Wonder Woman and Eating Disorder Survivor: My Friend, Jamie

By Morgan Paul

Image from Google Images

Image from Google Images

As a part of the new body positivity project I am starting I plan on talking with various people who are willing to sharing their journeys and perceptions of body image. For my first article I got the opportunity to interview a strong woman, and good friend of mine, about living with Bulimia Nervosa and her recovery. Jamie was diagnosed with Bulimia Nervosa at 15, Depression at 15, Generalized Anxiety Disorder at 16, Bipolar Disorder at 17, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at 17. Although she was never clinically diagnosed with Anorexia, she also suffered from Anorexia at a very young age, beginning at age 10. It began with diets, which led to restricting food intake and obsessive exercise. She was a gymnast at the time so she soon realized that with all the exercise she was doing she could eat whatever she wanted without fear of gaining weight. After quitting gymnastics at age 13, she realized she could not stop binge eating, and then rapidly gained weight. One Friday night, before a high school football game, she stuck a toothbrush down her throat for the first time. This is what started it all, and all because of a small salad. By age 15, she said she was binging and purging five to seven times a day.

Although she recognized her depression and anxiety from an early age, it got more severe as the Bulimia Nervosa worsened. Her other diagnoses played a huge role in her eating disorder. She told me that her bipolar disorder caused her to eat when depressed, and restrict when she was manic. Her PTSD made her blame herself, causing her to want to harm by body. And eating was a way to cope with anxiety. On top of that, she has a family history of alcohol abuse and depression.

Her distorted body image and past abuse caused her to believe that somehow her body fat was connected to her emotional baggage and pain, so losing weight would be rid her of said baggage. She strived to be pure; emotionally, physically, and sexually. But she identified other causes as well. For example, pressure to be thin from gymnastics, and the media exacerbated the disorder. I was surprised to hear that media did not have a huge impact on her, although it obviously did not help. She told me that when seeing very thin girls she would make plans to not eat for days, but she never held other girls to the ridiculously high standards she held for herself.

Jamie has received treatment five times, two of which for her eating disorder. She told me that she is a firm believer in hitting rock bottom, and explained that the first three times weren’t helpful because she simply wasn’t ready. She had friends who tried to force her into recovery, but she said it was the opposite of helpful. Even though Jamie has recovered, she still combats thoughts of restriction, binging, and purging. But it helps her to think about how well she is doing now, and she’s not willing to jeopardize that. It helps her to think of her supportive family and how proud she is making them with her new-found health. And since her recovery, her friends have been nothing but supportive. She believes that she still has a distorted body image, some days worse than others, and she is sometimes discouraged by the size she wears, even though she is working hard towards body positivity.

When I asked Jamie how often she tells herself she’s beautiful, I was ecstatic to hear “every day, whether I believe it or not.” Personally, I find this to be the first step to body positivity. Even if you have to lie to yourself, it’s nice to hear that you’re beautiful, and soon you may start believing it.

I also find it important to list things you love about yourself. Jamie told me that she loves her sense of humor. It is witty and cynical. She said that she used to be terrified that if she was happy she would lose her humor. As it turns out, she didn’t. Another thing was her creativity. It’s what has gotten her through the roughest of times. And lastly, has her ability to be bounce back from whatever her disorders decide to throw at her any given day. And what makes a woman beautiful in her opinion is their personality. And freckles. She love freckles. But she explains that beauty is different for everyone. Each person can “pull off” different things that make them a beauty.

Her advice for those still suffering? IT GETS BETTER! The road to recovery is the hardest thing you will ever do, but it is so worth it in the end. Happiness and acceptance is possible.

NEDA

Image from Google Images

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) can help. Call their toll free, confidential Helpline at 1-800-931-2237

Demanding Equal Rights for All Bodies: Going Topless

By Morgan Paul

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPZpQhqONXU&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

As many of you may know, Sunday was topless day! As nice as that sounds on hot days like today, it has much more meaning than just avoiding tan lines and sweat stains; it was a nationwide demonstration to fight another part of our gender equity battle. Few states allow women to go topless in public, and even the ones that do will arrest women for things such as disorderly conduct. Unfortunately, this is not a high priority issue to many women because they don’t want to go topless. That is completely their choice, but this does add to the over-sexualization of women’s bodies. Women are shamed every day for showing “too much breast” or “not enough leg.” Why must we be subject to such discrimination? Men walk around topless no matter their size, amount of hair, tan lines, etc. and are never told to cover up. It’s time for us to take charge of the streets and demand equal rights for equal bodies. You can learn more and sign the petition at http://gotopless.org/

Getting Fit Without Obsessing: Is It Possible?

By Brenda Bethman

We write a lot here about body image, the detrimental effects it can have on women and men, and the importance of combating media images of beauty and having a positive self-image. One thing we do not always address, however, is just how difficult doing so is. I have a graduate certificate in women’s studies, have directed two women’s centers and a women’s & gender studies programs, and taught many WGS courses. I do not engage in or tolerate “fat talk.” I know that what matters is not the number on the scale or the size of my pants, but my health.

And yet, yesterday was hard.

Yesterday was my first meeting with a personal trainer at our campus gym. I am someone who normally avoids exercise like the plague, but for the reasons I outlined at my personal blog, I decided earlier this month that it is time for me to get more fit. And there’s the rub — I keep telling myself and others that this is about fitness and health, which, to a large extent, is true. But, there is, even after years of teaching and thinking about body image issues, a part of me that does obsess about the numbers that the “Bod Pod” spit out yesterday, that whispers to me that I am “fat” and that’s why I need to do this, and that could well slip into obsessing about workouts, calorie counts, etc. if I am not careful.

I hate that. I hate that I, too, have assimilated cultural beauty norms to such a degree. I worry that, if someone like me, who should know better, is still so deeply affected by these norms, that change is impossible. I worry that I will bring these feelings of inadequacy to work or the classroom and infect my students with my insecurities about the numbers that do not matter other than insofar as they affect my health.

Which brings me to the title question: is it possible to do this without obsessing? I do not know for sure, but I do know that I am going to try and that if anything will help, it is the work of smart feminists who have written about this much more eloquently than I, as well as the support of the blog communities of which I am lucky enough to be a part. It is also enormously helpful that the trainer I’m working with focuses on strength-building and not the numbers (we did not, in fact, even discuss them yesterday). In our first meeting, she told me one of the reasons she became a trainer was due to her interest in helping women become strong. I knew immediately that I had found the right trainer. If you’re interested, you can follow the details on my personal blog — and my more general meditations on the larger connections to body image and women’s health issues here.

Too Big for a Two-Piece?

female-body-issues

Image from Google

By Morgan Elyse

Friends, blog readers, mothers, daughters, good sirs: I. Am. Livid.

Normally I consider myself to be a very peaceful person, but after what I witnessed in the dressing room of a Target store last night, I simply cannot hold my tongue. And now thinking back at the incident, I shouldn’t have held it then!

Women (and men) struggle everyday with body image issues. For some of us it’s as minimal as a funky look in the mirror on a bad day, but for others it’s so cumbersome a matter that it leads to depression, eating disorders, self-mutilation, alcohol and drug abuse, and even suicide – especially in teens. So why on EARTH would someone – let alone a child’s own parent – introduce that method of thinking to a child who isn’t even out of grade school yet???

The incident began while I was trying on a pair of shorts and a few stalls away, a mother was having a discussion with her daughter around 8 years of age which centered around her belly being “too big for a two-piece” bathing suit. I was outraged!  I felt like scooping up the heartbroken little girl to tell her how beautiful she was right before I gave her mother my two cents! This little girl was far from obese and frankly, even if she was, it shouldn’t have mattered! The focus should have been on whether the swimsuit was comfortable and had appropriate coverage. There is absolutely NO reason a little girl shouldn’t be able to wear what her friends are wearing (which her mother so conveniently rubbed in her face right before the tears began to pour out of it) and be confident unless it’s simply a matter of modesty.  Instead, this woman decides to shame her daughter for not being as thin as she was when she wore bikinis and tell her that she didn’t want her to get made fun of. Hey, here’s an idea, why don’t you wait and see if anyone actually does make fun of your daughter at the pool, then shame the perpetrators and their parents for raising bullies! In the meantime, you can build up your child’s confidence instead of making her feel she inadequately measures up to both you and her peers. Unless it so happens that you are a bully and such a superficial, awful human being that you’re ashamed of your own baby girl’s body even though it’s nothing shy of PERFECT the way it is?

WTG, Mommy! You’ve successfully perpetuated the defective messages the media’s been sending women ever since there’s been a media – the effects of which you probably experienced in high-school but were too busy making fun of other people to deal with in an emotionally healthy way. But you, my friend, you have accomplished something far more amazing than anything TV and magazines could ever dream of achieving: you have driven this message of body shaming first-hand into an even younger and more impressionable mind than yours most likely was when you first started picking out the body parts that you hated. And what’s worse is that your daughter’s mind undoubtedly takes every single word that comes out of your mouth to heart, a place in which those words will be held now, and probably fester for a decade or so until they burst into some sort of -enia, -philia, phobia, addiction, or other serious psychological disorder because You… Were… Her… Mother!

I know, I shouldn’t judge. I don’t know these people and I don’t know the mother’s full story or her relationship with her daughter; it could be extremely nurturing. Maybe this mom just didn’t know the right words to use in that situation. I know swimsuit shopping can be traumatizing for everyone. I just want to put it out there that, especially when speaking with children, we need to be fully conscious of and meticulously careful with the words we choose and the messages we relay because their little ears are not the end of the road. Our words resonate throughout generations and have an impact on every choice and every personal connection our kids will ever make in life. So make your words positive and make them meaningful. Please learn more about body image here (www.loveyourbody.org) and be sure you’re spreading the right message to our youth.

<3. Every. Body.

#KeepMeridaBrave

By Andrea.

Merida by Michelle Wright

Merida by Michelle Wright

Disney has received a lot of negative attention recently for their “makeover” of Merida from Pixar’s Brave. Her new look has thousands of fans outraged at the new princess appearance: her trademark curly red hair is now in long waves, her waist is slightly smaller, her face is covered in makeup, and her dress now features an off-the-shoulder collar. And…her bow was missing.

News of Disney’s new 2-D rendering of Merida spread across the internets like wildfire. Upset fans called out Disney artists for the new look, and even started a petition at Change.org to #keepMeridaBrave. The creators of popular website, A Mighty Girl, have even created a webpage dedicated to those who want to join the fight against Disney to leave Merida as she was, complete with sample telephone and email scripts and contact information for Disney. Brenda Chapman, writer and co-director of Brave, has given many interviews in recent weeks. She states that fan support for Merida has been overwhelming. Like Merida’s fans, Chapman is outraged that young women are receiving a message that their happiness ultimately resides within the princess fairy tale image: married to a handsome prince and living in a castle while wearing  a ball gown.

Below are several links for interviews and op-eds on the controversy, including a link to footage of Merida’s recent Walt Disney World coronation.

 

Washington Post: No Merida Makeover? Brave Director Brenda Chapman on Disney Princess and “Sexing Her Up”

Christian Science Monitor: Disney Misses the Point In Response to the Merida Petition

L.A. Times: Jon Stewart Slams Disney’s Makeover of Brave Heroine Merida

Moviefone: Disney Pulls Redesigned Princess Merida After Backlash

Huffington Post: Brenda Chapman, Brave Creator, Calls Merida’s Makeover “Atrocious” [UPDATE]

KQED Public Media Blog: Has Disney Backed Down On Merida Makeover

Inside the Magic: Merida Becomes 11th Disney Princess

Disney's princesses by Inside the Magic

Disney’s princesses by Inside the Magic

Swimsuit Season: The Nice Weather Rant

By Morgan Elyse.

Photo by frank servayge

Photo by Frank Servayge

The warm weather is officially here and I’m sure you’ve all seen the ads. Get ready for swimsuit season: with our new diet plan, with three simple exercises, five minutes a day, find the suit that’s right for your body type, hot off the runway looks, cleansing, toning, burning – ENOUGH!

Guess what, Internets and fashion magazines (like you matter anyway), it’s 100 degrees with the humidity of a sauna in Kansas City during the summer and people should be able to wear what makes them comfortable, dammit! We don’t have to cover up our stretch marks or cheesy thighs because it’s freaking hot! DEAL WITH IT!

Honestly, if someone is so shallow as to judge me for trying to avoid suffocation from the heat when they don’t even know me or how much effort I’ve put in over the last year and a half in becoming a healthier person, frankly, I hope their eyes DO burn when they’re staring at aaaallllllll of this!

I hope people reading this will join me in realizing how utterly pointless it is going to be to stress ourselves out as we stare our bare bodies down in those dressing room mirrors trying to find the swimwear that hides our “flaws” just right. You are not flawed. I am not flawed. We are all beautiful. Not just curvy women practice these terrible habits of self-hate, and not just women do it either.

Photo by Marcus Q

Photo by Marcus Q

Most of you reading this are educated people. You know better than to base your ideal body image on Hollywood, Vogue, or that one girl you saw walking on the Plaza who you thought was perfect but, in all actuality, probably has body image issues just like you and me or worse. We all come in different shapes and sizes! Yes, it’s cliché, but it surely bears repeating if we still have yet to grasp the concept! Are we just destined to eternally chastise ourselves for not being born into the body type that’s “in” during this era? You’re going to make me say it, aren’t you? MARILYN WAS A SIZE 14! Relax!

I want everyone, as they leave the last week of classes behind, and face the freedom of summer, to truly be free; I want you to be free from the worry of what everyone else thinks of YOUR body, free from wondering whether you might be bearing too much flab or, perhaps, the worry that you might be missing some flab in the “right” places. I want you to feel free to laugh and run and jump and play and dive – even if you jiggle funny while you’re doing it – free your mind, spirit, and body, and enjoy the warmth of the sun against your beautiful skin (with plenty of sunscreen slathered on to it, of course), however large or small a surface area that amounts to.

Love your body. I know probably as well as anyone that it’s a very hard thing to do, especially in the months ahead. But let’s all just make the pledge to keep the thought in our consciousness. If we are consistently making it an effort to love ourselves, this will become our new habit rather than the dirty looks and comments in the mirrors and negative thoughts we have about our appearances we’re accustomed to. Love your inside and your out; as long as you know you are living healthy (feeding your brain, eating right most of the time, and exercising at least a few times a week), there is no reason you shouldn’t be proud of everything that makes you who you are.

Photo by Eleventh Earl of Mar

Photo by Eleventh Earl of Mar

And hey, love others too! Spread the kindness and remember to use the right speech and thinking in regards to others’ appearances as well (you know we’re all guilty, especially when we’re not at peace with ourselves). Take a summer pledge to love every body – now get out there and bare yours!

Photo by Deb Roby

Photo by Deb Roby

 

To learn more about Body Image programming at UMKC, sponsored by Women’s Center and Counseling Center, visit us online. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.

A Symbolic Barbie

By Ayomide Aruwajoye.

Photo by Richard NewtonAll through the semester, I kept looking at these two Barbie dolls that sat on the shelf in the Women’s Center. I always wondered what they were there for and what they symbolize. Both of the dolls were dressed like the “typical Barbie doll standards”: short dress, long hair, tall heels, small waist and big boobs! After a couple of weeks I forgot all about the Barbie dolls until I saw a picture of an innocent little girl playing with dolls and right next to her was an anorexic woman, who looked sick with lots of makeup on and little to no clothes on. The picture’s caption said, “Girls spend 10 years playing with Barbie dolls and the next 20 trying to become one!” After I saw that picture, I remembered the two Barbie dolls at the Women’s Center and decided that the Barbie dolls at the Women’s Center would have a different symbolic meaning than the “bad rep” that they carry.

 

Photo by rocorI have always heard about people not wanting their kids to play with Barbie dolls because of the message they send to kids. I’m guessing that message has to do with body image and intelligence since Barbie dolls are known for their super skinny beautiful bodies and ditsy dumbness. I played with dolls when I was little, but I guess as I got older I just didn’t care for them as much. This was not the case when it came to my cousin and many other girls. She loved her Barbie dolls, and as soon as she got too old to play with them, she started dressing like a Barbie and looking too old for her age. So then I started wondering why a kid’s toy would encourage you to grow up so fast. That’s the only explanation I could come up with, because why couldn’t Barbie be a young girl on her way to school or the park. Instead the Barbies that are placed in front of us on television are the ones with the short skirt, long hair and the boyfriend named Ken. Barbie is a bad role model.

So I started wondering if the Barbie dolls at the Women’s Center were also bad role models. So I decided I was going to give our Barbie dolls a new meaning. These dolls were not going to be the dolls that made girls, and even grown women, hate their bodies, or made females think they have to dumb themselves down for a man to like them. These Barbie dolls were going to actually be the opposite of that. The Barbie dolls at the Women’s Center should be an example of what it means to love yourself in spite of the flaws you might have, and being true to yourself, not acting dumber to attract someone. The Barbie dolls at the Women’s Center now represent women who are confident and respect themselves while demanding respect from others too. When you come into the Women’s Center, look at the dolls and realize you’re a Barbie, too – as you define “Barbie” for yourself.

Read past Barbie entries from Women’s Center bloggers:

Barbie’s Positive Influence

Barbie’s Not-So Positive Influence

Wonder Women!

By Morgan Elyse Christensen

Wonder Women film logo

On the 15th of April, Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines aired on PBS’s Independent Lens. This documentary, directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan and produced by Kelcey Edwards, is entertaining, educational, and inspirational. Wonder Women! reminisces over little girls’ dreams of becoming crime-fighting action heroes while commenting on what little choice we had (and still have) in positive female character emulation. Wonder Women! also explains the history of America’s oldest superheroine and, in conjunction with a history of feminism, connects her and her female super-colleagues with other real-life woman powerhouses.

Wonder Woman by B Baltimore Brown

Although I caught a few reruns with my mother as a kid, I was born just a little too late to have been affected by the Lynda Carter television series. However, an impression was made on me later in life when I saw Dara Birnbaum’s experimental film, Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman. For me this was a big turning point in my understanding of the media’s portrayal of “strong” women. Yes, Wonder Woman broke the glass ceiling in the male dominated comic book arena. Yes, she was created by a man who was an advocate for women’s rights.

Wonder Woman by Christian HernandezBut she was still a woman…with boobs…in a swimsuit. I know, Superman and Batman both sport speedos and most male superheroes are drawn overly muscular – in this regard, it’s not an uneven playing field of sexualization. So, how can we complain?

Because!

Despite how they’re clothed, most superheroines are still dependent on their male counterparts and portrayed as weaker and less effective in their crime-fighting OR they’re portrayed as hysterical villains and in many cases, villain and heroine alike are killed off.

Wonder Women! premiered at Austin’s 2012 SXSW and has since made its way around the film festival circuit. It has been screened at 75 Community Cinema events in 30 states including a showing at Kansas City’s Tivoli Theatre this past March. If you haven’t had a chance to see it yet, you can actually watch it online right here, and I highly recommend that you do. However, if you don’t have an hour to kill at the moment but you’re dying to see what it’s all about, you can visit the film’s official website and watch the 4-minute trailer here.

Best part of all???

Launching TOMORROW is Wonder City, PBS’s interactive companion game to the Wonder Women! documentary. Unlike most “girl games” which focus on gendering themes such as shopping and cooking, this new action-based online game features your choice of a DIVERSE girl protagonist in a superheroine adventure that encourages critical thinking about pop culture and today’s media. HELLO! I can’t wait to play! Oh yeah, I’m sure my kids will like it too. Have fun, everyone, and let your inner Wonder Woman fly!

Book Review: Push by Sapphire

By Briana Ward.

Push novel coverPush is a novel written by a woman named Sapphire. This novel is far from vapid, taking its audience through the mind of a rape victim named Precious. She tells her disturbing story in the most graphic ways so that “WE”, the reader,s could feel her pain. Precious took us from her horrifying struggle inside a dark tunnel to the light of a new life.

She struggled to find her identity that was taken from her by her father. She had no one to turn to, not even her mother. This novel leaves you with a feeling of sadness and hurt even if you are not a victim of such tragedy. Through this hurt and pain, the author sent subliminal messages to teens who are victims of incest and rape.

Reading this story, I was touched. I was affected by what Precious went through. I wondered: how is it that mere words cause such emotion? I was affected because the author covered the trials almost all women go through: low self-esteem, lack of confidence, jealousy, and many more. All women, including me, have problems like these. I was able to find the hidden messages in her because I was once judged and put down.

Hidden within her words, you heard Sapphire calling out, “Even though you have been down, you can get up.” When Precious thought she couldn’t do it, when she began to lose faith for herself and her children, she found HOPE! She found hope in a bittersweet moment, getting kicked out of school for being pregnant, and being placed into an alternative school that changed her life for the better. This was a message Sapphire was trying to send to her readers, “Life is never perfect, even perfect is not perfect.” Precious would always try to find her identity in what she thought was perfection; actresses on television who were slim and lighter skinned. Have you ever felt that you were not perfect? You are not perfect, you’re “YOU”. That’s what perfect is, being who you are. Sapphire helped her readers who have suffered low self-esteem, and were always told they could not do it. But you can!

Defining Beauty

by Ellen Parsons

What makes someone pretty? Is it some combination one’s hair, skin, face, waist, et cetera- or is it something else? Is there only one way to define beauty? Who decides what is ‘pretty’ and what is not? What does trying to be ‘pretty’ do to a person? These are some of the questions I am asking myself as I read The Uglies series.

Before I picked up the first book, I explored what it meant to be ‘ugly’ in my own experience: I have been called ugly, fat, unattractive, unclean, pepperoni face, sloppy, bushy eyebrows, and an abundance of other slurs aimed at my appearance. These share a common trait in that they were meant to make me think I was ugly and that I needed to change something about my self. In the books, we learn about an operation that makes you ‘pretty’, correcting things like ‘bad’ teeth, eye spacing, weight (over or under), and other things that are considered ugly. A committee decided what traits are desirable, and thus pretty, and what traits are not, and considered ugly. Taking this concept and applying it to the real world, I wonder if the committee would be our pop media. If  magazines stopped airbrushing and photoshopping  so many of their models, and were diverse with whom they displayed in their magazines (in regards to body type, skin type, and so on) would this ideal change? What if we started looking at people in terms other than appearance? What would happen, I wonder, if we started to see other as ‘pretty’ in Look Pretty - a distortion mirror picture by dichohecho on Flickrterms of personality, confidence, or other non-physical traits? At risk of sounding cheesy or cliché, I think everyone would be ‘pretty in their own right.’

When people see the modified models in magazines, advertisements, the media in general- mediums that often feature people in completely unrealistic terms, it can be devastating to their self image. To quote David from the first book, “That’s the worst thing they do to you, any of you. Whatever those brain lessons are all about, the worst damage is done before they even pick up the knife: You’re all brainwashed into believing you’re ugly.” If we do not meet the high (and sometimes impossible) standards put out for us, we are told we are ugly. Truth be told, I think there are unlimited ways to be ‘pretty’- in appearance and a myriad of other categories.

We all have different body types and all body types should be equally valued, no matter what.

Want to discuss this topic and/or the book? Come join us at The Uglies series book discussion on October 17th!