Last spring, I took a five-day body image course through Girls Gone Strong. It was an adaptation of a 28-Day Love Your Body Challenge that Molly Galbraith, one of the founders of GGS, originally hosted in 2014. I participated in that first challenge, and it really did change the way I viewed my body in a permanent way. I wasn’t sure I’d get anything more out of the five-day course, and yet, I did. There was one big change that I needed to make.
The course suggested that I cleanse my environment of images that made me feel bad rather than inspired. I cleaned out the “inspiration” folder I used for my desktop images, which was full of photos of a younger, thinner me, and replaced them with a variety of photos. Friends, family, achievements, body-positive images, people of different shapes/sizes/colors, athletes of all sizes and abilities, photos of happiness. This change had an immediate effect on me, reminding me of my accomplishments (completely disconnected from my body-size) and making me smile as different photos popped up on the rotating background.
So this is good and all, but the true test of something is how it changes a person over time. And I just had my eyes opened in December.
I’ve been watching a lot of Murdoch Mysteries on Hulu. They’re a fun way to pass the time and I enjoy the story. The drawback is the ads – I despise commercials, and always have. The ones that have been showing lately are really awful: perfume ads, matchmaking apps –> , and others that feature “perfect” women with “ideal” bodies and “flawless” looks to sell their products. And one day, when three of these came up in a row, my stomach actually turned. I didn’t feel longing or determination or despair. I felt disgust.
Now, let me start by making it very clear that the disgust wasn’t for these women themselves. It was instead for the way they were being sold to us. I realized that I no longer saw those media-distorted versions of them as perfect, ideal, or flawless. These women were made to generic, each one the same as the next, like dolls – which of course is exactly the intent: the “perfect” image of womanhood held up for all of us to absorb, so that we will know deep inside that if we, too, can be extra-thin, young, and good-looking, we too can be happy (find love, enjoy our jobs, have adventures…). And y’all? I’m sick of this.
Give me interesting faces, and women of all ages, and all different body types. Show me different ethnicities, and hairstyles, and physical abilities, and clothing. Feature women who are strong and kind and smart and happy and accomplished. Let us all see the giant range of unique people in this world, rather than trying to narrow our world down to a single ideal.
Because it really does make a difference. The small act of changing what I see on my computer screen day in and day out has completed shifted my view of “normal,” in addition to my views of “perfect,” “ideal,” and “flawless.” And maybe if we can shift our ideas of normal, broaden the horizon of what we view as “womanhood,” and come to accept a wider array of bodies, we can eventually divorce ourselves from the idea of body-image being attached to beauty or looks, as this wonderful Ted Talk discusses.
Do I know that this is a tall order that media is unlikely to embrace? Of course. It does them well to have us desperate for an unattainable body. But I also know that each of us is capable of shifting our own mindset, and detaching from the snare of cultural trappings. This is a mission for us all individually. I’m not going to claim that it’s easy, or quick, or that I myself am cured of body image issues. Hell no. This is pervasive, insidious stuff we’re dealing with! However, the more of us who fight back and change our individual perspectives, the stronger we become – individually, and as a whole. Women deserve more than the roles of “thin” or “beautiful” given to us. We deserve more, and we ARE more. To me, that’s a mission worth undertaking, and a goal worth fighting for.