the idea of confidence and body-positive messages when it is made to seem that one of these choices is bad and the other is good.  I imagine there is room to explore the perception of women who are confident and choose the “beautiful” path, who might later be called arrogant for thinking herself as such. Would the idea of other people’s opinion of you make you chose a different path? I think it’s possible it might.  Thinking globally, I’d also be intrigued to hear conversation around the cultural differences that might exist around how people talk about their own bodies or attractiveness. Would people select a different path in this activity if it was a private decision rather than a public statement? 
 
As with any conversation, there is always room to explore perspectives and the ways in which statements can be interpreted.  Even with the questions above, I believe that Dove is doing a positive thing for women as they create space and opportunity to realize that many women are experiencing similar feelings about their body or selves.  When a shared experience is recognized, change can occur.  
 
What are your thoughts on having to pick between “Beautiful” and “Average” paths? Would you label your path with a different word as you think about your own body image and self-image? 
SS

Too Tight Clothes

I was scrolling through Facebook one evening when a headline from Refinery29 caught my eye.  “What Too-Tight Clothes Really Do To Your Body” sounded like a fun read – maybe some science or random fun facts I could share with friends.  Instead, I was quickly presented with images of skin.  Humans with marks, abrasions, and indentations all from too-tight clothes.  As I read on, I learned of a photographer named Justin Bartels who was inspired to create a photo series that spoke to beauty, society, and the ways in which we bind our bodies to impress others.
The photos are a powerful representation of the impact, literally, that our clothing can have on us.  We see so many images of perfect female bodies that are smooth and proportioned just right.  We are presented with flawless silhouettes to emulate and strive for.  We often forget the struggle those bodies, and people, are going through to provide that perfect look.  Even separate from what the “ideal” body is, I connect with these images when I think of the number associated with the clothes I wear.  There’s shame associate with certain sizes of clothing.  Jumping a number higher to be more comfortable seems like an easy choice, but there’s judgement and stereotype connected to those numbers.  Sometimes, it’s easier to handle being a little uncomfortable to maintain that perfect size.
When I saw these pictures, I realized how thankful I was for a body willing to take this kind of stress and discomfort, just so I can feel more comfortable.  I imagine we could all think of that pair of jeans, those high heels, or that high waisted, tummy taming pair of pantyhose that causes us grief, but we wear them anyway.  How might you dress if you thought about the impact on your body, instead of the impact on others?
How might you start a thank you note to your body for the strength and patience it has?
SS

Supporting Those with Eating Disorders

picI recently came across this article entitled, “7 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Someone Who’s Had an Eating Disorder.” I had no idea that 30 million Americans will suffer from an eating disorder during their lifetime. Therefore, chances are pretty high that I actually know someone who has had an eating disorder at some point, though I’m not aware of it.

On the 4th page, which includes the statement, “You don’t look that skinny,” it is suggested that we “throw out the antiquated idea that a ‘typical’ eating disorder patient is an emaciated young woman.” I will admit that this is the picture I have in my head when I think of eating disorders. However, I now understand the importance of knowing that people of various sizes and shapes can have an eating disorder. There is not one “usual” picture.

“Let’s grab dinner” on the 7th page is also a statement that caught my attention. It makes sense to avoid suggesting dinner as a space to catch up with a friend who has struggled with an eating disorder. The article then recommends that, if you do share a meal with that friend, avoid talking about their emotions too much. My first thought would be to ask how my friend is feeling if I see them struggling during a meal, so that they can talk through their emotions. However, I understand the significance of the article’s suggestion- ask the friend what they need from you. Being a source of support can be very important, and if they want to open up to you, then they will.

I think there should be more articles like this about specific eating disorders that manifest differently than the assumed eating disorder, in addition to articles about mental health in general. For example, symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder (BED) include eating large amounts of food frequently, eating when not hungry, and eating to the point of discomfort. Those with BED usually do not avoid weight gain with self-induced vomiting, for example. However, BED is commonly confused with Bulimia Nervosa, in which people do accompany their behavior with actions to prevent weight gain, like self-induced vomiting.

What are ways that people can expand their own understanding of mental health issues? How can public health organizations facilitate this understanding? Leave your comments below!

-Leandra

100 Years of Body Image

I found this pin on Pinterest recently, highlighting the past 100 years of body image for women in the US.  It’s an incredible progression of the definition of beautiful, from skinny waists to no curves to big breasts to long legs.  Every decade has a signature look that is most idealized. While many of us (myself included!) would like to believe we take an independent approach to defining beauty, it is hard to argue against the impact that society has on this definition.  Through models, music, movies, and magazines, media has a strong hold on letting us know what is or is not acceptable when it comes to positive body image.  It’s engrained into most everything we interact with.

What I notice as I look through the 100 year review is a pendulum pattern.  Decades where curves are beautiful are soon followed by a period in which petite and delicate figures are the ones to strive for.  Interestingly, it seems these patterns are based on characteristics that are not in an individuals control to achieve, or at least not easily.  Broad shoulders will be broad shoulders no matter what I do.  Should perception of my own beauty be placed so heavily on things I have limited control over? The ideal answer is no, but so much pressure is placed on having these ever changing body types, that it is hard not to feel defeated at times.

I hope to see a decade soon where the “ideal” body type isn’t just one, but is a variety of shapes, sizes, and features.  Where body image isn’t tied to a look, but is promoted as a mindset of appreciating the body you’ve been given instead of striving for someone else’s.  This will require work on each of our parts to recognize our biases, our points of vulnerability, and our willingness to let our concept of beauty be defined by ourselves instead of others.  I think it’s possible and hope you can join in this important shift in thought!

Do you have a part of your body you need to learn to love instead of strive to change? How can you promote positive body thought for yourself and those around you?

We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

SS

The Issue with “Love Your Curls”

You may have seen the video above floating around on your social media newsfeeds. It’s a part of one of Dove’s newest campaigns called, “Love Your Curls.” The campaign seeks to inspire curly-haired women and girls to embrace their hair texture and to encourage other curly-haired women and girls to love their hair texture too. In the video, young girls from ages 5 to 11 talk about why they don’t like their hair texture and some mention wanting straight hair. Family members of the girls come together at the end to sing “Love Your Curls” as a way to encourage the girls to love their hair.

I think this campaign is great because it is a small step in breaking down the Western beauty standard of straight, blonde hair. However, the ad falls short for me. It would’ve been nice to see more young girls with kinkier hair textures. There are White girls in the video who have what I, and most Black women I know, would consider “wavy” textures, not curly. Some of the girls of color in the video also have a looser curl pattern that is considered more “acceptable” to beauty standards. I am not saying that some girls with these hair textures do not have personal issues with their hair. It’s just that girls with these textures do not face the degree of discrimination that kinky-textured girls historically face. Kinky hair is often viewed as dirty and unkempt. Women with kinky curls are also more likely to be told that their hair is unprofessional for the workplace.

In recent years, the natural hair movement has been making strides to show that kinkier textures are beautiful too. Women, including myself, have decided to stop receiving chemical relaxers to straighten their hair and have chosen to rock their hair just the way it is. It seems that Dove is riding the coattails of this movement without actually including girls and women who this movement is mainly targeted toward. What are your thoughts about the connections between beauty standards and hair texture for women of color? Have you seen efforts by other companies to expand what is beautiful, regarding hair texture?

We’re All Human, Right?

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge Beyoncé fan. That’s right…I’m a proud member of the Bey Hive. However, my feelings toward some recently leaked photos of the Queen were quite different than that of some other members of the Bey Hive. A fan site called Beyoncé World posted the un-retouched photos below from a 2013 L’Oreal makeup ad, and some fans weren’t too happy about it since the pictures show that Beyoncé’s skin isn’t so ***flawless (see what I did there?). Beyoncé World eventually took the photos down due to the backlash, but not before other sites got a hold of them of course. Honestly, I think my fellow Bey Hive members should be acknowledging that Beyoncé is beautiful, regardless of her flaws. Yes, she sings about being flawless and being a confident woman, but it’s all a state of mind. She knows that she’s not perfect. This is what Beyoncé World was trying to recognize in the first place. She’s human just like the rest of us!

beyonce-unretouched-021915 - Copy
Similar photos of Cindy Crawford from a 2013 Marie Claire Mexico and Latin America shoot have also been leaked recently. Her pictures, along with Beyoncé’s, have really gotten the public thinking about how the media and Photoshopped pictures influence body image. I mean, c’mon! Cindy Crawford is 48 years old. I hope to look as fabulous as her at that age. She looks amazing! We all should be celebrating her (and all people, really) and not airbrushing them to the point where they look like a completely different person. What are your thoughts about these photos? How do you think Photoshopping in ads, especially of celebrities, affects the way that people views themselves and others?

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-Leandra Lacy

“…or was it chosen for you?”

I attended a keynote recently where the speaker, James Robilotta, challenged the audience to approach individuals who experienced challenges or missteps college students might have faced, with the question: “Did you choose this for yourself or was it chosen for you?” While the initial topic was not at all connected to body image, I continue to think about that question and the connection to this topic we are exploring.  There are so many ways that we acknowledge our bodies and the concept of body image in our everyday lives.  We decide what to put into our body to fuel us each day, how many hours we are going to give ourselves to rest, and how we make our body stronger.  We decide how to decorate it, change it, and modify it to make us feel a particular way.  We decide the tone of our internal self-talk when we look in the mirror or shop for new clothes.
My Facebook feed has been buzzing with articles and YouTube clips that speak to this very concept of choice and decision making in body image.  This one from Dove’s Real Beauty campaign shows the strong connection between the self-talk of mothers and the self-image of their young daughters.   This recently published article explores the finding that women’s feelings of self-esteem and body image may be directly correlated to what women assume men might find attractive or unattractive.   This recent news celebrates a plus-size model being featured on a popular magazine cover for the first time in it’s history and has sparked large scale conversation around the value of people based on their body type.
As I watch and read through these pieces, I am inclined to ask the same question: “Did you choose this for yourself or was it chosen for you?” The pressures to be, act, and live a certain way are constantly present.  It is easy to get caught up in the everyday challenges of that pressure.  When we accept the challenge of meeting the standards everyone else sets around us, we give up control of our own happiness and satisfaction with how we feel about ourselves.  A young daughter who says she hates her thighs isn’t choosing that mindset for herself, but is embracing the mindset and attitude of those around her. A woman who believes she isn’t pretty because she doesn’t believe a man would call her that, is making a choice, but that choice might not be guided by her own interests.
How do we move forward from this idea? It takes time and requires acknowledgment of the ongoing pressures of everyday life and expectations that exist.  Both men and women are plagued with expectation of look, action, and attitude.  At least once a day, consider the thoughts you have about your body about the way you make decisions about it.  Are you making this choice for yourself?
How can we empower those around you to make decisions for themselves, instead of others, about their body and body image?

#LikeAGirl

Superbowl Sunday is a coveted day for many – snacks, friends, football, a halftime show, and don’t forget the commercials! Largely anticipated for funny antics and ridiculous scenarios, the commercials have been a comedic relief to the stress of the game.  At least until now.  Did you notice Superbowl Sunday commercials had a different tone about them this year? There was social commentary, acknowledgement of larger issues in our world, and a healthy amount of laughs (fanny packs anyone?!). One commercial stood out above all the rest to me, known by simple hashtag: #LikeAGirl

We quickly see a woman in her early 20’s running meekly while holding her hair so she doesn’t mess it up.  A man in his 20’s fighting with open hands and weak arms.  A boy, no more than 12 years old, trying to throw a ball, but accidently dropping it and visibly defeated.  All of their acting was prompted by the phrase “Show us what it means to ______________ like a girl.”

It’s a powerful and authentic testament to the connection drawn between being a girl and being weak. There are so many points of discussion within this campaign.  What resonates with me is the reminder that this connection between female and weak isn’t always made with intent to cause pain.  At one point, the young boy acknowledges that yes, he’s insulting girls, but he’s not insulting his sister. Yes, what I’m saying can cause harm, but no, that’s not what I meant.  The disconnect between words said and people impacted needs to be at the root and heart of conversations moving forward around the language we use.  It’s easy to say something that is hurtful if you don’t believe that what you’re saying is wrong.

#LikeAGirl features a few young girls who, when prompted in the same way as the others, show strength, power, and determination.  They are not inhibited by assumptions of weakness or inability.  Running like a girl means “running as fast as you can”.  When is the point where these girls will be taught to believe something different? When will they learn that “like a girl” means weak and defeated?

I challenge you to watch this video, take heart to the message being sent, and explore your own language, words, and phrases.  All of us are a part of a cycle of change. What do you think we can we do at Georgia Tech to help break this cycle?

This Girl Can

You may have seen the video above floating around on your Facebook newsfeed (where I first saw it) or on other social media networks. It shows women participating in various physical activities and sports, and they’re having fun through it all.

So what’s the big deal about the video? For one, the women are of different races, ages, sizes. They even have cellulite, just like me and plenty of other women! CELLULITE! How great is that?! These aren’t images of women that we typically see, which are heavily Photoshopped to hide any and every blemish and stretch mark.  The women in the video are “sweating like a pig, feeling like a fox,” as it says across the screen (check 0:32), and I absolutely love it.

After watching the video, I was curious as to what This Girl Can is all about. Apparently Sport England developed the national campaign to encourage women to be physically active and not let the judgment of others get in the way of that. You don’t have to look “good” when working out. You’re supposed to sweat. You don’t have to care who is watching.  Check out the This Girl Can website if you have a chance- you can “Meet the Girls” and view profiles and videos to go along with each woman in the main video and look under the “Discover” tab to find information about a wide variety of activities from boxing to Zumba.

Not only do I love that This Girl Can is motivating women to have a positive body image, but can we talk about their music selection too?! I mean whose song would be best to have in videos like theirs besides one of the greatest female rappers?  By the way, I’ve now added Missy Elliot’s “Get Ur Freak On” to my personal workout playlist. What do you think about This Girl Can? Do you do feel that judgment of others is sometimes a barrier for women’s physical activity? What about for men?

Body Image Issues? There’s an App For That

We all know that social media and mobile application usage are so prevalent today. I mean there are apps for everything from helping you fall asleep to ones that help you locate the nearest restroom. I can’t even count the number of apps I currently have downloaded to my phone.  It seems like everyone is into technology, which makes it even greater that there are a number of apps on the rise that help teens and young people deal with mental health issues like eating disorders, anxiety, and depression.

I’ve always felt that social media networks and apps are great ways to meet people where they are, especially young people. Nowadays, young people are constantly on their phones, laptops, and other devices, so why not use that to promote health? A recent NPR article discusses various apps such as the free CodeBlue app, which will allow teens to alert members of a designated support network with a text message whenever they feel acutely depressed. DoSomething.org even has a Crisis Text Line which teens can text 24/7 and receive a quick response from an actual trained specialist who can provide secure counseling and referrals. Around 1 in 4 teens have a smartphone and most teens use texting to communicate with others, so I think these apps and help lines are fantastic for providing assistance to people in need any time and any place. It should be noted that apps cannot always be a substitute for in-person mental health support. As the NPR article points out, many people who need mental health care often can’t or won’t seek it because of high costs, stigma with receiving care, and other obstacles. These free apps can hopefully break down some of those barriers.

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These apps have the potential to help people cope with body image issues like low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, and eating disorders. People often do not think of these issues as mental health concerns but it certainly is. Some people don’t even view mental health as a key part of overall physical health because the connections between mental health and physical health may not always be clear.  However, anxiety and depression, for example, can lead to insomnia, extreme fatigue, and general aches and pains, among a host of other problems. I wonder what kinds of technology will be available in the future to assist those struggling with mental health problems. What do you think about the apps mentioned earlier and others from the article? What disadvantages or challenges, if any, can you imagine could arise from using these apps?

No Body is Perfect

I recently came across an article that was published last year about a campaign called “Because Who is Perfect? Get Closer.” A Swiss charity, called Pro Infirmis, which focuses on people with disabilities, created the campaign as a way to break the traditional mold of the mannequins we typically see and to illustrate how every body is beautiful in its own way.

Three men and two women served as model for Pro Infirmis. What is interesting is that their professions ranged from an actor to a blogger and they all had different disabilities. Urs Kolly, for example, is a Paralympics gold medalist who lost his right leg below the knee while serving in the military. My favorite part of this campaign was that measurements of the models were carefully taken to create the mannequins and then the mannequins were dressed and placed into shop windows on the main downtown street in Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city. Check out the video below to get the models’ reactions to seeing their mannequins for the first time and the reactions of people seeing the mannequins in the shop windows. I think it’s heartwarming to say the least.

One moment that resonated with me in the video was when one of the models said, “It is special to see yourself like this when you usually can’t look at yourself in the mirror,” as I could see several of the models touching their mannequins in awe. I do not have a physical disability, and I will be honest in saying that I’ve never thought about how a physical disability could affect someone’s body image or how most mannequins exclude people with disabilities. When I used to think of changes with traditional mannequins, it typically just involved including people of size but this campaign has changed my views. Around 15% of the world’s population lives with a disability. With this information and with this Pro Infirmis campaign, I’m now reflecting on how people with disabilities are excluded in other ways when it comes to traditional beauty standards. What are your thoughts? Has this campaign changed your views, in any way, about the connections between body image and physical disabilities?

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Listen Up, Meghan Trainor!

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard “All About That Bass,” the catchy tune by Massachusetts native Meghan Trainor. The music video currently has over a quarter billion views on YouTube, and has sparked many parodies with millions of views too. People seem to not only love the catchiness of the song, but also its underlying message. Trainor encourages women to love their bodies and embrace who they are no matter how society or the media tells them to look (I see the magazine workin’ that Photoshop/ We know that s**t ain’t real/ C’mon now, make it stop/ If you got beauty, beauty, just raise ’em up/ ‘Cause every inch of you is perfect/ From the bottom to the top).

Meghan-Trainor_All-About-That-Bass_video-snapI think this message is fantastic. It’s definitely a step in the right direction when it comes to celebrities acknowledging that society’s views of beauty are unattainable. Trainor is 20 years old, so it’s great that young people get to see another young person motivating them to challenge beauty ideals. However, Trainor’s song is problematic in a couple ways.

First, Trainor is implicitly telling young women that their self-esteem should be tied to what men think of them (Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase/ And all the right junk in all the right places… Yeah, my mama she told me don’t worry about your size/ She says, “Boys like a little more booty to hold at night.”). So the result of loving your body is getting attention from men? Hmmm. It seems that Trainor should be telling women that loving their bodies equates to being more confident and loving the person you are overall. Women should not be aiming to be more attractive for men, or anyone else for that matter.

Second, Trainor uplifts women, but also tears them down at the same time (I’m bringing booty back/ Go ahead and tell them skinny b*tches that). Really, Meghan? Really?! This is so disappointing AND unnecessary. The message of the song should uplift EVERYONE. Body shaming, especially with the use of the b-word, is just not cool. You can empower a group of people without criticizing or bashing those who are not a part of that group.

Trainor recently did an interview with Entertainment Tonight where she recalls not eating for a day after a boy told her that she would be “real hot” if she lost 10 pounds. She went on to say that this led her to “go anorexic” for a day and that she “wasn’t strong enough for an eating disorder.” Again, I have to say- Really, Meghan?! Comments like this are the reasons why eating disorders are not viewed as mental illnesses, as they should be. For this comment to come from someone who is in the limelight at the moment and has such a large platform, it is very frustrating. After the interview aired, singer and actress Demi Lovato, who has been open about her struggle with bulimia, had a few words for Trainor.

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Hopefully, Trainor takes feedback and comments like Lovato’s seriously. Music is such a powerful medium and work of music artists should be thoughtful and intentional. Check out Trainor’s video below. What are your views on the song?

Women of Color and Size Matter Too

It’s not uncommon for me to walk into a department or drug store and find “nude” colored makeup, hosiery, shoes, and clothing. But have you ever thought about whose skin tone this traditional “nude” color most closely matches? It is more of a beige color that is meant to match the skin tones of white women and not the complexions of most women of color. Unfortunately, “nude” items are just a reminder of how women of color are excluded from beauty standards.

The Nubian Skin line seeks to change that with a “different kind of nude.” This lingerie line, based out of London, reimagines the meaning of nude by creating hosiery, underwear, bras, and lingerie that give women of color more options when shopping for undergarments. My favorite part of this line is that colors range from café au lait to berry.

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Nubian Skin may seem like something small, but it matters for women of color, as The Root points out. Western beauty ideals make women of color invisible, so it’s important to challenge these ideals and create avenues that take our varying skin tones into consideration. We’re beautiful too and that should be recognized!

Nubian Skin is great because it is intentional in its inclusion of women of color, however, the body types/shapes of the women chosen to be models for the line should be noted. Women come in all shapes and sizes, and this should also be reflected in the promotional images. This goes for any clothing/apparel line. We still live in a society where thinness equates to beauty, and the fashion industry and the media definitely have a hand in perpetuating this standard. Can you imagine a world where we regularly see all women shown as beautiful- no matter their size or shape? Of course, I do not say this to undermine the innovation of Nubian Skin. I just want to give you something else to think about, in regards to the deeper meaning of the line.

What other companies are inclusive of diverse populations? In what other ways does the fashion industry (or any other industry) exclude women of color and women of size? In what ways can these industries subvert the dominate beauty ideal? In what ways can you personally subvert Western beauty standards? Share your thoughts and comments below!

-Leandra