Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Disembodied

The topic of body image has been on my mind lately. Dress shopping and stripping down to your skivvies while a stranger wraps a measuring tape around your breasts, waist, and hips, can do that to a girl. At first, the old habits of being very critical of myself came flooding in. I think more women suffer from this type of "not good enough" body image than is talked about, which is why I LOVED Ashley Judd's article in The Daily Beast. If you haven't read it, here's a taste of the beginning: 

The Conversation about women’s bodies exists largely outside of us, while it is also directed at (and marketed to) us, and used to define and control us. The Conversation about women happens everywhere, publicly and privately. We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification. Our voices, our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted.

PREACH! Ashley Judd just became my hero with this essay or maybe more of an idol because I wish I had written something as eloquent like this about an issue that I care about, an issue I experience, and an issue that has much more dire consequences if there isn't a dialogue happening.

During college, I worked at an all girls camp in Vermont for the summer. Growing up with boys and having boy cousins like brothers, there weren't too many girls in my life. Don't get me wrong, I  had women. Mainly my Aunt Gail who was a great example of what it meant to be a strong woman. To this day she still doesn't take crap from anyone. But in terms of my battle with body image, that crept up slowly and quietly in those moments where I got stuck inside the mirror, in the changing room of the girls locker room in high school, in my  obsession with watching MTV's beach house where scantily clad girls with one type of body danced in front of the television. Then before I knew it, the issue of body image was like a shadow that followed me everywhere I went - pool parties, homecoming dances, the workout room during soccer training. And the truth is, I have never been considered "overweight" barring my freshman year of college when I packed on twenty-five extra pounds which I eventually shed. But back to camp, where I spent a lot of time with girls, and a lot of time figuring out the kind of "girl" I wanted to be. One of the most brilliant concepts of this camp, was that there were no mirrors larger than the size of your face. In other words, you could only use the mirror to wash your face and brush your teeth. There was also a no make-up rule, but even if you snuck a little mascara, eventually you felt silly because it became so obvious! Make-up became the abnormal. Also, no "beauty" magazines.

After three months in the woods with no mirrors to obsessively check my body in, a rejection of make-up, and distance from the constant bombardment of misogynistic images and ideas suggesting I'm not making the cut, I began to appreciate my body for what it's meant to do - be strong and carry me through this life. I began to get used to my face without the accents of cover-up and dark eyelashes and an inner glow from the confidence and physical strength I gained throughout the summer began to shine through. Eight year old girls who had come to camp saying they were on a diet, saying they wanted to be skinny, left camp with a renewed sense of self. They left camp saying they were "Strong of Heart" not "skinny." And whether they kept that sense of self when they returned home and back to school, the message somewhere had still been given a chance to internalize. And with each return to camp, the message got louder and clearer and more ingrained in their personalities.  If having three months out of the year where the conversation about body image was turned off could have the kinds of inspirational outcomes I was witnessing at that camp, it moves me to think what a different generation of women we could be raising if the conversation was muted or at least transformed entirely.

Now, it wasn't perfect. We still had a handful of girls that could not overcome issues with body image, girls that were sick with eating disorders on either end of the spectrum. And that is something I don't dare try to discuss because I am not on expert on the subject. But I know for myself, that the three summers I worked at that camp implanted in me the seed that I might just have the most beautiful body in the world simply because it's mine and there isn't another like it. I might be so much more than a little extra weight around my tummy, because, by the way, I can portage a canoe on my back and hike a mile and half with it through the Canadian wilderness. I might be more gorgeous than anything a mascara wand can wave and I might just be more strong than I can ever imagine because everyday I walk through this life past some sort of magazine, advertisement, or commercial telling me that "perfect" looks like something I am not and I still go about my day with a head held high, a smile I like to share, and the idea that somewhere in me shines a light that can never be put out.

5 comments:

Erin said...

the lack of mirrors, make-up and media is one of the many reasons i find my annual multi-day backpacking trip to be so renewing.
after an 11-mile hike carrying 30lbs on your back, you aren't really concerned about how you look.
all you worry about is where you are going to find water, what you are going to eat and when and where you are going to put up your tent at the end of the day.
pure. simple. bliss.

Lindsey said...

Yes! I totally relate! Exploring the outdoors has a way of clearing the bullshit from the mind.

Carmen said...

nice post. funny how you talk about wishing you could write something as eloquently as judd, and then you write something better. :)

caearthmom said...

here, here! cant wait for a keewaydin summer-mama style!

Lindsey said...

I like the sound of that!